No aid: Judge quashes Legal Aid suit to halt Bedford-Union Armory development

Waiting game: Lawyers on both sides of the Crown Heights’ Bedford-Union Armory redevelopment plan expect a state Supreme Court judge to rule before the city officially signs off on the armory’s 99-year lease to developers BFC Partners some time this summer, and the verdict will either green-light construction of the project, or send it back to the drawing board.
File photo by Stefano Giovannini

A developer behind the project to build housing and a recreation center at the Bedford-Union Armory is looking forward to starting construction this fall, after a judge last month dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of Crown Heights residents seeking to block the plan.

“We are excited to now move ahead with our plans to turn the Bedford-Union Armory into a vibrant community hub,” said Sam Spokony, a spokesman for developer BFC Partners.

The suit filed by the Legal Aid Society alleged that the city’s environmental review process failed to account for the effects of developments on residents living in rent-stabilized apartments, who —despite guaranteed rent renewals — may be subject to harassment from landlords as market values soar.

But in a decision dated July 11, state Supreme Court Justice Carmen Victoria St. George ruled that the city’s review guidelines provide an adequate perspective on the environmental impact of developments — even when community members disagree with the outcome.

“The court is sympathetic to petitioners, who aim to protect those who are not members of community boards, are not elected officials, and often do not express their positions at public hearings.” St. George wrote. “The goal of the city, and of the projects at hand, is to balance the interests of communities… this court’s role, in turn, is not to question the way in which the city, entrusted with these projects, draws the balance.”

And when it came to the Bedford-Armory project specifically, the city’s environmental review process worked as intended, according to the St. George, who noted how the city’s Economic Development Corporation altered early plans that included luxury condos in response to community complaints.

“Petitioners’ contention that the lead agency disregarded the criticism of the community…. is belied by the facts,” the judge wrote. “On the contrary, after it considered the comments, the lead [city] agency decided that the project would no longer include luxury condominiums.”

The Legal Aid Society, which represented two Crown Heights residents living in affordable housing in the suit, contended that the judge’s decision disregarded the fact that the armory development will have major consequences for low-income locals. The lead attorney on the case said the Society is considering options to appeal.

“We still maintain that the methodology the city employs to measure tenant displacement is fundamentally flawed, and that it ignores obvious realities and the consequences of land use decisions on rents and livelihoods,” said Kay Meyers. “We are currently weighing all of our options — including appellate litigation and legislation — that will finally resolve this issue for our clients and other low-income New Yorkers.”

BFC Partners struck a deal with the DeBlasio administration to redevelop the historic military structure, and plans to build market-rate and affordable housing there, in addition to a recreation center with office space for non-profit organizations, as part of a 99-year lease with the city as its landlord.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.

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