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Community Board 2 says ‘No’ to controversial Clinton Hill charter school building

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Community Board 2 voted down a controversial plan to build a 100-foot-tall high school in Clinton Hill on Wednesday.

The board’s land use committee had voted to approve the application in February, but it didn’t know some residents hated the plan then, and members were relieved they got the chance to recast their ballot now that they had more information about the impact of the proposal on the low-rise neighborhood.

“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to right this wrong,” said Hilda Cohen, who sits on the land use committee.

The board voted 32–2 with two abstentions and one recusal against Unity Preparatory Charter School’s application for zoning exemptions that would allow it to construct a 101-foot high institution on Lexington Avenue between Grand and Classon avenues on land owned by housing advocacy group Impacct Brooklyn.

The vote came after two public hearings, one approval, one deadlock, and one cancelled poll.

School honchos had received the land use committee’s tick of approval this winter, but the application didn’t advance to a full board vote after locals told the community board they knew nothing of the plan.

The board then held a public hearing in April where residents living in 15 Quincy — a below-market-rate building that would share a lot with the new school — railed against the plan because the institution would block light and air to pads with windows that only face the parking lot where it is to be built.

Unity Prep argued the site is the perfect location for the school because most of its students come from the area and currently have to trek to a temporary location in Brownsville. Officials also said they got a good deal on the land they couldn’t find anywhere else in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The board’s executive committee deadlocked in its vote on the application following the hearing last month and didn’t have a recommendation to pass onto the Board of Standards and Appeals, which will ultimately decide its fate. But chairwoman Shirely McCrae decided to hold a special vote on on Wednesday to ensure the board weighed in.

Before the referendum, she showed members never-before-seen renderings of the school sticking out against the three to four-story block she said hadn’t previously been shown because the committee hadn’t asked for them.

“I’ve been told the committee didn’t ask the right questions, that’s why you didn’t see these slides,” said McCray.

Following that, Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D–Clinton Hill) made an plea for the board to vote against the proposal while also telling Unity Prep parents that she will work with them to find a new site in the area.

“I cannot express how much I am opposed to a 10-story structure at that location,” she said. “These variances at this degree would block all natural sunlight on the back of the properties.”

One school official saw it differently, and argued the institution would have added much more to the neighborhood than it would have taken away, and hopes that everyone promising to help the school find a new cheap site will follow through

“I think a new school in our community is a value added tremendously to the community, so some of the concerns brought up, I don’t think outweigh the benefits of having a new school,” said Joshua Beauregard, who one of the Unity Prep founders. “I hope that some of the folks who came out against the proposal tonight are actively willing to advocate for this school to make sure we do have a home in the community we serve.”

The application will next go before the Board of Standards and Appeals at a date to be determined.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Updated 5:59 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

R.J. from Clinton Hill says:
Shirley McRae and Laurie Cumbo deserve ourthanks for going to the mat to save us from this preposterously oversized building. Deb Howard wasn't around when the full CB2 voted on May 10. Howard is responsible for thewhole thing. She got really greedy on this deal and it's going off the tracks. The Unity guy is lying about the Unity families living in Clinton Hill. They don't.
May 15, 2017, 11:31 am
Local on Lexington says:
The principal of the charter school doesn't live here himself but he refers to "our community." He's carpetbagging his huge luxury school onto our little block.
May 15, 2017, 4:45 pm
Gary from Fort Greene says:
So what if it's tall? It is a high school! Maybe put a shorter building on top of a hill.
May 15, 2017, 4:55 pm
Mom from Clinton Hill says:
Put it in Atlantic Yards. FCRC was supposed to do something for the community.
May 15, 2017, 8:27 pm
R.J. from Clinton Hill says:
Great idea! Put it in Atlantic Yards where it will be dwarfed by Ratner's skyscrapers instead of being the elephantiasis on a little block.
May 15, 2017, 9:52 pm
Joe from Clinton Hill says:
The Land Use committee needs to start asking a lot more questions, and educating itself on the contextual zoning in place in this area before rubber stamping developers' applications for whatever. They should start making site visits, and focusing on the issue, which in this case was the variances being applied for and the effect the building would have on its immediate surroundings. What the building contained was in this case irrelevant; besides, the kids would go have gone home at the end of the school day, but the tenants in 15 Quincy would be living with this carbuncle cutting off their light and air for the rest of their lives in that building. The school will find another site, hopefully where its presence won't congest traffic on a tiny street where that's already an issue, and where it won't leave people living in the dark.
May 15, 2017, 10:43 pm
samir kabir from downtown says:
Is it Shirley McCray or Shirley McCrae? Both spellings are used in this article. Or are they two separate individuals?
May 16, 2017, 6:28 am
samir kabir from downtown says:
........ would block light and air to pads with windows that only face the parking lot ......
What are "air to pads"?
Another Lauren Gill article.
May 16, 2017, 6:30 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
Sure, make kids go to school in a distant neighborhood. At least the dolts won't have to see a tall building.

Some people have really messed up priorities.
May 16, 2017, 7:55 am
Ike says:
Hi Mike. Can you provide the enrollment data by ZIP Code? Thanks.
May 16, 2017, 8:44 am
Bob from Brooklym Heights says:
It's McRae.
May 16, 2017, 11:07 am
MD from Fort Greene says:
Agree with Joe from Clinton Hill - it was definitely about asking the right questions and the committee doing their homework. It's about FACTS not some random statements about kids having to go to school in a distant neighborhood.

The straight up fact that everyone skips over - the property doesn't have any more development rights - period. Nothing can be built on this lot because it's been already used up for the affordable housing that is located there. And therefore, the application is asking for MORE development rights PLUS making a building that is over twice as high and twice as large and doesn't even bother to respect the affordable housing building sharing the same lot by asking to get even closer than allowed.

And I think, reading his comments, that Unity's founder does not want to see these facts or what he thinks are just 'concerns brought up' of course, because it sucks for the school. But it's not about the school - or any use - whether it adds value or not to the community. Of course a school is beneficial to the neighborhood - no denying that. It's not about Unity - or any school for that matter. Hopefully he and the school and the students will realize that it's not about concerns, but FACTS. The developer is trying to get WAY more than what is allowed from the property besides that it really can't be built on. Which is probably why they told the community board that the community was notified and approved it when no one was notified at all - hoping it will slip through the cracks and be too far along to back off. And so the concerns are important but the FACTS should be fairly considered. That's the bottom line.
May 16, 2017, 11:29 am
R.J. from Clinton Hill says:
MD, your synopsis is brilliant. You got it all right what's all wrong about this too big building on an already developed property, which makes what Deb Howard of Impact all the dirtier looking. She knows as much as any big developer because Impact is a big developer albeit camoflaged as a nonprofit. A cold blooded move on her part and by using the kids, families and teachers of Unity school in the process.
May 16, 2017, 9:30 pm

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