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Four High-Rise Towers Planned for Crown Heights Spice Factory Site

 The factory of Morris J. Golombeck Inc., a spice and herb importing company, has operated on Franklin Avenue and Montgomery Street for years.
The factory of Morris J. Golombeck Inc., a spice and herb importing company, has operated on Franklin Avenue and Montgomery Street for years.
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DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith

CROWN HEIGHTS — A complex of four residential towers between 20- and 30-stories tall may soon replace a spice factory complex in the neighborhood, bringing 800 affordable apartments to the area if the city approves the plan, the project’s developer said.

The $500 million 1.2 million-square-foot development by Bruce Eichner of the Continuum Company would be built under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, which allows developers to build higher and denser if they include affordable units.

The planned buildings at the southwest corner of Franklin Avenue and Montgomery Street will include 50 percent below-market rental apartments — about 800 units — with the rest renting out at market rates, Eichner told DNAinfo New York Tuesday.

The complex will also have a “very small retail component” (about 10,000 square feet, he said), but the focus will be the rentals.

“Really, this is about affordable housing,” he said.

Eichner said his company is about 10 days away from closing on land now owned by the Golombeck family, which has operated a spice and herb importing operation on the Crown Heights site for years. 

The developer said if the plan is approved, two of the complex’s towers will be built on empty lots and replace a vacant one-story building on the south end of the Golombeck property as early as 2019.

But the 20th century spice factory — which is famous in Crown Heights for sending smells of cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg wafting over the neighborhood — will remain for a little bit longer.

Eichner said a second phase of construction that includes two more towers will begin on the lot’s north side when the family finds another space to operate their importation business.

“They need a period of time to go make a new spice factory,” he said.

Calls to the Golombeck facility were not returned Tuesday. Previously, the proprietor of the factory told DNAinfo he had "nothing to say on the subject" when asked about the sale of the site.

Eichner will seek approval from the city to change the site’s zoning to allow the height of the four planned towers. Currently, he plans to build two of the towers to 20-plus stories and two in the “30-story range,” he said.

In planning the scope of the complex, Continuum looked to Tivoli Towers, a 33-story Mitchell-Lama complex located just north of the spice factory site, and the 25-story Ebbets Field apartment complex located directly to its east.

“The plan attempted to have a relationship to those two neighbors,” he said, “at least from a schematic design perspective.”

The project will be constructed entirely by union labor, Eichner said, a stipulation of pending financing for the complex by the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust, according to a first report on the deal by the Wall Street Journal. The paper reported that Eichner is buying the land for around $75 million.

Affordable units in the building will be restricted by income; in the current plan for the complex, Eichner said apartments will be reserved for tenants making as little as 30 percent of the area median income, or about $28,620 for a family of four, according to HUD.

► INTERACTIVE: What is Area Median Income?

Because the Continuum project is seeking a zoning change, it will need approval through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, which includes input from the local community board and borough president as well as up-down votes from the City Planning Commission, City Council and mayor. No formal application has been made to the Department of City Planning for the project, the agency said Tuesday, but Eichner said that is coming soon.

A slew of zoning changes and proposed developments in Crown Heights have faced stiff opposition from locals in recent years. In 2015, talk of studying a rezoning in the area was stopped in its tracks by a determined local activist, while more recently, a project by Cornell Realty just blocks from the spice factory was shelved by developers after threats of protest from residents. Nearby, the controversial Bedford-Union Armory redevelopment — currently winding its way through ULURP — has been met with fierce protest for months.

Eichner acknowledged that getting approval for his project would be “a challenge,” but is hopeful that “rational people will ultimately make rational decisions and the concept of this level of affordability will be compelling.”

“Are x-number of people going to say, ‘This is a terrible thing?' Absolutely!” he said. “Hopefully the only things that are going to get thrown at me are epithets and soft objects.”

“People, they find the change threatening, they find the change upsetting. And I get that,” he continued. “The problem that exists is: How do you address this issue of the lack of affordable housing if nothing’s ever going to get built?”