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Quaker values tested as Friends school plan is shouted down at meeting

for The Brooklyn Paper
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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.

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Reader Feedback

al pankin from downtown says:
it's seems like a good spot for a school, look at what's there now.
Oct. 7, 2009, 12:54 pm
john d. from downtown says:
These people are a bunch of whiners. Also, just because one loser in Senate yells out "that's a lie," doesn't mean that it's "the thing to do." Get over yourselves, you bah-humbugs.
Oct. 7, 2009, 8:47 pm
stateofunion from boerumhill says:
You say it was a small group at the meeting? Over 70 people signed in. And 200 hundred people have not signed on to a petition for the school. 200 people who walk by Hoyt and State have signed a local petition that they don't understand because all it says is "do you think Brooklyn Friends is an Asset to the Community". We would sign that petition. On the other hand, we now have over 50 households on Keep State Street Residential that understand the complicated ins and outs of the issue. That is by far the majority of residents and long time renters on the two blocks concerned with the issue.

I think the discussion was productive and most of the pro-schoolers have actually woken up to the issue and signed on to opposing the school at this site. Particularly since there is a location 1/2 a block away that is more appropriate. The school accepted too many students after 10 years of failing to find a site and are now under time constraints. I don't see why that is something we should absorb as a neighborhood, making a keen buck for developers. I love how everyone bah-humbugs community process now. You'd be lucky if you could galvanize a neighborhood like we did to adhere to a vision that took decades to come up with.
Oct. 8, 2009, 1:04 am
Local State St Resident from State St says:
1) I wonder if the journalist was actually at the meeting to claim people were shouting and enraged... By all accounts, including journalists actually here, this was an extremely civil and respectful meeting. All presenters went not only completely uninterrupted but were also respectfully applauded when they all finished even though the crowd was certainly not in favor of this project.
Maybe it makes for a better article to say that people were enraged but the truth and the matter is that people are against this project but were able to tell this to BFS and the developers in a civil and respectful manner.

2) you are absolutely mistaken when you say that 200 residents of the block have signed a petition in favor of the school being built here: that petition is made most its most part of people that do not live in or around State St. Anyone walking anywhere near State St has been asked to sign this letter, regarldess of whether they lived here or not, including during Atlantic Antic.
Moreover, those were people being asked if they thought Brooklyn Friends were an asset to the community. They were never told that another location a block North was available. We actually asked some people we saw sign this petition and here is what they said:
- one woman from Clinton Hill said she was never told this was a petition to build a private school and she was never told a more suitable location for the community as a whole was also available to BFS
- a family of eight (including 6 kids) from Prospect Park was told they could sign for their 6 children as well.
This clearly does not represent the residents of the block.

FYI, an actual petition of ONLY the residents of State St has been signed by more than 50 ACTUAL residents of the two blocks (between Smith and Bond St).
Oct. 8, 2009, 7:54 am
howaboutapublicschool from Boerum Hill says:
I love how condescending Sabrina Jaszi is in this article and also how she fails to do her homework as a journalist. "A handful of opponents" is actually the majority of residents on the two blocks.

Hey Sabrina, Did Brooklyn Friends or the Developer pay you off?
Oct. 8, 2009, 8:57 am
brownstonebill from Boerum Hill says:
There were just too many factual errors in this article, as noted by other commenters. Mainly, this is not a replacement for the entire Friends School, just ages 4-9 as was explained. Because every block from Clinton to Flatbush has a church or commercial use I would call State a "transitional" as opposed to purely residential street. This does not diminish its value in any way--all uses are integrated into the fiber of our nabe and we are strengthened thereby.

Were the question asked, I'll bet this facility could be available for many uses in addition to meeting space--something we urgently need. Boerum Hill
--not just State Street--needs to be involved in this
issue. Our local public schools are already packed to capacity. With no market for condos at the site who knows what other use might come along. More
prisons or low income housing? A bird in hand is emphatically worth two in the bush. Repeat to self 100 times.
Oct. 8, 2009, 1:48 pm
Ed from Heights says:
NIMBY, yet again.
Oct. 8, 2009, 7:57 pm
howaboutapublicschool from Boerum Hill says:
How is it NIMBY when we want them 180 feet away on Schermerhorn?
Oct. 9, 2009, 12:51 pm
TeeJay from Cobble Hill says:
It seems there is no end to the selfishness of so-called "neighbors" in Brooklyn neighborhoods. If you want to live in a gated community, go to the suburbs.
Oct. 15, 2009, 3:31 am

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