Neighbors sue to stop Hebron Church development in Crown Heights

A rendering of Hope Street Capital’s proposed building, approved by the city last year, on Sterling Place in Crown Heights.
Rendering by Morris Adjmi Architects

Crown Heights residents have filed a lawsuit in Brooklyn Supreme Court seeking to overturn approval of a new development project at the Hebron Church site, which they say would be out-of-step with the landmarked district’s historic character.

The Sterling Place Block Association is hoping their lawsuit, filed against the Landmarks Preservation Commission and real estate developer Hope Street Capital, will overturn the LPC’s approval of Hope Street’s planned seven-story residential buildings at the Hebron Seventh Day Adventist site on Sterling Place at New York Avenue, which advocates say is one of the last Victorian-era landmarks in the Crown Heights North Historic District.

Neighbors have been fighting against the proposed development for years, arguing that it would tarnish the integrity of the historic Hebron facility, which was built in 1889 as the Brooklyn Methodist Home for the Aged and Infirm and now houses the Hebron Seventh Day Adventist elementary school. The developers plan to demolish the building’s southern addition but leave most of the historic structure intact. But advocates say it still does not belong in the neighborhood due to its height differential from the rowhouses that define the historic district, blockage of views of Hebron, and the greenspace that will disappear if the buildings go up.

The historic Hebron School building seen from Park Place.File photo by Susan de Vries

Following a number of presentations, design modifications, and reductions in height, the LPC approved the project last May. Michael Hiller, an attorney representing the block association, says that the approval of the modified project was in dereliction of the law by not allowing the public to comment on the redesign before its approval.

“When the commission allowed the developer to fundamentally change the core precepts of the project without allowing the public to participate in a hearing to discuss those changes, the commission broke the law,” Hiller told Brooklyn Paper. “This particular property is regarded as the crown jewel of the historic district. Not only is it a violation of the landmarks law, it’s just fundamentally wrong.”

A rep for the LPC said that the commission had carefully considered the project — and the approximately equal amount of testimony in support and against they say it received — and asked for numerous modifications, only approving it after those conditions were met.

“The application went through a robust hearing process which included many hours of testimony from the public,” said LPC spokesperson Zodet Negrón. “The Law Department will review the case.”

Hiller maintains that the supposed equity of support and opposition was a smoke-screen, though, claiming in the lawsuit that the LPC ignored over 6,800 petition signatures presented by the opposition.

“This particular site is an indispensable aspect of the historic district. It’s fundamental, it’s a core property, almost a defining property,” Hiller noted. “We want the property and its landmark protected status to be more fully respected.”

Construction began in December after the LPC granted a “certificate of appropriateness.” Work was briefly halted by the city in February after neighbors complained of “seismic vibrations” and other disruptions, Patch reported, but construction has since resumed.

The project is opposed by much of Crown Heights’ elected delegation, including City Councilmembers Chi Ossé and Crystal Hudson, Assemblymembers Brian Cunningham and Stefani Zinerman, and state Sen. Zellnor Myrie. It was also opposed by former Councilmembers Laurie Cumbo and Robert Cornegy and former Assemblymember Diana Richardson, and got a thumbs-down from Community Board 8.

“Hebron Seventh Day Adventist Church and School complex is widely known as the ‘Crown Jewel’ of Crown Heights,” Ossé said in a statement. “It is largely unique in the necessity of its structural and aesthetic preservation. The proposed development is opposed almost uniformly by the community and would strip the area of communal green space. It should not be built, especially without community input.”

A spokesperson for Hope Street did not respond to a request for comment.