History of the Landmark
To learn more about the incredible history of the Methodist Home for the Aged, now the Hebron SDA School, at 914-920 Park Place in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, read the whole story 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).
Construction of the oldest part of the complex dates back to 1889. The then-called “Home for the Aged” was born out of a sense of charity and social consciousness. Since its initial construction, the edifice has been considered the crown jewel of the neighborhood.
Today it is the only remaining 19th century institutional building in the district, and is the neighborhood’s finest example of a Romanesque revival building.
The Northeastern Conference Corporation of Seventh Day Adventists has entered into a contract with 959 Sterling Partners LLC/Hope Street Capital LLC to demolish the south wing of the landmarked building and sell the back portion of the lot on Sterling Place, between New York and Brooklyn Avenues. Hope Street Capital has filed plans with the New York City Department of Buildings to construct a seven-story apartment complex with 147 units and a massive footprint of 38,000 square feet. Their original plans for the site can be viewed and downloaded here, and the (nearly identical) redesign submitted in March 2021 can be seen here. Some minute modifications to this final design were made in May 2021, which you can view here. This final design has now been approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Please contribute to our lawsuit against LPC…or read on for more details.
Scale and Design
Note the wildly inappropriate scale of the proposed plans compared to the adjacent row houses, which are half as tall. The development would be 82’ at its tallest, 350’ in length and 101’ wide. It would be built to the full extent of the lot, taking up half of the residential block and definitively breaking the established street wall rhythm.
The development will completely obscure the historic Home from view on Sterling Place, and would also dwarf the school when viewed from Park Place or New York Avenue.
The modern, monolithic design is incompatible with the aesthetic of the block and neighborhood. Two types of brick and triangular gable designs on the western section are a feeble attempt to reference the architecture of our historic district. A brick veneer does not do justice to the majority limestone and brownstone construction on the street with their intricate detailing.
The development is clearly not in keeping with our landmarked district’s urban planning, aesthetics, spacing, and rhythm.
Environmental Impact & Community Health
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. Hope Street 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.
The health of neighborhood residents is at stake. The proposed layout is much too dense, accelerating the spread of disease, and the increase in traffic patterns will negatively impact air quality.
Out of 147 units, 111 will be one-bedroom apartments totaling on average 600 square feet (while the average NYC one-bedroom square footage is 750). The remaining 36 units will be two-bedrooms. Considering the unit sizes and the lack of amenities, it is clear this development is catering to young, short-term tenants who will not be looking to settle down and integrate into the community. The lack of larger apartments will do nothing to address the severe shortage of housing for families in this part of Brooklyn.
Hope Street Capital’s proposal is essentially a monstrously out-of-place dormitory, nothing but a callous monument to gentrification and speculative greed.
The developer has verbally indicated plans to set aside 30% of the units as “affordable,” but has repeatedly avoided specifying the cap on the Area Median Income (AMI) for the affordable units, nor put its commitment into writing.
We’ve done our own research: Hope Street says it plans to participate in what’s called the Affordable New York Housing Program in order to provide what it claims will be “affordable” or “rent-stabilized” apartments. In exchange for a big tax break that lasts decades, Hope Street must cap the rents on up to 30 percent of the units in the building for 35 years.
But Affordable New York is an upper-middle class subsidy. An individual earning up to $103,480 will qualify for an apartment through the program in 2020, and a landlord can charge as much as $2,700 a month for a one-bedroom unit — more than the vast majority of one-bedroom apartments in Crown Heights recently available on Street Easy.
This is much higher than what most families in North Crown Heights earn. Median income for Black households in the specific census tract where the church is located is only $41,699, according to the most recent Census Bureau data. In the census tract immediately south, across Sterling Place, it is just $29,605. Even if Hope Street were to price one-bedrooms at, say, $2,500 a month, that rent would exceed the median income for Black people in the southern census tract.
Want to find out more? Read our full fact sheet here.
Restoration of the Historic Structure
The developer’s plans promise a one-time restoration of the façade of the old Home, which is likely a major selling point for the current owners, who have struggled to finance this necessary exterior work on their landmarked property.
This is not the first time that Hope Street Capital has exploited the financial woes of a religious organization for their own gain. In 2019, they obtained a special zoning permit for construction of a 29-story residential tower at 809 Atlantic Avenue in exchange for the renovation of the nearby Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew, which was desperate for funds.
We understand the financial attraction for the Hebron Seventh Day Adventist School and have repeatedly offered to work with them to secure alternative financing that will not desecrate a beloved historic structure and irreparably damage our neighborhood. This development is not a viable solution. It is an unacceptable price to pay for repairs to the old Methodist Home.
Status of Sale
As far as we know, the sale has not been finalized; the developers were waiting to get their project approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to close on the sale. Now that it has been approved, we do not know what the status is. The sale price is reported to be around $20 million. The memorandum of contract can be downloaded here.
At current rental market rates, the project would be estimated to net approximately $450,000 / month, i.e. $5.4 million annually.
With the currently low interest rates and the neighborhood’s inclusion in Trump’s capital gains tax haven scam known as “Opportunity Zones,” the investors stand to make an obscene windfall, all at the expense of long-term residents’ quality of life.
Hope Street Capital is, in their words, “a real estate investment group dedicated to opportunistic investment and development throughout New York City.” They are headed by Jeffrey Gershon. Their offices are at 475 Park Avenue South in Manhattan.
They hired a well-connected lobbyist, Tiffany Raspberry, to garner support for their plans.
One of the project’s architects, Everardo Jefferson, was recently awarded a seat on the panel of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), which is the very agency that must approve the project in order for it to move forward. While Jefferson recused himself from LPC public hearings and meetings regarding the project, we have many unanswered questions about his influence outside of public hearings.
Chain of Approval
Both the Community Board 8 Land Use Committee and full Community Board 8 voted against the project by an overwhelming majority in both cases. However, CB8 is advisory only, meaning that they provided their recommendation to the LPC, but it is ultimately the LPC that decides whether to approve or reject the project.
The LPC rejected the original design presented in October 2020. The developer came back with a new design in March 2021. The LPC’s response to the new design was overwhelmingly positive, save for a few details.
The developer and architect presented again on May 11, 2021 and the Commission approved Hope Street Capital’s proposal without mentioning the community opposition in its deliberation. We put our weight against the door of an invading developer, and LPC has nonchalantly unlatched it, and let them in.
But the fight against Hope Street doesn’t end here. We have until September 10, 2021 to file an Article 78 lawsuit against the LPC’s decision—and a fraction of that time to fundraise for it.
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