Block associations muster opposition to Nostrand Avenue school construction plan
By Lore Croghan
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Traffic Armageddon on Nostrand Avenue?
That's what worried Bedford-Stuyvesant block association members fear if an 850-student private school is built in their midst.
Buses from P.S. 54 and tractor-trailer deliveries at Home Depot and child-resistant pill-bottle cap maker Van Barclom Closures (VBC) already fill the streets – and select bus service takes up a lane of Nostrand Avenue. Add a large pre-K-through-grade-12 school to the mix – it's slated for the corner of Nostrand and Willoughby avenues – and you're in for big traffic troubles, they predict.
“It's going to be pretty crazy,” David Goldsmith, a member of the Willoughby Nostrand Marcy Block Association, told the Brooklyn Eagle.
“We don't want another school here,” said block association president Emma Chollette-Fraser.
About 630 students would use private buses to get to the proposed girls' yeshiva at 184 Nostrand Ave., according to a statement of facts and findings that Congregation Adas Yereim, the school builder, presented to the city Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA).
About 120 high-schoolers would use public transportation, the statement said. There would be about 130 teachers and staff members.
Already, the streets are dangerous: “People speed like crazy around here,” said Louis Colon, president of the Hart Nostrand Marcy Block Association.
His group and Chollette-Fraser's are joining with two block associations from Vernon Avenue and Pulaski Street to muster 11th-hour opposition to the planned school construction.
They have scheduled a public meeting Monday at 7 p.m. with reps from the city Department of Buildings and the Department of Environmental Protection, the Office of the Mayor, the Borough President's office, Community Board 3 and City Councilman Robert Cornegy's office to voice their opposition.
The meeting will be held at Bed-Stuy's Masonic Temple at 441 Willoughby Ave. – right across the street from the development site. Organizers are urging area residents and workers to attend and make their voices heard.
A congregation rep, Chaim Epstein, who filed a recent Buildings Department application to put up a temporary construction fence, told the Brooklyn Eagle he's not the appropriate person to comment on the neighbors' opposition to the project.
He passed our questions to the congregation's board members, who didn't respond by press time. Check back with us – when we get a response, we'll fill you in on all the details.
In January, Congregation Adas Yereim got the green light for its project from the Board of Standards and Appeals, which granted a special permit allowing it to build the school in a manufacturing zoning district.
While the board was deliberating, block association members submitted letters and petitions opposing the school construction. Community Board 3 recommended that the board disapprove the construction project, “primarily based on concerns regarding traffic,” the BSA's resolution notes.
The school site is currently occupied by a low-slung brick building that was a garage for now-departed Cascade Laundry's delivery trucks.
In 2012, the Buildings Department disapproved a construction plan for the new three-story, 67,000-square-foot building which the congregation had submitted prior to the BSA giving the project a thumbs-up.
The religious organization bought the property for $2.85 million in 2010, city Finance Department records indicate.
Signs posted on the building say “Available through Pinnacle Realty” – but residents shouldn't get their hopes up that the congregation intends to sell it. The organization had been offering the property as a short-term rental – but recently alerted the brokerage that it wanted to start demolition soon, a source said.
The Buildings Department approved the building's demolition in 2012, agency records indicate.
The congregation told the BSA it needed to build at 184 Nostrand because six other possible locations it had considered were too expensive, too small or for rent but not for sale, the BSA's resolution recounts.
The blocks where the associations oppose the planned school are on the opposite side of Nostrand Avenue from the site – in a residentially zoned area with lovingly cared-for brownstones and front stoops flanked by lovely rose gardens.
To give an idea of how big an 850-student school would be, nearby P.S. 54 has 259 students, according to the school's web page.
By the way, the public grade school's enrollment is going to get bigger, necessitating additional bus traffic – because P.S. 54 received a grant to become a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) magnet school, Goldsmith said.
Also, block association members are concerned that tearing down the old garage could release toxins into the air – and exacerbate elderly residents' asthma.
A neighboring business owner also fears coming traffic snafus.
“We're against this,” said John Scuderi, a vice president at VBC – which occupies five buildings on Sanford Street and Willoughby Avenue that flank the school site.
A second problem the residents plan to present to city officials at Monday's meeting is construction they say is going on without city permits.
The work poses a danger to the neighborhood, such as the threat of fire breaking out if unqualified crews are working in secret, Goldsmith pointed out.
“People get hurt,” he said. “I have to worry about my family.”
Residents have called 311 to complain, but to no avail, they said.
For instance, construction has been going on inside 444 Willoughby Ave. The crews work by night – and the person who lets workers into the building locks them in until morning, residents said.
No Buildings Department permit applications for this property have been filed since 2009, when the residential property was constructed.
The property owner is Joseph Levi, city Finance Department records indicate.
“I'm not sure what you're talking about,” he said when the Eagle called him.