At an Oct. 20 Landmarks Preservation Commission public, residents and local advocates again voiced overwhelming opposition to plans for a large-scale residential development on the landmarked site of the church-owned Hebron Seventh Day Adventist School in Crown Heights.
“If the Mona Lisa were showing signs of wear and tear, would you snip off the edges, throw it behind a gargantuan, cheap plastic frame from IKEA, and claim to have appropriately preserved a piece of art?” asked Dylan Powers, who owns a home across the street from Hebron. “That is what this proposal would do.”
Located at 914-920 Park Pl., the building was constructed in 1889 as the Brooklyn Methodist Episcopal Home for the Aged and Infirm. Today, it is home to the Hebron Seventh Day Adventist School, and it was landmarked, along with the rest of the grounds, as part of the second phase of the Crown Heights North Historic District in 2011.
The developer plans to demolish a mid 20th century addition at the back of the structure and construct a new building that will replace the addition and the open space around it, covering the entire length of the property along Sterling Place.
Forty-three people provided testimony at the meeting, with only Emmanuel Toussaint, chairman of the school board at Hebron, speaking in favor. Following a presentation by the development team, including representatives for each of the different design firms working on the project, both Dr. Daniel Honore, President of the Northeastern Conference of the Seventh-day Adventists, and Glady Grant, the principal of the Hebron School, spoke about how this deal with Hope Street Capital is the school’s only way to restore the building.
Other speakers disagreed with that assessment. Ethel Tyus, Community Board 8 Chair, said Hebron’s claim was “disingenuous.” She and others, including members of the Crown Heights North Association, said they had been reaching out to representatives of Hebron since 2004 about alternative options to help save the school. Earlier this month, the Community Board’s Land Use Committee voted against the project.
Dr. Daniel Honore, at the end of the meeting following the public testimony, came back to argue that the “funding is not there,” and that the ways presented to help save the school would not work.
Many used the time allowed to talk about the “beautiful visual experience” of coming upon Hebron as you walk up the block, as one resident, Jacob Ready, said. Others bemoaned the possible loss of such a large amount of open, greenspace in a neighborhood that many said desperately needs it.
Jacqueline Pettigrew, a resident who has lived on Sterling Place for 35 years, issued a warning. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever,” she said about the greenspace.
Council Member Robert Cornegy, who just weeks ago had not yet taken a position on the project, also spoke out against the proposed development, urging the commission to listen to the residents. “We should not ignore their voices today,” he said.
Representatives for Historic Districts Council, New York Landmarks Conservancy, Crown Heights North Association and Victorian Society of New York also testified against the project. The commission said they had received about 950 letters in opposition to the proposal.
Jay Segel, a land use attorney with Greenberg Traurig LLP, who was in attendance representing Hope Street Capital, said the firm had submitted a petition signed by 1,800 people in favor of the development, although none were present to submit testimony.
Commissioner Everardo Jefferson, a principal architect at Caples Jefferson Architects PC, who is involved in the project, has recused himself from this vote, LPC Chair Carroll noted. The commission said they would vote at a later date, and that some commissioners wanted to visit the site before a decision is made.
“This is the center of our community,” said Nadja Spiegelman, a local resident. “The proposed development throws a wrecking ball into the heart of Crown Heights. It proposes to erase our history, to pave over the only small patch of open grass out of which we grow. It proposes to obscure the sky, and with it the last hopes this city has of favoring people over profit.”
This story first appeared on Brownstoner.com.