Crossing the property line: City must drop armory plan because agency head bought home near site, opponents say

It is open season on the Crown Heights armory
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Talk about being too close for comfort.

The city must drop its plan to give the publicly owned Bedford-Union Armory to a private developer because the head of the agency overseeing the project bought property near the military structure and stands to cash in on that investment if the deal goes through, according to local housing advocates.

James Patchett, the president of the Economic Development Corporation, purchased a home near the armory just months before the mayor named him as the head of the agency that brokered the development deal, and activists allege that transaction compromises his impartiality in a letter they sent to City Hall on Tuesday.

“Purchasing a property so close to the site puts Patchett in a clear and direct position to cash in on a redevelopment process he is helping to oversee,” read the missive from Our Armory Coalition, an alliance of advocacy groups opposed to the scheme.

DeBlasio appointed Patchett to the post this January. In Oct. 2016, he paid $1.8 million for property on Park Place between Nostrand and New York avenues. The lot sits about seven blocks from the armory at 1579 Bedford Ave. that the city wants to hand over to developer BFC Partners, which has promised to build below-market-rate housing and a non-profit recreation center there in return.

But anti-gentrification advocates strongly oppose the plan’s affordable housing component, which they claim offers only 18 of 330 rental units at rates within the means of longtime Crown Heights residents.

Opponents also blast the more than 50 luxury condos the scheme calls for, which they argue will draw an affluent out-of-town set, leading nearby property values to spike if and when the project concludes, according to another activist.

“Patchett bought the property knowing that he could influence the armory deal, and benefit from rising home prices on the gentrifying blocks surrounding the building,” said Celia Weaver, a director of advocacy group New York Communities for Change.

The Economic Development Corporation finished negotiating the armory deal between the city and BFC Partners in Dec. 2015, nearly a year before Patchett purchased the Park Place home, according to an agency spokesman. That timeline clears the official of any wrongdoings, he said.

“EDC managed a competitive RFP process and announced the project in December 2015, almost a full year before James Patchett purchased a home in the neighborhood,” said Anthony Hogrebe. “So to claim that this decision was made for his benefit is simply absurd.”

In addition, Patchett took office in Feb. 2017, after he bought the house and at the beginning of the scheme’s public review process, which he and his agency have no say in, Hogrebe said.

“EDC does not control the final approval of this project, which is an independent public process that includes input from the Community Board, Borough President and city Council,” he said.

But Economic Development Corporation representatives have appeared at meetings throughout its review process, according to Weaver, who argued their presence suggests Patchett’s continued involvement.

“His agency represents the project at every public meeting in Crown Heights about it,” she said. “As the head of EDC, he has a direct say in the armory deal.”

And Patchett worked for an Economic Development Corporation board member prior to purchasing the property and taking charge of the agency, the activist said.

“When he bought the house, Patchett was working for Alicia Glen as chief of staff, and she is on the board,” Weaver said.

He should be removed from further discussions about the project due to his alleged impartiality, and the city should take its redevelopment plan back to the drawing board, according to Our Armory’s letter.

Patchett declared his purchase as a potential conflict of interest prior to assuming the top job at the Economic Development Corporation, which raised no issues with the city according to Hogrebe, who said the agency has no plans to drop the armory project.

“The fact that our president and his family live in Crown Heights should not and will not stop us from continuing to invest in that community,” he said.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Conflicted?: James Patchett took over the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which is overseeing the armory deal, weeks after buying a home blocks from the site.
Michael Appleton