Park Slope residents overwhelmingly rejected a proposal presented by developer Avery Hall Investments (AHI) to convert the neighborhood Key Food into a mixed-use development at a community meeting last night. The meeting also revealed that the developer had already gone into contract on the property, a change from when it was previously reported that the developer and the owner of the supermarket were still in discussion.
So first let's get to the plan presented by AHI. The developer plans to build two residential buildings, a larger one on the northern side of the plot, and a smaller one on the southern parcel. The larger building will be about six stories tall whereas the shorter one will rise to a maximum of five. In total the project will feature 165 rentals, with 41 of them affordable. The total scope of the project will span 196,000 square feet. Of that 139,000 square feet will be residential, and 52,000 square feet have been set aside for ground floor retail.
In terms of affordable housing, the 41 units constitute about 25 percent of the total units. Of this 25 percent, about 20 percent will be rented at 60 percent of AMI, which City Councilman Brad Lander, who was present at the community meeting last night said would be about $51,000 for a family of four. About 2.5 percent would be rented at 80 percent of AMI. And the rest 2.5 percent would be at 100 percent AMI.
AHI has at present tapped SLCE to design the project, and also proposed the idea of connecting Butler Street, which is adjacent to the plot, back to Fifth Avenue, and making it a pedestrian only plaza.
The developer is also open to bringing a grocery store to the ground floor of the building, but at the meeting he said they had set aside about 7,500 square feet for such a store. In comparison, the current Key Food spans about 36,000 square feet. At the meeting the developer assured residents that he was willing to consider more, but would not get into the specifics of what this new store would look like or how much space it would have.
"AHI is pleased to engage in a community consultation process beyond what is required in order to receive the maximum possible input from neighborhood residents regarding various aspects of the planned development at 120 5th Avenue in the Park Slope neighborhood," a spokesperson for the development firm said in an emailed statement. "While this project is only mandated to be presented at a public hearing conducted by Community Board 6, at the constructive suggestion of Councilmember Lander and the Fifth Avenue Committee, we agreed that a more extensive engagement with the community, prior to appearing at the Community Board, would constitute a positive step."
So what were the concerns of the Park Slope residents?
For one, many complained that the AMI suggested by the developer for affordable housing for far too high, and that they should at least consider bringing the threshold down from 60 percent to 40 percent of AMI, which would be about $35,000 for a family of four, according to City Councilman Lander.
Residents were also angry that they were losing a supermarket and would likely only get a grocery store that would have fewer supplies and retail expensive products. What's more many older residents at the meeting discussed how the current store was designed with ample room for movement.
"Will this new store be designed in a way that senior citizens and people with disabilities will be able to walk around the store comfortably," Beverly Corbin, a resident at the nearby Wyckoff Gardens asked. For many residents, Key Food is the only affordable supermarket in the neighborhood for a considerable distance. And the imminent closure of this Key Food is part of a growing trend of inexpensive supermarkets being shuttered for new, largely residential developments.
It's important to note that the Key Food site in Park Slope falls under the Baltic Street Community Development Plan, which is an urban renewal plan that went into effect in 1981, and will expire in 2021. The plan puts certain restrictions on the developer in that the buildings cannot rise higher than 40 feet and have to include affordable housing. Once that expires however, City Councilman Lander pointed out that the developer of the site can then build according to how the rest of the neighborhood is zoned, which allows for a 70 foot building, and would not have to provide any affordable housing whatsoever.
So in some ways it's beneficial to the community to accept a development plan before 2021, he said, but he also warned that residents should not be cowered into accepting any proposal just because of the time restrictions.
There's still an extensive process at hand before any development can begin at the site. The plan needs final approval from the City Planning Commission and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), and needs to go before the local community board.
The meeting last night was organized by the Fifth Avenue Committee, a local nonprofit group with an extensive background in promoting affordable housing, and the Park Slope 5th Avenue Key Food Stakeholders Group, which comprises of several community groups, and local elected officials.
"The local community values this affordable supermarket as an important community asset and fought vigorously for the Baltic Street Urban Renewal Plan to include a sizeable, full service supermarket over 34 year ago," Michelle de la Uz, the Executive Director of Fifth Avenue Committee, said in a press release. "Any proposed redevelopment should address the community's primary concerns, and we are glad that Avery Hall Investments has agreed to participate in this important community meeting,"
Perhaps one of the biggest frustrations, especially for long time residents of the neighborhood is that they campaigned extensively in the 1970s and 80s to bring the existing Key Food to the site, and moderate income housing to the neighborhood, according to the Fifth Avenue Committee. Check out more of the history of the site here.
Developers AHI were previously also in trouble with residents in nearby Cobble Hill for their mixed-use building that replaced an existing gas station. And as an attendee at the meeting last night pointed out, some of the basic resources of the neighborhood like gas stations and supermarkets are now continually being torn down to make room for more residential development.