Quaker values were certainly put to the test on Monday night when a group of angry State Street residents faced down officials from Brooklyn Friends School as they presented their controversial plan for a new educational center between Hoyt and Bond streets.
More than 200 residents of the neighborhood have signed on in support of the Quaker school’s proposal for a five-story, 400-student elementary school to replace the existing facility on Pearl Street in Downtown — but none of those supporters were on hand when the principal Michael Nill, architect Paul Segal and traffic-consultant-for-hire Phil Habib said that the school would not increase car traffic to the street and the building itself would not be obtrusive.
“Of course it will!” at least one voice yelled out.
Others were more circumspect, but no less enraged.
“There just isn’t room on State Street to accommodate the heavy traffic flow to and from a school,” said resident Chris Aston.
Habib, who was hired by the developer, said that the traffic patterns at the school’s current location on Pearl Street showed that “only 18 percent of students … are dropped off in cars.”
But that location is steps away from the F and A/C station at Jay Street and one block from the transit hub at Borough Hall — much different from the residential site on State Street at Hoyt Street, an area that is similar to Bergen Street between Court and Smith streets, where the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School often angers neighbors with double-parked cars during drop-off periods.
Habib did say that the State Street location could see “one-third more cars” — but that projection was seen as too low by opponents.
“We need much more research [on] how the school traffic will develop at this very different location,” said Marci Rosa. Habib later admitted that his firm had not examined the unique traffic patterns on State Street.
The architectural renderings, which showed a structure built from natural materials and consistent in scale with its neighbors, were less controversial, but were met with some disapproval because the building would accommodate 100 more students than the current 300 and include a gym on the first level and a roof-level playspace.
Segal assured community members that neither play area would be a source of noise.
“That’s not true!” one opponent yelled.
At that point, the school’s mild-mannered principal, who’d begun the evening with a speech about the Quaker ideals of peaceful conflict-resolution, threatened to leave, though he was coaxed back in Quaker fashion.
The opponents, who have organized under the banner, “Keep State Street Residential,” came together over their desire to ensure that several empty lots on the low-rise block be developed to ensure that the area remain buffered from busy Downtown.
The site in question was initially going to be a 29-unit residential building, but the developer, IBEC Building Corporation, changed plans when the real-estate market collapsed last year.
That timing was perfect for Brooklyn Friends, which is overcrowded and has been searching for a new location for three years, Nill said.
But before a school can be built, IBEC must get approval because current zoning allows only low-rise residential development on the block. Five years ago, IBEC agreed to abide by that zoning, but now seeks a reversal from the Empire State Development Corporation, which has jurisdiction.
The agency did not return calls for comment.
©2009 Community News Group
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