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Armory Plan Comes Under Fire at First Public Hearing

 At a public scoping meeting held Tuesday night at M.S. 352 in Crown Heights, a construction worker who identified himself as Raul H. defended the Bedford-Union Armory developers, BFC Partners, saying the company has provided many jobs to people like him.
At a public scoping meeting held Tuesday night at M.S. 352 in Crown Heights, a construction worker who identified himself as Raul H. defended the Bedford-Union Armory developers, BFC Partners, saying the company has provided many jobs to people like him.
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DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith

CROWN HEIGHTS — In the first round of public comments on the Bedford-Union Armory redevelopment plan Tuesday night, activists hoping to halt the official review before it begins chanted “kill the deal.”

At a scoping hearing on the planned repurposing of the former military facility, dozens of residents, activists and elected officials railed against the plan, saying it would foster gentrification and displacement.

Bertha Lewis, head of the Black Institute, charged that the project will lead to gentrification and displacement in the area and gives too much to developers BFC Partners. In particular, she and others criticized the sale of a portion of the city-owned building to BFC to build 56 condominiums.

“The community didn’t ask for condos,” Lewis said at the Jackie Robinson School in Crown Heights, demanding the city toss the “sham” draft environmental impact statement at the center of Tuesday’s meeting and put the whole armory site into a permanent land trust.

New York Communities for Change, an activist group, also led a rally outside the meeting before it began.

Other attendees — including longtime homeowners, students from nearby Medgar Evers College and members of the Crown Heights Tenant Union — urged the city to scrap the plan for the redevelopment, some joining in chanting “kill the deal!” throughout the meeting.

Ralliers protest the Bedford-Union Armory redevelopment outside M.S. 352 on Tuesday evening. Some participants held up signs targeting Coucilmember Laurie Cumbo, who has approval power over the project in in the City Council. (Photo credit: DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith)

But those in favor of the project made their voices heard, too, particularly those who stand to benefit from the redevelopment. Naima Oyo, board chair for the Ifetayo Cultural Arts Academy, one of six nonprofits to rent space in the armory at below-market rates, said she is “excited about this deal” that will give the youth arts group a permanent home for the first time in 20 years.

“I’m not saying the deal is perfect. I’m saying let’s figure it out. Don’t kill the deal,” she said of the redevelopment.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation, which oversees the project, said the agency will continue to “to work with local elected and community leaders to find ways to make the project even better."

"This project, based on extensive community input, will turn a long-vacant armory into affordable recreation and community space and housing for Crown Heights,” EDC spokeswoman Stephanie Baez said in statement.

BFC echoed the sentiment, saying the company is "fully committed" to providing "much-needed recreational facilities, affordable housing and affordable office space" in the area.

"Our team continues to incorporate community feedback, as we have throughout this process, and we always welcome additional input from local stakeholders," said BFC spokesman Sam Spokony.

BFC hopes to convert the 1903 building at Bedford Avenue and Union Street into a 542,000-square-foot building to include 56 condominiums, 330 apartments — half of which will be affordable — a recreation center and community office space.

Tenants will include Medgar Evers College, slated to get 18,000 square feet of “academic space,” according to the mayor’s economic development office. In addition to Ifetayo, five other nonprofits will have space at below-market rent: the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, the Brooklyn Community Pride Center, a youth basketball group known as New Heights, Digital Girl Inc. and the James E. Davis Stop the Violence Foundation.

BFC announced the inclusion of those six groups in a release to the media the day before the scoping meeting for the controversial project, one of two announcements from the developer in the past week. Last Wednesday, BFC announced the planned creation of a $500,000 fund to be overseen by a local development corporation to build affordable housing in the area using a portion of sales of condominiums at the armory.

The plan for the large, turn-of-the-century building — under the city’s control since 2013 — will need approval from the City Council and mayor before redevelopment can begin. Tuesday night’s scoping meeting is the first step of several leading up to the citywide public approval process known as ULURP, or the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, needed to give the project a final green light.

The public can submit comments to the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development regarding the armory's draft environmental impact statement through March 17.