A municipal parking lot could soon be converted into a $7 million residential buildingcomplete with a rooftop greenhousethat even critics admit fits in beautifully with its neighbors. Its who will be living in the building that is worrying some in the community, which has for years battled to reclaim the neighborhood from out-of-scale development. But this could be another fight entirely. The proposed five-story building, at 575 Fifth Avenue in South Park Slope, is being developed by the Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC), a not-for-profit organization. Plans call for 49 units, all studio apartments. Twenty-nine of the apartments will be reserved for people leaving the citys shelter system, with a diagnosis of mental illness. The remaining 20 units will be set aside for low-income tenants, with a preference for those living in the neighborhood, according to the FAC. There is also a ground-floor retail component to the plan. Construction may begin in the fall, and will span 18 months. The bulk of the financing for the project will come from the city, but there is a private equity component to the plan as well, according to the FAC. For all the units, the maximum income a tenant may earn is $29,775, according to the FAC. Aaron Brashear, a member of Community Board 7 and co-founder of the Concerned Citizens of Greenwood Heights, said that a meeting his group co-hosted this week helped allay some concerns, but lingering questions remain. What is the rush? Why is this the first time the community is being shown this plan? he wondered. The project is currently undergoing a public review, as the disposition of publicly-owned land, as well as the supported housing loan program, requires it. The borough president will host a hearing on the matter on Tuesday, Feb. 20. At press time, efforts are underway to have that hearing postponed. Brashear, who lives near the proposed building, said a concern has been the type of people that will fill the 29 units. The biggest concern is ex-sex offenders, he said. I dont want to do a not in my backyard thing, but the reality is that this is a neighborhood that has been under siege by overdevelopment since 2003 and is now just starting to see that kind of change. I know that a lot of parents are worried about their kids, he added. Why should we be burdened? Brashear said the hope is that the FAC makes an effort to pool from the areas considerable senior population to fill many of the units. The FAC said it was willing to prioritize seniors. Asked if the FAC could guarantee that no tenant would be a registered sex offender, Michelle de la Uz, the groups executive director, told this paper: The word guarantee is tricky. FAC will be the landlord. We have a 29-year track recordwe are part of the community. We have a vested interest that whoever moves in will be a good tenant. The FAC will manage the property once it is constructed. The Center for Urban Community Services will provide social services there once the building is opened. She continued, We have a very thorough screening process. This is the most independent level of supportive housing that exists. The picture people have in their minds is [of a person] not likely to have the skill level to live in this sort of housing, she said. In fact, she added, the FAC has gone so far as to invite members of the community to be a part of the tenant screening process. In the 400 units of housing we manage, zero [tenants] are registered sex offenders, she said. Our record speaks for itself, the executive director insisted. Randy Peers, the chair of Community Board 7, said there has been an assumption that the board had already given its blessing to the project back in 2005. It did not, he said. The only thing we supported was that the citys Department of Housing Preservation and Development work with the FAC to develop the site, and that the specifics, such as the appropriate occupancy of the development, be vetted in the future, Peers said. We didnt vote on anything specific, he added. The communication could have been much better between the FAC and the community board and some of the key groups that it works with. Peers added. De la Uz said she has made an effort to keep the community informed, adding that an advisory council has already been established. She said the FAC made at least three presentations to the boards Human Services Cabinet during the 18-month period. John Burns, the chair of Community Board 7s Land Use Committee and a co-founder of the South Park Slope Community Group, said the FAC has done a lot right, praising the proposed buildings contextual design. But he, too, wondered where the FAC has been since the idea was first introduced 18 months ago. Nowgood, bad, or indifferentit is being pushed through at a pretty rapid pace. He noted the borough presidents hearing is scheduled before the community board will get a chance to vote on it. She had plenty of time to educate people [about the project], he said of de la Uz. Communication has been horrible, Burns said. Who will be living in the building is also a significant concern, Burns said. You just really cant ask people to accept as part of their community people already shown to have problems living in society, he said.
©2007 Community News Group
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