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Activists Target 'Shady' Developer of Bedford-Union Armory

 Crown Heights resident Vaughn Armour of New York Communities for Change speaks outside the Bedford-Union Armory on Wednesday.
Crown Heights resident Vaughn Armour of New York Communities for Change speaks outside the Bedford-Union Armory on Wednesday.
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DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith

CROWN HEIGHTS — Local activists want a city-backed developer of the Bedford-Union Armory off the project amid concerns that the "shady" real estate group won't deliver on affordable housing, they said.

Members of the Crown Heights Tenant Union joined with New York Communities for Change (formerly ACORN) at the armory Wednesday to protest Slate Property Group, the real estate company chosen by the city to redevelop the 113-year-old building on Bedford Avenue.

Slate, working with BFC Partners, is planning to turn the former military building into condominiums, a recreation center, and a mix of market-rate and affordable housing, according to plans released by the group and the city's Economic Development Corporation late last year.

 A rendering for a plan to redevelop the Bedford-Union Armory in Crown Heights shows a portion of the building to become 24 townhouse-style condominiums on the President Street side of the 1903 building and a 13-story rental building to be constructed on the armory's east side.
A rendering for a plan to redevelop the Bedford-Union Armory in Crown Heights shows a portion of the building to become 24 townhouse-style condominiums on the President Street side of the 1903 building and a 13-story rental building to be constructed on the armory's east side.
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Bedford Courts LLC

But the protesters say Slate shouldn’t be allowed on the project for their involvement in the controversial sale and conversion of a Lower East Side nursing home, the Rivington House, into luxury housing, according to research by The Real Gentrifiers. The group is a union-backed off-shoot of NYCC dedicated to “exposing the dark money of displacement.”

“We’re not happy with this deal,” said Esteban Giron, an organizer with the CHTU, outside the armory on Wednesday.

“This is the city’s land. Our taxes pay for this land, so this is our facility … and it’s been taken away from us to be given to Slate, which is a shady, shady, shady developer.”

After the protest, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he thought Slate's actions at the Rivington House were "inappropriate" — and said he would revisit the developer's involvement at the armory.

"We’re going to take a very hard look at that situation. That contract has not been finalized," he said at a press conference in Manhattan.

"I think anyone who seeks to do business with the City of New York and misleads us needs to know that there will be consequences. So, we’ll take a hard look at that situation," he added.

On Wednesday, Slate defended the armory redevelopment, saying it will create "much-needed recreational facilities, affordable housing and affordable office space for the Crown Heights community," according to a statement by David Schwartz, Slate's co-founder.

“These attacks are meritless and do not serve the interests of local residents," he said.

The plan for the armory has not yet been approved to move forward; it still needs to go through the months-long public Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, before any real construction can begin.

But the tenant union and NYCC are ramping up their efforts to make sure the redevelopment project never makes it that far.

“The majority of the housing on the affordable side is not family-friendly,” said CHTU member Donna Mossman, adding that it particularly wouldn't serve low-income residents of Crown Heights.

She suggested the city push Slate for deeper affordability in the building’s rental units.

“Crown Heights is ground zero for gentrification and we are fighting back,” she said.

The activists are also calling out those who have publicly supported the project, including New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, whose foundation will provide some funding for recreation programs in the new sports complex at the armory.

CHTU signed an open letter to Anthony published Wednesday in the New York Daily News, calling for him to remove himself from “such a terrible deal for New Yorkers,” wrote the letter’s author, Bertha Lewis, former CEO of ACORN.

“As it stands, the Bedford Armory development will further exacerbate the gentrification of Crown Heights,” she wrote.

An inquiry to Anthony’s foundation was not immediately returned.

Organizers at the rally Wednesday said they’re hopeful they’ll stop the project so residents can be involved with a new plan for the 138,000-square-foot building, perhaps turning it into a permanent community land trust similar to those found in East Harlem, Giron said.

But whatever the outcome, the group said the current plan is built on “lies,” according to local resident Richard Hurley of the Crown Heights Community Council, who was involved with a rejected bid at the armory submitted to the EDC by his church, the First Baptist Church of Crown Heights.

“They’re here to make profit. We’re here for the community. So, somewhere we have to find the middle,” he said.