Historic Crown Heights church seeks to build residential development, stirring controversy

A rendering shows how the original structure would look with the new development behind it.
Morris Adjmi Architects

Leaders at a Crown Heights church are looking for the city’s permission to build a residential development in an adjoining parking lot in order to fund the church’s restoration and its religious school.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church on Park Place plans to partner with developer Hope Street Capital to develop a 180-unit building in the vacant lot next to the landmarked church — if the groups are granted approval by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The building, completed in 1899, was formerly the Brooklyn Methodist Episcopal Church Home for the Aged and Infirm.

Leaders from the church say they need the money generated by the housing to continue operating the Hebron Seventh-day Adventist Bilingual School out of the historic structure. The school, which is in danger of closing, is unable to hold in-person classes during the 2020 school year because of the church’s crumbling state, said the church’s president.

“Over the years, the building has significantly deteriorated,” said Dr. Daniel Honore, president of the Northeastern Conference of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Honore — whose mother was a teacher at the Bilingual School, and whose father was the pastor of the Hebron Church — says that issues with the building date back decades, and there has never been enough money to properly repair it.

“Back then they were constantly trying to raise funds to renovate,” he said. “You would fix one part of the building, another part went bad.”

The proposed entrance of the development.Morris Adjmi Architects

When Honore met with the church’s leaders to discuss needed repairs, they told him they needed serious resources to fix it and that “a bake sale wasn’t going to do it,” he said. 

The planned development would contain rent-regulated units, 30-percent of which would be designated “below market rate,” and a mixture of one, two, three-bedroom apartments and studios, a spokesman for the developer said. A small section of the school building, which the church says was not an original part of the landmarked structure, will be demolished to make way for the apartment building.

But, the proposed development has garnered opposition from some locals who complain that the building would block views of the historic building from Sterling Place, and that a seven-story structure is too tall and modern for the historic, residential area. 

A neighborhood group dubbed Friends of 920 Park circulated a petition against the development that has gathered more than 5,000 signatures, and blasted the proposed building in a lengthy press release.

“A huge 7 story modern building stretched along the site’s length is too large, too dense, and totally changes the character of the neighborhood,” reads the petition. “New housing is needed, but not here.” 

Local tenants groups such as the Crown Heights Tenants Union are also critical of the plans.

“Turning over any part of this property to become luxury studios and one-bedrooms — unsuitable for and far beyond the reach of the families that built this neighborhood — would undoubtedly further gentrify our community through secondary displacement,” the union said in a statement.

Supporters of the residential project have launched their own petition, which has gathered over 1,700 signatures as of Sept. 21.

Honore says he disagrees with locals’ assessment of the project. 

“I think that this will take land that has been underutilized, that was going to waste, and do something productive with it,” he said.

The developer’s proposal will go before Community Board 8 for review before it is passed along to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.