School comes to its Seneshes

Community Newspaper Group

A Carroll Gardens private school announced late on Friday that it had abandoned its controversial plan to build an annex on its courtyard — ending a bitter debate over whether building on such yards would destroy the very character of the neighborhood.

The Hannah Senesh Community Day School said it would not erect a two-story building on land at the corner of Smith Street and First Place, and has decided instead to “pursue other space opportunities” in the neighborhood.

Neighbors were overjoyed.

“This would have absolutely taken away the uniqueness of our street and the value of our property — and we’ve put everything in these properties,” said Barbara Brookhart.

At issue was the school’s attempt to amend a city code so that it could build on its courtyard, which it currently uses as a parking lot. Once the plan was made public, neighbors recoiled, arguing that the portion of the city code in question, which dates back to the mid-1800s, essentially considers the front gardens on First through Fourth places as public streets that can not be built upon. Changing it would allow a precedent that, opponents said, could lead to an erosion in the very essence of the neighborhood — the front gardens that give Carroll Gardens its name.

“We were most afraid that once law changed for [Hannah Senesh] other people would get the same idea and it would be changed again, and the signature courtyards would vanish, corner by corner,” said Triada Samaras, a member of the group Carroll Gardens Coalition for Respectful Development.

The controversy, which began in December, put a bitter punctuation mark on the term of Councilman Bill DeBlasio (D-Park Slope), who was preparing to introduce a bill that would amend the administrative code to allow the expansion. The resulting local outcry derailed that maneuver. Opponents argued that such a significant change in a land use should go through the city’s public review process.

Pam Kaplan, the president of the Hannah Senesh board of directors, said that the school abandoned the plan because it is “sensitive to the concerns of our neighbors.”

“We know that we will need additional space in the future … and will seek out such opportunities when available,” she added. “We are, as a school, looking forward to being part of the Carroll Gardens community for many years to come.”

She declined to say whether the school had found an off-site location for its expansion.

The 152-student Jewish day school, which has been at its current location for just three years, said it sought the expansion not to add enrollment, but to expand programs.

Now “the school is going to have to adapt to what is best for the kids,” said Ken Fisher, the former Councilman hired by the school as its lobbyist. “How it plays out, we don’t know.”

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