Cornegy Ignores Community Outcry Over Big Developer Threatening Historic Crown Heights
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Community groups say no to sacrificing landmarked architectural jewel to a gentrifying rental complex. Organizations opposed include Friends of 920 Park, Crown Heights North Association, Sterling Place Civic Association, and Crown Heights Tenant Union.
The Crown Heights North Historic District of Brooklyn was landmarked in 2007 in order to protect this extraordinary neighborhood from destruction by developers. Today, Hope Street Capital is looking to partially demolish one of its architectural crown jewels – the Hebron School at 920 Park Place – to build 180 predominantly pricey one-bedroom rentals.
Community organizations are uniting to say no: ‘No’ to exploiting Black communities to make a quick speculative buck. ‘No’ to more housing instability in a community reeling from Covid. (Hebron’s 11213 zip code has seen at least 149 Covid-related deaths.) Instead, community members are proposing that the existing building be renovated with State aid and repurposed as a community center and learning garden, with its green space preserved for the congregation and the community and excess produce donated to the Hebron food pantry during the harvest season.
A petition opposing the new building, addressed to Council Member Robert E. Cornegy Jr., has surpassed 5,300 signatures. Councilman Cornegy has refused to take a position on the Hebron development and continues to keep his constituents at arm’s length.
“This is just the latest attempt by callous developers to exploit Brooklyn for all it’s worth, rolling roughshod over the people who actually live here,” said Deborah Young of Crown Heights North, who is a member of Friends of 920 Park.
Friends of 920 Park said, “It’s disappointing that Councilman Cornegy has so far declined to stand with this historic neighborhood against rapacious development. We are calling on our neighbors to take action by calling on Councilman Cornegy to oppose the development, signing our petition and organizing with us.”
Crown Heights North is home to a wealth of landmarks in Black and especially Caribbean history. Its landmarks include Shirley Chisholm’s campaign headquarters, now home to the archive of Carlos Lezama, the “Father of Brooklyn Carnival.” The Hebron School is widely considered the architectural crown jewel of the neighborhood, the only remaining 19th century institutional building in the district, and the neighborhood’s finest example of a Romanesque revival building (read its whole history here). The Methodist Home building complex and its grounds received national and state landmark designation in 2011. They are included in the 2011 Crown Heights North Phase 2 Historic District, as designated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).
For their work protecting the community, landmarking advocates were called “visionaries” by now New York Attorney General Letitia James in the Wall Street Journal. “Because of them, there’s less blight, less demolition, less skyscrapers.” Deborah Young, one of the original landmarking advocates and a co-founder of the Crown Heights North Association (CHNA), says “a decade ago, we fought to protect and preserve the integrity of this neighborhood. This battle is a test of the integrity of the landmarking process.”
“How can they build in this historic district when the LPC goes out to check private homes for changing the front door, or changing the color of their stoop if their shades differ from the original color,” says Phyllis Grannum of the Sterling Place Civic Association. “Is that right? Is that fair? CHNA has worked so hard to get landmarked status. This is a monstrosity and is not welcome in the community. It’s upsetting to know an outsider can come in and do what they want to do.” Added association member Mike Combs, “If this new construction is allowed, then landmarking is meaningless.”
The would-be developer of 920 Park Place, Hope Street Capital (HSC) is a self-proclaimed “real estate investment group dedicated to opportunistic investment.” The group’s business model has involved 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 criticized by the Historic Districts Council. 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.
Without these protections, gentrification would be turbocharged. The Crown Heights Tenant Union spoke to the effects that the development would have:
“The historic building at 920 Park Place was originally built to serve the elderly and impoverished – a palace for the poor. It was then preserved by the African Americans and Caribbean Americans who kept this redlined neighborhood going through NYC’s hard economic times, turning Crown Heights into the thriving community that developers covet today. Turning over any part of this property to become luxury one-bedrooms – unsuitable for and beyond the reach of the families that built this neighborhood – would undoubtedly further gentrify our community through secondary displacement. Ignoring the racial and economic impact of this displacement would be an insult to the site’s history, and harmful to working-class Black and brown tenants in Crown Heights, who are most vulnerable to displacement. Ignoring the racial and economic impact of this displacement would be an insult to the site’s history, and harmful to working-class Black and brown tenants in Crown Heights, who are most vulnerable to displacement. For this reason, the Crown Heights Tenant Union opposes this project.”
What’s more, we now have evidence that neighborhoods of color are plagued by higher temperatures and unhealthy environmental conditions due to racist redlining. By eliminating some of the little green space in Crown Heights, Hope Street Capital would be creating a heat island and contributing to unhealthy living conditions for the entire community. And there is the further health risk of building a densely packed development amid Covid.
CONTACT: email@example.com, (908) 768-2890
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Information about the historic Hebron School:
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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.