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Developer Planning Condos For Park Slope Corner That Was Once a 'Slum'

 A rendering of 344 Butler St., also known as 141 Fourth Ave., the condo development planned by Arbie Development.
A rendering of 344 Butler St., also known as 141 Fourth Ave., the condo development planned by Arbie Development.
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Arbie Development

PARK SLOPE — A Fourth Avenue corner has gone from slum to plum, with a developer planning upscale condos on property that the city once pegged as "blighted."

Arbie Development plans to build an 8-story condo building on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Butler Street complete with wrap-around balconies and duplex penthouse units, said Arbie's director of operations, Princess Simeon.

The developer bought the property in May for $4.35 million and filed for a permit earlier this month to demolish the three-story house on the site. Arbie hopes to finish the new condo building in 2018, Simeon said.

It's the largest project to date for the young development company, which has been in business less than a year, working primarily on gut renovations and townhouses in Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights.

"For us to be able to do a project in that area, we feel really lucky. ... That’s prime real estate," Simeon said of Arbie's maiden Park Slope venture.

But not too long ago the corner was considered anything but prime.

In the 1980s, Fourth Avenue and Butler Street was part of a "rubble-strewn" swath of vacant lots and abandoned buildings that threatened "neighborhood vitality," according to a 1982 urban renewal plan.

The neighborhood scar was a remnant of New York's 1970s financial crisis. The city had demolished 400 units of housing there with the intent of building a new school but never finished the job because it ran out of money. The empty land became a dumping ground used by rival Puerto Rican gangs for "rumbles," according to a history of the area published by the Park Slope Civic Council.

After years of agitating by locals, the city declared the property a slum and created the urban renewal plan with the goal of rescuing the blighted blocks between Fourth Avenue, Baltic Street, Douglass Street and Fifth Avenue.

The city sold the six-acre parcel to a developer in 1982 for $210,500, according to the urban renewal plan. The plan called for the construction of a Key Food grocery store and a parking lot — which a developer now wants to replace with a mixed use project — as well as new housing.

The residential component was Park Slope Village, a group of 56 three-story, three-unit townhouses built in 1986 that still stand today. One of those houses is 344 Butler St., where Arbie Development plans to build the condo project.

The home's 1986 purchaser took out $137,250 in mortgages to pay for it; it's not clear from property records whether he put down any cash. Rents at the property were restricted to $397.50 a month for the building's one-bedroom unit and $609.50 for the three-bedroom apartment for the first two years, according to the 1986 deed. The restrictions expired after 10 years.

The 1982 urban renewal plan contained this prescient line: "It is expected that [urban] renewal activities in this community development area will encourage the upgrading of housing in its immediate vicinity."

As Park Slope improved, the 2003 rezoning of Fourth Avenue allowed for taller buildings, but didn't require developers to include affordable housing. Today the avenue is studded with construction sites for new 11-story buildings, all of which will be market-rate.

Though the urban renewal plan that governs Fourth Avenue and Butler Street doesn’t expire until 2021, the recent sale of 344 Butler St. wasn’t subject to city approval and the property has no affordability restrictions, said Michelle de la Uz, executive director of Fifth Avenue Committee, a group that advocated for the blighted area.

"You have to understand the context of the time, which was to try to entice moderate and middle income families to remain/return to New York City," de la Uz said of the 1980s urban renewal effort. "New York wasn't as desirable and the concept of long term or permanent affordability wasn't a common public policy goal."

She added: "The sale and proposed redevelopment [of 344 Butler St.] is yet another example of the failure of the 2003 North Park Slope Rezoning, which did not include voluntary or mandatory inclusionary [affordable housing]."

Simeon, of Arbie Development, said she wasn't aware of 344 Butler Street's checkered past.

"I assumed that that area was always prominent and that that part of Brooklyn was always the place to be," said Simeon, who is 28 and grew up in Texas.

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