Bedford-Union Armory project in Crown Heights approved by City Council

The City Council approved the Bedford-Union Armory redevelopment proposal on Thursday, paving the way for the controversial project to move forward despite a lawsuit challenging the plan.

Under the current redevelopment proposal, the vacant armory would be transformed into a recreation center, office space for nonprofits and an apartment complex with 414 units, 250 of which would be set aside for low-income housing.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which is leading the project along with private developer BFC Partners, welcomed the council’s support on Thursday.

“Over the past four years, we have proudly worked with Council Member [Laurie] Cumbo and the Crown Heights community to redevelop a vacant armory into a center of opportunity for this neighborhood,” EDC president and CEO James Patchett said in an emailed statement. “We thank Council Member Cumbo for her leadership, and her City Council colleagues for voting in support of a project that will serve the needs of families and residents in Crown Heights for generations to come.”

Originally, EDC planned to sell part of the former military outpost to BFC Partners for the creation of 56 condos. EDC intended to lease the rest of the site to the developer for 330 mixed-income apartments, office space and a rec center.

After the proposal was met with heavy criticism from housing advocates who decried the use of public land for private profit, Cumbo, Crown Heights’ City Council representative, worked with EDC and BFC Partners to revise the redevelopment plan. 

After negotiations, EDC opted not to sell any of the property to BFC Partners and to nix the condos. Instead, BFC Partners will build 414 apartments, which will include a greater share of units permanently affordable to those earning up to 60 percent of the metro area’s median income, according to Cumbo. Locals will be given a preference for half of these 250 below market rate units, Cumbo said earlier in November while touting the redrawn plan.

The recreation center will also offer reduced membership for Crown Heights residents and make community activities, art and educational opportunities more available for the neighborhood’s youth, officials have said.

“Today marks the culmination of a two-year journey, which began with a project that did not integrate our most basic needs, and now reflects what we have long envisioned for the Bedford Union Armory in Crown Heights,” Cumbo said in a statement.

Skeptics, however, claim the project would only accelerate gentrification in the area. A lawsuit filed by the Legal Aid Society on Wednesday claims the city failed to use accurate methodology when measuring the number of residents who would be displaced because it didn’t take into account the indirect impact the project would have on rent-regulated tenants. 

Part of the lawsuit sought to halt Thursday’s City Council vote, but a judge denied that request, city officials said.

Vaughn Armour, the Crown Heights leader for New York Communities for Change, released a scathing statement Thursday criticizing the City Council for its approval of the project.

“Today’s vote by Laurie Cumbo and the City Council is nothing short of betrayal,” Armour said. “They have decided to green-light the mayor’s plan to further gentrify my neighborhood by building hundreds of luxury housing units on the public’s land.”

New York Communities for Change is among a handful organizations that want 100 percent of the apartments in the armory redevelopment to be affordable housing units. Armour said Cumbo has failed her district by supporting the project, even after renegotiating the deal.

“Despite campaign promises, Cumbo approved a project that turns a public resource over for private profit, and in exchange she is giving us a recreation center that no one will be able to use because they will have been pushed out. This is an insult,” Armour added.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has supported the project, praised the City Council for its decision, saying the redevelopment will bring “jobs for local residents” and “community spaces for learning, growing.”

“As we plan for the future, we protect the core values of our city and our neighborhoods – and most importantly the very residents who built these communities,” de Blasio said in an emailed statement. 

With Sarina Trangle and Rajvi Desai 

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