Bedford Union Armory: Same Plan, Different Meeting, No Change

New York Communities for Change (NYCC) and local residents rallying in protest of the Bedford Unioin Armory redevelopment plan

Nobody could hear the proposed plan for the Bedford Union Armory redevelopment project among the deafening roars of “Kill the deal!” at last night’s Community Board 9 Land Use Committee meeting on the controversial plan, but that didn’t matter for the crowd of staunch opponents.

The meeting followed an earlier protest in which demonstrators demanded the project developers, BFC Partners, include 100% affordable housing, union jobs and a subsidized recreation center as part of the final project on the city-owned and long abandoned 150,000-square foot armory building in Crown Heights.

City Council Member Laurie Cumbo addressing crowd at CB 9 Bedford Unioin Amory ULURP Meeting.

“I think we’re all in agreement that we want to see something there that benefits the entire community. The challenge that we have is that negotiations broke down. I stated that you can not come before Community Board 9 with the same project you announced three years ago. You can not present 26 units of affordable housing to this community out of a total of 330, you can not put forward luxury condominiums on public land. You can not present that project, said City Council Member Laurie Cumbo (D-Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights). 

At the meeting, BFC Partners representative John Vallardes presented the original proposal when the city’s Economic Development Corporation (NYC EDC) first selected the company to convert the space in 2014 and announced the proposal in late 2015.

As it stands, the proposal, includes a 330-unit rental housing building with 50 percent affordable housing for low- and middle-income families, as well as market-rate condominiums, of which 20 percent will be affordable to middle-income homeowners.

Vallardes fielded questions single-handedly ranging from affordability to the cost of the redevelopment project through the course of the evening, often times being drowned out by chants of “kill the deal” and “booed” for his answers.

When Crown Heights Tenants Association member Esteban Guiron posed a question about the affordablility component of the project, Vallardes was only able to give a vague answer.

“At this time it is too premature to tell to say where we will end up on affordability. There are ongoing conversations and negotiations between the city and the developers. The Council Member [Laurie Cumbo] has made it clear that there will be no deal without lower rates of affordability but it is too premature to tell where we will end up on the affordability bands,” said Vallardes.

According to the plan the affordability rates range from 37% Average Median Income (AMI) to 110% AMI. This translates to an annual income range for a family of 3 from$34,360 to $54,490. AMIs are decided by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) who also oversee the lottery system, the amount of affordable housing units given for the project, and are the ones who awarded the land to BFC Partners through the original Request for Proposal (RFP).

According to opponents of the deal, the true median income of the residents in Crown Heights is $32,000-$38,000. No representative from HPD was in attendance at the meeting.

Ede Fox, the 35th City Council District Challenger, addressing a crowd of protesters.

“I think any city-owned property should be used for the public good and that’s not what’s happening here. We’re seeing a whole city block being designated mostly for luxury and market rate housing and not for the local community who needs it the most. People need support and assistance to stay in this community [Crown Heights],” said Ede Fox, who is challenging Cumbo in the 35th District City Council primary race.

When a local union worker asked about the ability of BFC to hire all union laborers, Vallardes was quick to point out that the project would be an “open shop.” Open shop contracting means that construction workers would not be required to be a union member.

“We allow both union and non-union contractors to bid on the project,” said Vallardes. A response that was met with an overwhelming amount of dissent in the packed meeting.

Vallardes went on let the crowd know that the recreational center would not be subsidized due to a funding gap for the multi-use space.

“There is a cross-subsidy. The condominiums provide $10 million in proceeds to subsidize a gap in the funding for the rec center,” said Vallardes.

The amount of luxury condos has gone up from the proposed 36 units to now 56 units in the plan. The recreational center will also require a fee-membership, one that BFC Partners will provide at a discounted rate to local residents, but will still cost over $100 annually.

The full Community Board 9 is slated to vote a recommended thumbs up or thumbs down on the project on Monday including suggestions for improving the project.

The proposed plan will then move on to Borough President Eric Adams’s office, then to the City Planning Commission, then on to the City Council for review and finally to Mayor Bill de Blasio. The City Council makes the official vote on the project’s approval or denial.

“Don’t let anyone tell you there is no alternative to this deal. There are alternatives. This is our land. This is our armory. I will chain myself if I have to make sure the Bedford Union Armory isn’t taken from us,” said Jabari Brisport, another candidate in the 35th Council District race.

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