One of Bushwick’s Oldest Congregations Proposes Deal With Developer to Save Its Distinctive Church

The landmarked church in 2017. Photo by Susan De Vries

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Another Brooklyn church rich in land but cash poor is looking to do a deal with a developer. Only this time, unusually, the church is landmarked. The offer comes just as a controversial rezoning of the neighborhood is being contemplated.

The Reformed Church of South Bushwick at 855 Bushwick Avenue, whose Greek Revival white clapboard and steeple will be familiar to anyone who has ventured along this stretch of Bushwick Avenue, was completed and consecrated in 1853 and landmarked in 1969. Next door at 867 Bushwick Avenue, with an entrance on Himrod Street, is the landmarked Sunday school and chapel, dating from 1881. Its neighbor at 15 Himrod Street, the church’s rectory, is unprotected. Although it’s now covered in vinyl siding, its 1940 tax photo shows a standalone wood frame circa 1850s Italianate.

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The unprotected rectory at 15 Himrod Street in 2015. Photo by Christopher Bride for PropertyShark

“The church will offer their development rights of nearly 50,000 buildable square feet in return for upfront capital and long term cash flow,” reads the listing, from B6 Real Estate Advisors. “They will use the proceeds to rehabilitate a portion of their current facility, which is currently landmarked and falling into disrepair.”

The congregation, which dates back to 1654 and recently completed repairs to its iconic steeple, proposes replacing the rectory and its rear garage with a new building, and adding onto the rear of the landmarked Sunday school and chapel, using air rights from the church. (LPC would have to approve the latter.) The deal can be structured as a ground lease or partnership.

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The landmarked Sunday School building in 2017

If the Bushwick rezoning goes through as proposed, the zoning of 15 Himrod Street would change from the medium density R6 to the slightly more restrictive R6B, a four-story row house area with apartment buildings as high as five stories and 50 feet. In any case, a developer would need a variance from the city to use the air rights to build higher than zoning allows.

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The three-part development site, consisting of the landmarked church, landmarked chapel and Sunday school, and unprotected rectory. Base map by Google Maps

Churches in need of funds have struck deals with developers all over Brooklyn, sometimes losing spires and roofs or whole buildings to apartment development. At 70 Havemeyer Street in Williamsburg, the Catholic Church-owned Church of the Annunciation School is, via a ground lease, demolishing its distinctive gabled roof and bell tower to convert the building into apartments. Further down Bushwick Avenue, the St. Mark’s Lutheran Church and School and Holy Tabernacle Church of Deliverance were bought by a developer, who removed the church’s steeple to convert the complex into apartments. In Crown Heights, a former theater and, in Bed Stuy, a pre-Civil War Carpenter Gothic church were torn down to make way for apartments, with the churches retaining smaller spaces inside the new buildings.

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The side of the church in 2017

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The front of the church in 2017

[Photos by Susan De Vries unless stated otherwise]

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