Gave its blessing: Council green-lights rezoning for Ft. Greene church’s affordable tower

Heaven sent: Ft. Greene church leaders reveal plan to erect 13-story, ‘affordable’ housing complex
MDG Design and Construction

This church’s leaders are counting their blessings!

Clergy at a Fort Greene house of worship cheered Council following its unanimous approval of their request to rezone a swath of land on S. Portland Avenue, where they intend to erect a 13-story tower of below-market-rate housing.

“We have been serving the Fort Greene community for more than 60 years in faith, learning, and service,” the Hanson Place Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Pastor Bernard Penn said following the municipal body’s vote last month. “We are pleased to continue this legacy by bringing critical affordable-housing opportunities and increased social programming to our vibrant community through this development.”

Penn and fellow faith leaders sought the city’s approval last fall, after revealing plans to demolish the church’s three-story community center at 142-150 S. Portland Ave. between Hanson and S. Elliott places in order to build a 138-foot residential high-rise with 100 below-market-rate units, a new multi-purpose space, and a below-ground medical facility in its place.

But pols only gave the green-light to upzone the development site itself — nixing the proposal’s more-controversial terms that called for extending the rezoning to include the area generally bounded by S. Portland Avenue and Hanson and S. Elliot places, which drew criticism from civic gurus and the borough president as the application snaked its way through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

In January, Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee voted to approve a so-called spot rezoning of the land needed for the new tower alone, supporting an increase of the plot’s allowable height cap from nine to 14 stories. But committee members panned the provision to rezone land beyond the construction site, claiming it would encourage developers to buy up neighboring low-rise or empty lots and then raze them to build taller and denser buildings down the line.

But a month later, CB2’s full board voted down the request in its entirety, arguing neither the upzoning nor the units of so-called affordable housing it would create were a good idea for the neighborhood, and kicked the proposal over to the beep, who then rubber-stamped it with some modifications that also included limiting the extent of the rezoning.

And on June 28, Council took CB2’s Land Use Committee’s lead and voted only to spot rezone the church’s lot itself, according to a rep for Fort Greene’s councilwoman — the pol whose “aye” vote was critical to the future tower’s fate, as it would rise within her district.

Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D–Fort Greene) described the limited rezoning as the best of both worlds, because it will bring more below-market-rate housing to the neighborhood without changing building codes on land beyond what already belongs to the church.

“The decision process called for a delicate balance between preserving the fabric of our neighborhood, and addressing the need for affordable housing and expanded community-facility space,” said Cumbo, who last year shepherded another polarizing rezoning application through Council, when she controversially voted in favor of a plan to redevelop Crown Heights’s publicly owned armory after officials and the city’s chosen builder agreed to axe luxury condos and include more low-income units in the scheme.

The Council-approved version of the church’s rezoning application now moves to the desk of Mayor DeBlasio, whose likely approval will allow faith leaders to break ground on the new tower as soon as next July, according to a rep for the builder working with the house of worship, who said construction is expected to wrap 21 months after it begins.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.