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Battle Over the Bedford Union Armory Continues in Crown Heights

HOST INTRO: The Bedford Union Armory in Crown Heights is a 500,000 square foot site that has been vacant for years. In 2015, private developers won a city contract to overhaul it. Since then, some in the Crown Heights community have fiercely opposed the project, right up until the moment the city council gave it final approval. And their fight still isn’t over. Amara Omeokwe (Uh-MAH-ruh Oh-Moe-Quay) reports.

OMEOKWE 1: With the Bedford Union Armory’s drastic transformation plan on the agenda, the most recent city council meeting wasn’t your typical.

((Sound: Kill the deal! Kill the deal!))

OMEOKWE 2: Dozens of protesters showed up. They’ve been upset for a while over plans calling for the armory to be turned into a massive mixed-use development, complete with a rec center, office space and about 400 apartments. To go through, the project required a months-long approval process and the final step was a vote by the city council. But before that could happen..

((Sound: Laurie lies! Laurie lies!))

OMEOKWE 3: The protestors got so loud that they were kicked out of the council chambers’ public gallery.

The chant “Laurie lies!” refers to Laurie Cumbo, the local councilwoman who’s been at the center of the deal’s negotiations. Cumbo started out supporting the project, but had to dial it back because of pressure from the community and her political opponents in the recent city council election. She ended up negotiating with the developers for concessions.

CUMBO 1: I fought with my colleagues to make sure that we ended condominiums. There are no luxury condominiums or sales as part of the Bedford Union Armory. 60 percent of the housing is going to be for individuals making between 27,000  and 57,000 dollars a year. (0:16)

OMEOKWE 4: Still, community groups and many Crown Heights residents have continued to be opposed. They’d like to see the armory turned over to a nonprofit developer or turned into a community land trust where residents would decide the site’s future. But Cumbo said the deal needed to happen now.

CUMBO 2: Crown Heights in Brooklyn New York is in crisis. We are in the largest affordable housing crisis that we’ve ever known. There are people who are languishing in our homeless shelters. (0:10)

OMEOKWE 5: All of that was enough to convince the majority of her fellow council members that the deal should go through.

((Sound: Adopted by a vote of 43 in the affirmative, 2 negative and 1 abstention)) (0:04)

OMEOKWE 6: But opponents say they’ll make one more effort to stop the project, this time with the help of attorneys from the Legal Aid Society, including Judith Goldiner. A day before the city council’s vote, Goldiner helped announce legal action.

GOLDINER 1: The basis of our lawsuit is that the city fails to look at displacement of rent-regulated tenants when it does its environmental impact statement. (0:18)

OMEOKWE 7: In October, the city concluded an environmental review — a required step in the approval process. The review found that the armory’s redevelopment wouldn’t result in any direct or indirect displacement of residents that live near it. But Goldiner and some residents…including 53-year-old Lyris Ming…argue that’s not true. Ming has lived in Crown Heights for decades and her rent-regulated apartment is just a 2-minute walk from the armory.

MING 1: I’ve been here since I was eight years old and I can see a total change and it’s not for the good. (0:08)

OMEOKWE 8: Ming says redevelopment projects like the one at the Armory put upward pressure on neighborhood rents. She says they encourage bad behavior from building owners who’d like to see rent-regulated tenants move out so that more lucrative tenants can move in.

MING 2: The management, they’re not fixing anything. They just want the tenants to leave. (0:05)

OMEOKWE 9: According to a report released last year by the NYU Furman Center, the average rent in the part of Crown Heights where the armory lies jumped by 30 percent between 1990 and 2014. That’s one of the highest increases in the city… Esteban Giron [[guh-ron]] with the Crown Heights Tenants Union says councilwoman Cumbo is fully aware of these issues and pressed forward with the deal anyway.

GIRON 1: So crown heights tenant union is proud to stand with legal aid society and with our other allies as we move forward and try to kill this deal in any possible way to the very last minute. (0:11)

OMEOKWE 10: When asked about the lawsuit, Cumbo said she was determined to see the project through. Attorneys with the Legal Aid Society will try to stop her once their lawsuit is given a court date. That should come in the next few weeks. Amara Omeokwe, Columbia Radio News.


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