Crown Heights Church Proposes Controversial Mixed-Income Housing in Landmark District

The site in 2019. Photo by Susan De Vries

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Leaders at a Crown Heights church are looking for the city’s permission to build a residential development on their property in order to fund the church’s restoration and its religious school.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church on Park Place plans to partner with developer Hope Street Capital to develop a 180-unit building on the extensive park-like grounds surrounding the landmarked church — if the groups are granted approval by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The building, completed in 1899, was formerly the Brooklyn Methodist Episcopal Church Home for the Aged and Infirm.

Leaders from the church say they need the money generated by the housing to continue operating the Hebron Seventh-day Adventist Bilingual School out of the historic structure. The school, which is in danger of closing, is unable to hold in-person classes during the 2020 school year because of the church’s crumbling state, said the church’s president.

hebron school

“Over the years, the building has significantly deteriorated,” said Dr. Daniel Honore, president of the Northeastern Conference of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Honore — whose mother was a teacher at the Bilingual School, and whose father was the pastor of the Hebron Church — says that issues with the building date back decades, and there has never been enough money to properly repair it.

“Back then they were constantly trying to raise funds to renovate,” he said. “You would fix one part of the building, another part went bad.”

When Honore met with the church’s leaders to discuss needed repairs, they told him they needed serious resources to fix it and that “a bake sale wasn’t going to do it,” he said.

hebron school project

The proposed entrance of the development. Rendering by Morris Adjmi Architects

The planned development would contain rent-regulated units, 30-percent of which would be designated “below market rate,” and a mixture of one, two, three-bedroom apartments and studios, a spokesman for the developer said. A small section of the school building, which the church says was not an original part of the landmarked structure, will be demolished to make way for the apartment building.

But, the proposed development has garnered opposition from some locals who complain that the building would block views of the historic building from Sterling Place, and that a seven-story structure is too tall and modern for the historic, residential area.

A neighborhood group dubbed Friends of 920 Park circulated a petition against the development that has gathered more than 5,000 signatures, and blasted the proposed building in a lengthy press release.

“A huge seven-story modern building stretched along the site’s length is too large, too dense, and totally changes the character of the neighborhood,” reads the petition. “New housing is needed, but not here.”

Local tenants groups such as the Crown Heights Tenants Union are also critical of the plans.

hebron school

“Turning over any part of this property to become luxury studios and one-bedrooms — unsuitable for and far beyond the reach of the families that built this neighborhood — would undoubtedly further gentrify our community through secondary displacement,” the union said in a statement.

At least one member of the Crown Heights North Association, Brownstoner columnist Suzanne Spellen, has proposed simply preserving and converting into apartments the portion of the existing 19th century structure not given over to the school to help fund the church’s repairs. No new structures would be added, and the green space would remain intact.

Supporters of the residential project have launched their own petition, which has gathered more than 1,700 signatures as of September 21.

Honore says he disagrees with locals’ assessment of the project.

“I think that this will take land that has been underutilized, that was going to waste, and do something productive with it,” he said. A small portion of the green space surrounding the church is currently paved and used for church parking.

The developer’s proposal will go before Community Board 8 for review before it is passed along to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. — Additional reporting by Cate Corcoran

[Photos by Susan De Vries]

Editor’s note: A version of this story originally ran in Brooklyn Paper. Click here to see the original story.

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