Overwhelming Opposition Dominates Hearing on Hope Street Capital Project in Historic Crown Heights

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In an emotional three-hour hearing with the Land Use Committee of Community Board 8, residents confronted Hope Street Capital. The committee voted 14-2 against the project.

Upwards of 150 people showed up to Community Board 8’s Land Use Committee meeting on Thursday, October 1, where Hope Street Capital presented their plans for a 180-unit apartment building on the site of the Hebron School at 920 Park Place. (The meeting was held online via Webex.) Opposition to the project was overwhelming and concluded with a 14-2 committee vote to withhold support from the project. 

Following presentations by the developer and by the head of the Northeastern Conference of Seventh Day Adventists, members of the Hebron congregation were the first to voice their opposition, giving extensive testimony and stating that they had asked and been denied by their regional leadership for a small loan of $50,000 to repair the church, only to have their land sold out from under them. Barbara Germain, who attended Hebron school from nursery school to 8th grade testified that:

“We feel as though this project is a move backwards for Hebron. Birmingham, the school founder, a black man from Haiti, invested at the start of acquiring the entire school ground, not the Parkplace side.  For the future young black people in our church they need to know they don’t need to sell what they own in order to improve.” 

Ritha Pierre, another congregant, testified in detail about the deceptive way that the project was sold to the congregation and noted that after extensive attempts by young professional members to ask questions about the deal were shut down by church leadership, “a lot of the youth did not come back.” She testified that older members, many of whom do not speak English, were pushed to see the plan as the only option.

 “It would be hard for me to believe that the majority of the church congregation truly understood what was at stake when it was more of a bullying tactic: ‘well, if we don’t do this we’re going to lose the school.’ As opposed to really presenting the pros and cons in a way that would be understandable to the congregation.” 

Passionate statements of opposition were submitted by Friends of 920 Park, an intergenerational group of neighbors opposed to the project, and the Crown Heights North Association. (Both organizations’ formal letters to CB8 are available for download here and here.)

Democratic nominee for the 57th district of the New York State Assembly Phara Souffrant Forrest, who attended both the school and church at Hebron, made a powerful statement of opposition to the project.  She said in part:

“I am also a proud alumni of the Hebron Seventh Day Adventist School. I have attended the church, I have been a student at the school, and what I understand about this community is that gentrification is real and has been stripping our community of our members that make it what it is today. The Hebron Seventh Day Adventist School, in addition to being a landmark, has been an institution of pride in the Haitian community. So one, to have a developer come in and lie to the community, confuse them, and manipulate them to get the property, that’s wrong. And then two, to propose a structure that first violates the landmark guidelines but then not actually give what the community needs, which is true affordable housing. We’ve seen it time and time again – profit before people. Profit before people. So I want to say it’s clear that nothing here has changed. Clearly it’s profit before people.”

Chi Ossé, currently a candidate for City Council running to succeed Councilman Robert Cornegy, also condemned the proposal.

Councilman Cornegy again declined to state his position, saying he needed more time and information, prompting an outpouring of frustration in the WebEx chat. The Crown Heights North Association (CHNA) initially reached out to Cornegy regarding the proposed Hebron development in January 2020. One meeting was held with him with plans for him to convene a second meeting with them and Hebron leaders. The meeting never took place. To date, the Councilmember has not responded to CHNA or Friends of 920 Park outreach efforts.

On October 8, the full community board will vote on whether to recommend the project or not. The proposal will then be brought to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC); that hearing has already been set for Tuesday, October 20. The LPC will determine whether the proposal violates landmarking regulations.

Meanwhile, residents are not going to sit by as a developer seeks to extract profit from this landmarked neighborhood.

“71 years ago my grandmother and grandfather bought the house that is directly across the street from the back door of what you are deciding to create – a travesty,” said resident Gerianne Scott. “They bought this home for what is now five generations of us. We have loved this community, we have grown in this community, we have neighbors that have been here 10, 20, 30, 40, we are here 60, 70 years because of the beauty, and the air, and the sky, and the neighborhood cannot do this. You cannot do this.” 

Chat transcript and recording of the meeting available upon request. Ms. Pierre’s full comments can be found at 18:00, Ms. Forrest’s at 1:00:00, and Ms. Scott’s comments at 54:00. Ms. Germaine’s testimony is available in the chat transcript.

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CONTACT: ​friendsof920park@riseup.net​, (908) 768-2890

RESOURCES

Information about the proposed development:
 friendsof920park.com/what-we-know 

Information about the historic Hebron School:
https://www.justplace.us/crownheights

Images available at this link:
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/vmw5a116xpg9mqr/AACGJT6K7-8taOijwsmoD4ZDa?dl=0

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.