It’s a ‘senior’ moment on Lefferts Place as company wants to build tall

The Brooklyn Paper
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A long-frozen plan to build affordable senior housing on Lefferts Place has come back to life, revealing a rift in the normally quiet corner of Clinton Hill between neighbors divided over the six-story project.

The debate isn’t over the need for the building’s 71 units — it’s over whether the non-profit housing organization hoping to built it should be allowed to exceed the neighborhood’s five-story height limit.

By one story.

Outspoken opponents condemn CNR Health Care Network’s intentions, saying that the extra floor would mar a street intact with many late 19th-century homes and erase a 2007 victory in the City Council to ban taller buildings on the three-block-long street.

“We are against the development because it is a massive nursing and housing complex [that] will dwarf the surrounding brownstones, limestones, rowhouses and villas,” said Serge Vatel, a Lefferts Place property owner, in a lengthy letter asking Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Clinton Hill) to oppose the project. “Why are politicians willing to roll over for a healthcare developer and destroy the wonderful community that we have built over decades of hard work?”

The addition of below-market rate housing for the elderly in a somewhat taller-than-permitted building, however, is not an inherent threat to everyone on Lefferts Place.

“There are a lot of seniors in the community, and they need some place nice to live,” said Catherine Taylor, the treasurer of the Lefferts Place Civic Association.

Taylor is undecided about the project, but said she’d be opposed to it if it were “outrageously tall.”

The question of the senior housing dominated Wednesday night’s block association meeting. Before the meeting, there was talk that Civic Association President Richard Roach was in danger of losing his leadership role because he supports the project against the apparent wishes of the majority of his group. The meeting ended after The Brooklyn Paper’s Wednesday night deadline (check for an update).

James said the developer should have a summit with the residents to resolve the tension.

The controversy about the geriatric homes partly stems from a dearth of details about the project. Vatel’s letter suggests that neighbors think that CNR is trying to build as high as eight floors with more than 100 units.

Officials spoke to The Brooklyn Paper to dispel the rumors. Their plans call for 11 parking spaces, a garden area and community rooms.

Everything would have been built prior to the 2007 neighborhood rezoning if it were not for a legal dispute with their landlord that was only settled earlier this year. Reducing the scope to comply with the new zoning would have cost the company $9 million in federal housing loans, because, CNR says, the Department of Housing and Urban Development doesn’t lend to smaller projects.

“We were in a quandary,” said Mike Bialek, a vice president at Abraham Health Services, a CNR affiliate.

The company chose to press on with the original plans and hopes to convince the upset neighbors that the project is not excessive.

“We certainly don’t want to go against the community,” he said.

The company has not yet filed a request with the city to get approval for its plans.

Updated 6:17 pm, August 6, 2009
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