Residents Voice Concern Over Controversial 80 Flatbush Development in Tense Public Hearing

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In a crowded auditorium at St. Francis College last night, Community Board 2 held their public hearing regarding the controversial development at 80 Flatbush Avenue, located at the nexus of Boerum Hill, Fort Greene and Downtown Brooklyn.

Many people spoke during the hearing, which lasted over three hours — some against the proposal and others in favor, and for a variety of reasons. Over 70 people provided comments, with others stranded outside because the auditorium was at full capacity.

The development, which will occupy a whole block, calls for two towers, 900 apartments — including 200 affordable units — and two schools, one brand new and the other a new space for the existing Khalil Gibran school. It is being developed in collaboration with the city’s Educational Construction Fund.

Rendering via Alloy Development

Rendering via Alloy Development

Complaints from many of the residents who spoke had to do with the height of the towers proposed by Alloy, the developers of the project, which will reach 74 and 38 stories. To do this, the developers are asking for a rezoning that would nearly triple the Floor Area Ratio from 6.5 to 18.

“We feel this is the right location for a project of this scale,” said AJ Pires, President of Alloy, noting the community’s history of density.

Some, including members of the Boerum Hill Association, who were well represented at the hearing, disagreed. They felt the height of the towers not only ignores context — a sticking point being the location, which the developers say is Downtown Brooklyn but residents say is Boerum Hill — but will also block views of the historic Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower at 1 Hanson Place.

“The BHA has never been anti-development,” said Boerum Hill Association President Howard Kolins. “We’re in favor of intelligent development.”

Sue Wolfe and Howard Kolins of the Boerum Hill Association

Sue Wolfe and Howard Kolins of the Boerum Hill Association

Without a rezoning, the developers can build “as of right” up to 400 feet. The developers cited the current housing crisis for a reason to build above their “as of right,” and refused to budge on suggestions for a smaller tower.

“We are interested in entertaining alternative solutions, but not solutions that engage in lower FAR,” said Jared Della Valle, the CEO and founder of Alloy.

AJ Pires and Jared Della Valle of Alloy.

AJ Pires and Jared Della Valle of Alloy.

In February, the developers made changes to the project based on public concern, including a slight redesign of the smaller tower, which was made thinner, the removal of parking and a loading dock, concealing the tower bulkheads and rethinking the facade of the towers to make them less glassy.

Those changes did not dampen concerns, from both residents and local politicians.

Public Advocate Letitia James

Public Advocate Letitia James

Letitia James, the New York City Public Advocate, opened the hearing with her concerns about the development, especially the timing of the affordable housing, which will arrive as part of the second phase of the project, scheduled for completion in 2025 (the first phase is scheduled for completion in 2022).

“At this time, I completely oppose this project,” she said. Comparing it to Atlantic Yards, a comparison that came up a few other times during the hearing, she said the towers would overshadow the local brownstone community. “My position is that this project should be dead on arrival.”

brooklyn development 80 flatbush

The proposed building site. Photo by Susan De Vries

Representatives for Assembly members Jo Anne Simon and Walter T. Mosley, as well as a representative for Senator Velmanette Montgomery, also spoke strongly against the project. Speaking on behalf of New York City Council Majority Leader Laurie A. Cumbo, a representative told the crowd she did not have a position at this time, which elicited jeers from the audience.

Downtown Brooklyn Partnership President Regina Myer

Downtown Brooklyn Partnership President Regina Myer

Not all were against the proposal. Regina Myer, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, voiced “strong support” for the development, as well as Ofer Cohen, the founder and CEO of TerraCRG, a commercial real estate firm, and representatives for the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Department of Education, 32BJ, transit advocacy groups and others.

Recently, Alloy partnered with Fifth Avenue Committee Partners, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit community development corporation, to work with them on the affordable housing component of the project and were also present to support the proposal.

Most notable among the supporters were representatives for the Kahlil Gibran School, including Principal Winston Hamann and multiple students. “I want to know you’ll support our school no matter what happens with these towers,” one of the students said.

Kahlil Gibran School Principal Winston Hamann

Kahlil Gibran School Principal Winston Hamann

Fort Greene resident Ben Richardson, who was against the proposal, reiterated that nobody is against the schools, but took umbrage at what he felt was the developers’ use of students “being trotted out for this project.”

Another local resident, toward the end of the hearing, put it simply. “If you need schools, build schools,” she said. “If you need affordable housing, build affordable housing.” She reminded the few remaining people in the audience of the stalled Willoughby Square Park, which required the razing of rent-stabilized buildings and the relocation of residents.

“The city has definitely failed this community,” she said.

[Photos by Craig Hubert unless otherwise noted]

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