De Blasio and CM Eugene announce housing plan for former School and Historic Burial Site

Google maps image of 2286 Church Avenue. 2016.

Mayor Bill de Blasio along with Councilmember Mathieu Eugene (D-Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood, Prospect Park, Prospect Lefferts Gardens) announced plans to develop 130 ‘affordable’ homes at 2274-2286 Church Avenue in Flatbush, which was once the historic Flatbush District No. 1 School or Public School 90 (P.S. 90).

Councilmember Mathieu Eugene Photo by Phoebe Taylor Vuolo
Mayor Bill de Blasio

“We know that there is an urgent need for housing equality in Brooklyn, and this project is a significant step in helping hardworking New Yorkers live comfortably while raising their families,” said Eugene about the housing plans.

“We will also be assisting our young people, who are in a very uncertain predicament right now, and we need to take advantage of resources that will create an infrastructure to empower them with the skills and confidence needed to contribute to the future of New York City,” said Eugene.

The 29,000 square foot development site was demolished in 2015 because of hazardous structural conditions. The city is launching a ‘request for proposals’ (RFP) to develop housing units and space dedicated to educational and vocational training programs for local youth. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) will release the ‘request for qualifications’ (RFQ) later this year, followed by a RFP later next year to the qualified respondents.

“With 130 affordable apartments and educational and vocational training facilities, this project will restore this vacant historic site as a true asset for the surrounding Flatbush community,” said De Blasio.

The plot of land was home to a historic school building and a slave grave site before that, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).

Flatbush was “transform[ing] from an agricultural village into a major suburb” when architect John Y. Culyer designed the school and town hall in 1878. It was made out of red Philadelphia brick and a “direct descendant of the original, seventeenth-century Flatbush school, which was the earliest school on Long Island.”

Slavery was a “brutal component of Flatbush life” since 1660, “and it was particularly widespread among Dutch families who ‘wanted slaves not as servants but as agricultural laborers as they sought to profit from feeding the metropolis,’” reported the LPC.

In 1820 the Flatbush District No. 1 School site was “reputed” to have been a slaves’ cemetery where 2000 fragments of human jawbone, and some teeth, were found in the schoolyard. By the early 2000s, an archaeological excavation confirmed the presence of human remains at the site, saying that it was “likely a burial ground for people of African ancestry.” The human remains were transferred to the minister of the Reformed Dutch Church of Flatbush consecrated cemetery.

Recently, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and LPC established guidelines and community engagement protocol for “unanticipated discoveries” of human remains in the city.

“We are always looking for opportunities to transform underused public sites into dynamic affordable housing that can serve the broader needs of the community,” said HPD Commissioner Louise Carroll. “We are excited to work with EDC and other partners to begin a new chapter for this long-vacant site via a mindful, community-driven planning process that respects its past.”

“Local leaders have advocated for this underused property to better serve the Flatbush community, with affordable housing and educational space,” said NYCEDC President James Patchett. “I’m happy that today we are taking a big step toward making that a reality, and I’m looking forward to working with the task force to meaningfully acknowledge the site’s history and realize a vision of equitable development.”

They pledge to make efforts to identify the descendent communities of the colonial enslaved and freed Africans of early Flatbush. The task force is supposed to work with the RFP process to establish a memorial for the historic site and the significant role of African Americans in the creation of the neighborhood.