Weak words: Crown Heights civic leader doubts pol’s opposition to new development, citing past flip-flops

No grow: Botanic Garden bigwigs double down on opposition to proposed Franklin Ave megadevelopment
The mayor threw his hat into the “Fight for Sunlight” controversy for the first time on Feb. 7.
Continuum Company

She’s worried about history repeating.

A Crown Heights civic leader doubted that the neighborhood’s councilwoman will uphold her opposition to a controversial 39-story development that experts say could cast harmful shadows on the nearby Brooklyn Botanic Garden, citing the legislator’s history of approving other polarizing projects — after making showy displays against them.

“I think that eventually she’ll come back and say that, after looking at the studies that were done, and all the information, and all the evidence that points to maybe this isn’t such a bad thing, she’ll vote in favor of it,” Community Board 9 Chairwoman Patricia Baker said of Councilman Laurie Cumbo (D–Crown Heights).

A rep for Cumbo recently slammed developer Continuum Company’s proposal to rezone a lot at 960 Franklin Ave. in order to erect two 39-story towers with market-rate and so-called affordable housing, arguing the area is already overburdened by too many large buildings.

“This proposal, developed with zero community consultation, or input, may need a full reset, not just tinkering around the edges,” Crystal Hudson, Cumbo’s chief of staff, said at a March 12 meeting of the City Planning Commission.

But Baker doubts the pol will uphold the critical stance her rep showed at the meeting — and predicts the legislator will ultimately move to support the project, like she did for other developments that she gave her blessing to after publicly questioning their necessity.

In December, the councilwoman voted to approve a rezoning that builders Cornell Realty and Carmel Partners sought in order to erect two 16-story towers at 40 Crown St. and 931 Carroll St., after the developers modified their Botanic Garden–adjacent project — which some critics warned could also cast harmful shadows — to include more below-market-rate housing.

But her blessing came after she subjected reps for the builders to a severe tongue lashing at a November Council subcommittee meeting, where she asked the proxies how gentrification makes them feel, and criticized the project’s then-smaller affordable-housing component.

And in 2017, amid Cumbo’s Council reelection bid, campaign fliers circulated claiming the legislator would vote down a hugely controversial scheme to transform the city-owned Bedford-Union Armory in her district into a mixed-use development, unless the site’s developer made all of the residential units below-market-rate.

But Cumbo — whose spokeswoman at the time said she couldn’t comment on the fliers without knowing their source — ultimately agreed to endorse builder BFC Partners’s requested rezoning for the armory redevelopment, and allow the firm to include 149 market-rate rentals in the building, weeks after voters reelected her.

CB9 members, meanwhile, voted to oppose both of those developments outright, and Baker expressed frustration at the apparent indifference with which Cumbo and her peers treat local residents’ opinions.

“I’m frustrated and disappointed in our elected officials,” she said. “I’m disappointed that it doesn’t seem to matter what we do as community members, that these things keep happening, and they keep saying it’s the best thing that could happen to the community — I don’t think it is.”

The panel members, however, are still waiting for Continuum Company reps to present their Franklin Avenue project — which has yet to begin its formal journey through the city’s lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Procedure — before taking an official stance on it.

Still, Baker expressed serious misgivings about the impact the towers’ 1,578 units — half of which will be below-market-rate — and their occupants will have on local infrastructure.

“There’s a lot of development, and the community has a lot of concerns, about infrastructure, the sewers, the transit, the schools,” she said.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
F-liar: These fliers allegedly circulated amid Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo’s successful 2017 re-election campaign claimed the lawmaker would fight against any plan to redevelop the Bedford-Union Armory that didn’t include 100-percent affordable housing.