BROOKLYN (CN) — Neighborhood advocates in the historic Crown Heights district of Brooklyn sued the city’s landmarking commission last week to block new construction of hotly-contested “monstrosity” condos on the site of a landmarked church and school, which some residents say is a betrayal of preservation protections against short-sighted development and gentrification.
The Crown Heights neighborhood in Central Brooklyn has long been home to a mixed population of Black Americans, Caribbean immigrants and Orthodox Jewish residents who all in recent years have been joined, or in many cases displaced, by a growing number of younger white transplants, many of whom work in media and tech.
The neighborhood’s iconic 19th and 20th century architecture is comprised of several distinct building styles, including Georgian/Federal; Renaissance/Baroque Revival; Romanesque Revival and Modern/Art Deco/Art Moderne, many of which are protected from overdevelopment by districting established by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
For three years, residents of the Crown Heights North community have fought Manhattan-based real estate developers in their effort to develop a new seven-story condominium on the grounds of the Hebron Seventh Day Adventist Church and school campus, dubbed the “crown jewel” of Crown Heights and a landmarked-protected building in the landmarked Crown Heights North Historic District II.
Originally constructed in 1889 as the Methodist Home for the Aged, the building between Sterling Place and Park Place is of the very last Victorian-era institutional buildings with grounds largely intact in all of New York City.
Last week, attorneys from Hiller PC, a law firm that specializes in representing preservationists and communities against large real estate development, filed a petition on behalf of a coalition of Crown Heights North residents in Brooklyn Supreme Court under Article 78 of the New York State Civil Practice Law and Rules to overturn the commission's approval of the project.
The Crown Heights residents who brought the petition against the Landmarks Preservation Commission and real estate developer Hope Street Capital, allege the modern, monolithic redevelopment project at the Hebron Church site would be incongruous with the long-standing aesthetic of the block and the landmarked district’s historic character.
“The Developer approached the LPC under the guise of supposedly 'saving' part of the cherished Church from its current state of disrepair (while demolishing another part),” attorney Michael S. Heller wrote in the 40-page petition.
“In reality, however, much to the chagrin of the Crown Heights community, the Developer, an interloper and utter stranger to the neighborhood, is seeking to profit financially from development on the Landmark-Protected Property in a manner that threatens the preservation of the Historic District, and in particular, its ‘Crown Jewel’,” the petition states.
According to the lawsuit, the landmark commission’s grant of certificate of appropriateness constitutes arbitrary and capricious decision-making and was affected by errors of law, and violations of lawful procedures and rules and practices of the landmarking commission.
Representatives for the Landmarks Preservation Commission did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The developers proposed a set of buildings containing a continuous streetwall of 315 feet along Sterling Place that, if constructed, would be the longest in the entire historic district, which the petition calls “especially inappropriate because it contains no setbacks off the street on which it runs, unlike existing lengthy buildings in the Historic District.”
According to the petition, neighboring residents oppose the gargantuan scale of the planned condos and the impact on the area’s already-limited of open green space, as well as the lack of affordable units proposed in the development and the practical disruption that construction would cause nearby tenants.
Two years ago, a neighborhood group called Friends of 920 Park collected over 4,000 signatures in an online petition in hopes of stopping the construction of the project.