Brooklyn politicians proclaim ‘this land is our land’

Brooklyn politicians proclaim ‘this land is our land’
Photo by Tequila Minsky

Four Brooklyn elected officials have united in writing a joint editorial piece, proclaiming that “this land is our land,” referring to the Bedford-Union Armory “skirmish” in Crown Heights.

“We agree with the recent Crain’s New York Editorial, ‘The Armory skirmish shows it’s time to think bigger in Crown Heights,’” wrote Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, State Sen. Jesse Hamilton, Assemblyman Walter T. Mosley, and Assemblywoman Diana Richardson.

“We enthusiastically reiterate Crain’s statement that we need a broader vision to grow Crown Heights in a way that preserves its economic and ethnic diversity,” they said. “We are duty bound as the locally elected officials of the Crown Heights community in which the Bedford-Union Armory resides, to work to achieve this laudable goal since the project is on public, city-owned land. Ultimately, we are all the landlords.”

However, before addressing this goal of growth and the preservation of economic and ethnic diversity, the legislators said they must have “good faith and transparency.”

“For us, there remain a number of unanswered questions regarding the financials of the proposed project, the benefits and the burdens,” they said. “We must be clear about the facts.”

According to Crain’s Business News, “the market-rate rentals and condominiums will subsidize the recreational center and leave enough profit to justify the risk to the city’s chosen builder, BFC Partners.”

“All of the locally elected officials have asked this question repeatedly: Exactly just how much profit are we talking about here?” the legislators wrote. “And at what cost to the community? What exactly are the details of these finances?”

The politicians said BFC has not revealed that to any of them, nor has the City, “despite repeated requests.”

“It would be interesting to know whether BFC has released this information to a news organization and not to us,” they said. “For the sake of governmental, journalistic and business transparency, we request that BFC share that information with us as well.

“How can anyone validate a project of this magnitude without seeing the financials?” they queried.

Clarke, Hamilton, Moseley and Richardson said another very important concern that was omitted from the Crain’s article was: What happened regarding Slate Property Group, formerly a partner in the project?

They asked whether there be a new partner selected?

“If so, what is the process for such a selection? How can there be an expectation of approval of a project when we have no idea of who is party to the negotiation and their intentions?” they further asked.

Notwithstanding what the legislators said is the lack of clarification and transparency of the financing of the project, they reject the notion that the rec center – “really a community center – as an amenity, should be used as a Trojan horse to build luxury housing.”

They suggested that the community center includes a variety of services, such as tech classes, adding that it should pay for itself.

“We should not have to trade off affordable housing to build the community center,” the elected officials said.

As it stands, they said the proposal presents only 66 out of 330 units being available to those earning below area media income – “that 20 percent of the units allocated to near-affordability is nowhere near reasonable.

“As elected officials, we are united in the need for community services and amenities which provide tremendous benefits to Crown Heights and beyond,” they said. “We may not all have a formal role in land use disposition, but we all have taken an oath to protect and serve the community that we represent.

“We raised our voices together regarding the urgency of addressing homelessness, the overweighting of studio apartments, and other concerns in our joint Oct. 6, 2016 letter,” they added.

The officials noted that the City’s administration is developing the site through the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), “whose stated vision is to create economic growth “fueled by the City’s diverse people and businesses.

“We are clear that Crown Heights does not need more luxury development,” they said, adding that the number of large luxury developments going up in the area is “staggering.”

“That’s why, after extensive conversations with the community, a logical consensus emerged with a rare level of support: The community and elected officials are committed to creating a community center along with 100 percent affordable housing development,” Clarke, Hamilton, Moseley and Richardson said.

“Let’s remember who owns this land: The City of New York,” they added. “If BFC can’t come up with a plan that fits the needs of the landlord, our community, then maybe they are not the right developer for the project.

“We urge the EDC to live up to their words. Not every building being developed in Crown Heights needs to be or should be a luxury tower,” they continued.

“We support ‘a broader, more inclusive vision of growth in Crown Heights that preserves its economic and ethnic diversity,’” the elected officials said. “Unfortunately, this current development plan does not do that. We can and must do better.”