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Judge Extends Ban on Crown Heights Shelter Opening But Urges Compromise

 A resident holds up a sign telling the city to enforce the
A resident holds up a sign telling the city to enforce the "Fair Share" law in regards to the Bergen Street shelter at a public meeting in Crown Heights in March.
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DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — A Brooklyn judge on Wednesday extended an order blocking the opening of a Crown Heights homeless shelter to give time to those fighting the facility to negotiate a possible compromise with the city over the project.

Following two hours of arguments at a hearing Wednesday, Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Katherine Levine met in private with the city and attorneys representing two block associations and dozens of Crown Heights residents who have sued to stop the 104-bed men’s shelter at 1173 Bergen St. from opening.

Locals have argued the area is already oversaturated with beds for homeless people and shouldn’t have to absorb another shelter. Wednesday’s hearing centered around that point, with Levine grilling attorneys on both sides about whether or not a “Fair Share” analysis conducted for the Bergen Street site was “meaningful.”

 This building on Bergen Street between New York and Brooklyn avenues in Crown Heights will become a shelter for 106 homeless men next month, the city said.
This building on Bergen Street between New York and Brooklyn avenues in Crown Heights will become a shelter for 106 homeless men next month, the city said.
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DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith

The Fair Share document — which the city is required to produce under guidelines in the City Charter for the siting of new city facilities — shows how many shelters currently exist in the area, how the Bergen Street shelter would fit in with the neighborhood and how it may affect the area before it opens.

But Levine said she thought the criteria for the Fair Share analysis is “very nebulous” and questioned whether or not the document will have any effect on a shelter siting, even if it concludes the neighborhood is, in fact, oversaturated.

“If there’s a meaningful review and they still decide to stick it in Crown Heights, then what?” she asked.

An attorney for the city, Amy McCamphill, argued the Fair Share criteria does not set “numerical limits” on homeless shelters in any given place, but instead “simply requires the concentration of similar facilities be disclosed.”

The opposing sides have been told to meet and discuss the case before a hearing set for April 28 “with the hope and belief that something good can come of the negotiations,” Levine said before extending a temporary restraining order originally ordered on March 24.

Representatives in the case said they weren’t at liberty to discuss what will be negotiated. Attorney Jacqueline McMickens, who represents the residents, said Levine wants to “resolve this as quickly as she can so that all parties can find some measure of success here.”

The Bergen Street facility is one of 90 new homeless shelters proposed to open under a plan by Mayor Bill de Blasio to close all cluster and hotel shelter sites and reduce New York’s record-high homeless population.

Since it was announced in February, the men’s shelter has been met with fierce backlash from Crown Heights residents, including the lawsuit that has already delayed the shelter opening twice.

The facility, Bergen House, would house 104 men over the age of 62 and is one of three shelters opened recently or set to open soon in the area under de Blasio’s homeless shelter plan. Another for 132-families will open on Rogers Avenue in May, according to the city. A third, on Prospect Place in Prospect Heights, opened March 17 without controversy.

After the hearing, Department of Homeless Services spokesman Isaac McGinn said in a statement the city remains “committed to opening this site.”

“New York City is under court order to provide shelter for all homeless individuals in need and we remain confident that the courts will recognize, as they have for decades, our vital need for these high-quality beds — in a facility with comprehensive social and support services, rather than hotels, which are less effective for homeless New Yorkers and communities alike.”