Reversal on fortune: City backpedals on policy allowing luxury condos to fund affordable units in armory plan

It is open season on the Crown Heights armory
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

It’s quid pro no.

The DeBlasio Administration will reconsider a policy that allows developers to build homes for the rich in order to fund housing for the poor after a Crown Heights pol vowed to kill a scheme to bring luxury condos along with so-called affordable apartments to her nabe’s publicly owned Bedford-Union Armory, said the head of the city’s Economic Development Corporation on Tuesday.

“The mayor is seriously considering this policy on a citywide basis and whether it is appropriate in any circumstances for the city to be providing condos on city-owned property,” James Patchett said at a Council hearing on the project.

The city is seeking approval from Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D–Crown Heights) and her colleagues to lease the early-20th-century military structure at 1579 Bedford Ave. to developer BFC partners in a 99-year agreement, which would require the real-estate company to erect a recreation center and affordable housing on the site.

But to fund those amenities, the administration allowed the developer to include market-rate rentals and luxury condominiums in its redevelopment plan — a financial trade-off that the councilwoman and locals passionately oppose, which Patchett acknowledged at the hearing.

“The thinking at the time was market-rate condos would be a way of developing proceeds to be able to pay for those needs,” Patchett said. “As Councilwoman Cumbo has indicated, and as we’ve heard from the community repeatedly, that is a significant concern and we take that very seriously.”

The leaders of an alliance of community groups that object to the scheme staged rallies and circulated statements protesting the redevelopment proposal, and both Community Board 9 and Borough President Adams came out against it as part of the city-backed plan’s official public review process.

And now the scheme faces its final major hurdle in City Hall, where Cumbo promised to lead her colleagues in a vote against it, a move that would all but send the project back to square one. She blasted the officials behind the proposal at Tuesday’s hearing, chiding them for not altering the plan despite months of public resistance to it.

“For you to come today to this city Council … is really inappropriate to the people who have come here today who want to hear about a better project that is more reflective of the needs of the community,” she said.

And following the Council session, Cumbo reiterated that she would not support selling city land in the form of expensive condominiums.

“We will not permit the sale of public land at the Bedford-Union Armory. We made it clear that the proposal must not contain luxury condos,” she said. “This deal is far from done. I will continue to push the city to the furthest threshold during negotiations, in order to remove the condos from the plan and bring the best project home for the Crown Heights community.”

But the swanky residences are not locals’ only point of contention with the redevelopment scheme. Opponents also object its so-called affordable housing, most of which they claim will still be too expensive for neighborhood residents, according to one critic, who said the city’s willingness to reevaluate the condos is just one of many concessions it needs to make.

“Getting rid of the luxury condos is a fraction of what the community has been calling for,” said Cea Weaver, who works for housing-advocacy group New York Communities for Change. “I’m shocked the city thinks this is a viable compromise, and I’m shocked they’re not offering more given this is public land.”

The activist claimed that axing the condominiums is actually a cause for concern, because Cumbo — whose pledge to veto the redevelopment proposal came amid a fierce campaign to retain her Council seat in this year’s primary election — will use that allowance as an excuse to change her position on the plan.

“I suspect that Laurie Cumbo and the administration will reach a compromise and the project will be approved, and I think we’re beginning to see the outline of what that compromise will look like,” Weaver said.

Cumbo did not reply to requests asking her to specify exactly how the city must amend the plan in order to earn her support by press time.

Members of Council’s Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will revisit the armory proposal later this month, when they are expected to vote on the matter, according to a spokesman for the subcommitee’s chairman, Bronx Councilman Rafael Salamanca.

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