COMMUNITY RALLIES TO SAVE AN ARCHITECTURAL LANDMARK IN BROOKLYN
Neighbors vs. Big Development to Save the “Crown Jewel of Crown Heights”
The only remaining 19th century institutional building in the Crown Heights North Historic District of Brooklyn, New York is being threatened by plans for a 180-unit, 160,000-square-foot development that is a callous monument to gentrification and speculative greed. Community members, inspired by the grassroots efforts in nearby neighborhoods to defend crucial institutions like the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and resist racialized displacement, are rallying to fight the impending threat and to preserve the integrity of the important historic building.
An intergenerational coalition of neighbors, organizing under the banner “Friends of 920 Park,” are responding with creative acts of activism, including banner paintings from local artists, block party protests, and coordinated testimony against the project to their city council representatives, Community Board 8, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission. A petition opposing the project, addressed to Council Member Robert E. Cornegy Jr., has surpassed 3,700 signatures. Yet the councilman has thus far ignored the community’s letters of concern, which date back to January 2020.
Dubbed the “crown jewel of Crown Heights,” the landmarked site of the Methodist Home for the Aged, now the Hebron Seventh Day Adventist School at 914-920 Park Place, is considered the finest example of Romanesque revival architecture in the neighborhood. Since its construction in 1889, the site has served as a place of charity and social consciousness. Today, that sense of community is under threat by a developer’s plans to construct a massive seven-story apartment complex that would not only demolish parts of the historic building, but disrupt the architectural and social fabric of the neighborhood.
The developer, Hope Street Capital (HSC) is a self-proclaimed “real estate investment group dedicated to opportunistic investment.” The group’s business model centers around exploiting vulnerable communities and preying on religious organizations that are in financial distress. Previous developments from HSC have infuriated communities with misleading renderings as well as incongruous designs that the Historic District Council has criticized as “stark to a fault.” Additionally, HSC’s architect of record for the proposed project holds a seat on the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which is the very agency that must approve the project.
A huge new mid-rise building of mainly market-rate rental apartments would dangerously tilt the demographic composition of the community from what it has long been: a quiet low-density area of families and long-term residents. Of the 182 proposed units, 160 are one-bedroom apartments averaging 540 square feet (the average NYC one-bedroom is 750 square feet). The small unit sizes as well as the building’s lack of amenities make it clear that this development is catering to young, short-term tenants who will not be looking to settle down and integrate into the community. Although the developer has verbally indicated plans to set aside 30% of the units as “affordable,” it has not specified the cap on the AMI for the affordable units, nor put its commitment into writing. And the lack of larger apartments will do nothing to address the severe shortage of affordable housing for families in this part of Brooklyn.
The building and grounds were designated NYC landmarks in 2011, as part of the Crown Heights North Historic District II, and were placed on the State and National Register of Historic Places in 2014. And yet the plans filed with the New York City Department of Buildings violate the property’s landmarked designation in a number of ways, including:
- Inappropriate scale and incompatible aesthetic for the setting: The proposed development is 81.5’ at its tallest, 350’ in length and 65’ wide, which is twice as tall as the adjacent row houses, and would be built to the full extent of the lot. The modern, monolithic design is completely incompatible with the aesthetic of the historic Home, the block, and the neighborhood.
- Obscured sightlines and adverse impact on the Home’s visual entity: The proposed development would completely obscure the south façade, eliminate publicly accessible views of the Home from Sterling Place, and dwarf the school when viewed from Park Place or New York Avenue. These changes represent significant and permanent losses to the Home’s visual entity.
- Character-altering changes to surrounding green space: The Home’s visual prominence in relation to the streetscape relies on the open space surrounding it. The eradication of this space on the south side of the Home, along with the introduction of a massive, incongruous structure, will obliterate those visual relationships and have a significant adverse impact on the character of the Home.
Finally, the environmental impact from the proposed development would be hugely detrimental to the residents of Crown Heights North. In a neighborhood that is already highly stressed, the proposed development would remove green space, create a heat island, affect airflow, intensify noise, and greatly diminish the capacity of the surrounding sewer system to handle storm water runoff. HSC has given no indication that they are mindful of the community’s health and well-being. Given the outsized impact communities of color have suffered from environmental racism in Brooklyn and elsewhere, it is outrageous that the proposed development has no green initiative.
About Friends of 920 Park:
Friends of 920 Park is made up of a growing group of concerned neighbors who care deeply about Crown Heights North, the historic, architecturally significant neighborhood they call home, and who wish to protect its heritage from the rapacious development that continues to spread through Brooklyn. Find them online at friendsof920park.com, on Instagram at @friendsof920park, and Twitter at @920parkfriends.
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