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Old Posted Jul 14, 2017, 1:04 AM
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Mayor eyes rescue of Crown Heights armory redevelopment

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday he intended to intervene to save a controversial plan to convert the derelict Bedford Union Armory in Crown Heights into a recreation center, nonprofit offices and housing—vowing to sell its strong points to the neighborhood.

BFC Partners' planned renovation of the city-owned property would bring a low-fee swimming pool, basketball courts and indoor soccer field as well as discounted space for community groups to an empty shell occupying an entire city block. The company would cover the costs of those elements by also building a mix of affordable and market-rate rental and condominium units on the site.

It is that last element which has provoked outrage among some residents, politicians and activists. They have assailed the use of public property to construct housing beyond the price range of many longtime community members. Protestors shut down a hearing on the development at Brooklyn Borough Hall Tuesday.

"I understand the frustrations of the community," de Blasio said at an unrelated press conference in Manhattan Wednesday afternoon. "The neighborhood has changed a lot and there's a lot of fear of displacement."

Keeping the framework of the plan as city officials envisioned it is important to the de Blasio administration because it reflects the mayor's housing policy in general: to foster mixed-income projects in which developers include affordable units and other community benefits in exchange for being allowed to build more market-rate apartments than they could without government's say-so. The mayor has promised billions of dollars in subsidies to create even more affordability, but has said subsidies alone are not enough to make a big dent in the city's housing shortage.

The project is in trouble because Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo has come out against it, demanding every unit of housing be subsidized to keep rents low. The council usually defers to the wishes of the local member—and without the council rezoning the armory site, the project cannot be built.

Cumbo appeared amenable to the armory plan last year but it has drawn opposition from the local community board, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Public Advocate Letitia James, and perhaps most importantly, from a woman seeking to challenge Cumbo in September's Democratic primary.

But the mayor maintained that his office could and would change hearts and minds by highlighting the amenities that the project promises the neighborhood. He said he would urge BFC to "make the project as good as it can be for the people," though he declined to say what changes to the current designs he might recommend.
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