Op-Ed: Mis-Development Plans for the Bedford Union Armory


I challenge the New York City Economic Development Corporation when they write that “NYCEDC is committed to having the project for the Bedford Union Armory serve the needs of families and residents in Crown Heights for generations to come.”

As an architect, preservationist and urbanist it is clear to me that the plans for Bedford Union Armory are a disaster in formation. This plan is simply a bureaucratic checklist which ignores end users and the greater community.   

Bedford Union Armory offers unique possibilities for dealing with the host of pressing issues of this community. Yes, there is crucial need for more truly affordable housing and recreational/health facilities. However, the environmental challenges of Hurricane Sandy demonstrate the need for secure local sources of energy, water and food come what may. Moreover these needs overlap fully. Only a response addressing all needs will address any of them.

Housing remains affordable only through assured subsidies or its tenants enjoy real living wage jobs. In the Armory the solution lies in installing a micro energy station, an urban farm and a carbon scrapper in addition to housing and a health facility. This will provide subsidies and jobs capable of assuring economic stability. Of course the energy and food produced here will benefit greater New York City during any emergency as well as “normal” times.

Proposed plans demonstrate lack of concern for anything other than profit for the developers. Witness how the planned demolition os the Stable Pavilions will destabilize the Riding Hall. This will release the acre+ of unstable Asbestos particle matter over planned recreational facilities. This is unconscionable, unethical, amoral, immoral, unprincipled, indefensible, unforgivable, unscrupulous, unfair, underhanded, dishonorable, unethical. It is simply wrong to ignore the danger that this condition poses to those most prone to disease and least able to defend themselves: children and the elderly. 

All of this to serve developers indifferent to the well-being of anything other than their pocket-book. All of this through a rubber stamp of approval by misinformed and half educate bureaucrats. All of this when the developers say that they do not wish to remove the Asbestos covered roof of the Riding Hall in respect for its historic character. Really? All of this will destroy lives.

Contrary to the purely economic interests of the developers, it is absolutely necessary to replace the roof and existing fenestration of the Riding Hall. And their allegations that this would cause damage to the historic character of this structure are laughable.

One cannot underscore enough that however strict the regulations, regulations in themselves do not ensure enforcement. Especially when there is no honest interest in enforcing the intention of those regulations. This is even more true when the Environmental Protection Agency has effectively been shut down from above. As for relying on any DEP-certified Asbestos investigator hired by the developers to undertake an honest determination of the presence of Asbestos-containing material, here any regulations -no matter how “strict”– will be perfunctory to suit the interests of the developer.

One can see this in the 3000 page Phase I Environmental Site Assessment  done by the developers. That focused on a single test site at a non sensitive location. It only mentions Asbestos twice. The first alludes to the possible presence of Asbestos in HVAC ductwork removed decades before, implying that if it ever existed here it was removed long ago. Indeed Asbestos appears only as the first on the extensive list of items not covered in that report. A thoroughly pro forma piece of work long enough to cover up the real issues by getting them lost in its thousands of pages of bureaucratic drivel.

[Developer] BFC will surely push for minimal interventions to address the Asbestos saturating this building. This problem cannot be resolved though mere removal of certain panels or the encapsulation or enclosure of the rest. And yes, any minimal effort will be sandwiched with Asbestos project notification (ACP-7 Form)” to the DEP, “work safety plans” and “file for permits” accompanied by beautifully maintained and “detailed logs” as well as “reports of abatement” with “air quality monitoring”. All of this to enforce health regulations in the breach. And upon due completion of all due paperwork DEP will issue an Asbestos Project Completion Form, A.K.A. a check mark. Be sure that NYCEDC will work with BFC to keep community members misinformed throughout this process.

Should the proposed project for the Bedford Union Armory be completed, it would be appropriate for Mayor De Blasio to invite President Trump with the head of his EPA to an opening ceremony ending with burning a copy of the Paris Accord. Their presence will show how Real Estate can prepare and profit from the end of the World, the “Ultimate Deal.”

Juan Blanco Ruiz lives in Crown Heights and holds a PhD.

Editor’s Note: It is the policy for KCP to post all op-eds it receives with very few exceptions. The op-eds may or may not reflect the views of KCP.