A city-backed development aims to transform more than a dozen vacant lots in Bedford-Stuyvesant into a 14-story low-income housing project with farms to grow produce, increasing the neighborhood’s sorely needed access to fresh food.
Dabar Development Partners and Thorobird Real Estate, in partnership with the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), plan to create a mixed-use project with 236 exclusively below-market-rate apartments, a fresh food market, and a pair of small-scale farms run by Bushwick’s Oko Farms. These will “provide a farm-to-table offering for the community,” said Thomas Campbell, the principal of Thorobird, at a Tuesday City Council hearing on the proposal.
To build the project, the city and developers are requesting a series of zoning changes and actions through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), including converting the land’s underlying manufacturing district to residential, and establishing a commercial overlay, according to Genevieve Michel, the executive director of government affairs for planing, land use, and development at HPD. Initially, builders aimed to include medical space in the project, but after working with local leaders and elected officials, the developers decided to swap that for a fusion of fresh grocers and small-scale farms.
“We contemplated a medical office at the space but given community input it was clear that the need was for a fresh food initiative,” Campbell told the City Council subcommittee on zoning and franchises. “So we really made the idea of a fresh food offering the central theme of this project ... to get the community access to fresh food and fresh food education.”
A 15,000-square-foot market would be complemented by an aquaponic farm and a rooftop hydroponic farm, both run by Oko Farms. Locals would be able to purchase fresh fruits and veggies there, but also get involved with Oko-led educational programing. Additionally, the city’s Neighborhood Housing Services and ACMH, which offers services for the formerly homeless, will both relocate to the building.
The project is being developed in part under HPD’s Extremely Low- and Low-Income Affordability Program (ELLA) with the building comprised of 52 studios, 79 one bedroom, 59 two bedroom, and 45 three bedroom apartments. Ten percent of the units will be set aside for the formerly homeless. The project is geared toward those with incomes from 27 percent of the Area Media Income (AMI) up to 80 percent of the AMI; rents will range from $251 for a studio for the formerly homeless, to $2,096 for a three-bedroom unit for a family of four making $50,100-$86,800 annually, according to Michel. Roughly 35 percent of the units will be permanently affordable through ELLA and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing.
City Council member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who represents a district that neighbors the project, emphasized the need to bring more fresh food options to the neighborhood and detailed her own struggles with finding local produce in the area.
“This was something that was discussed in great detail with community conversations,” Ampry-Samuel said at Tuesday’s hearing. “I know this past weekend I went out with my mom looking just for a salad and we went to three different grocery stores and there was not one grocery store that had fresh lettuce.”
Apart from greater access to greens, the the project “seeks to cure the blight that is currently existing” along the dilapidated stretch of Atlantic Avenue by building on 12 city-owned lots and 3 that are privately owned by the developer, said Dawanna Williams, the principal of Debar. The project will also include an art gallery, outdoor recreation space, and two fitness centers, among other amenities.