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Fifth Avenue Committee presents updated plans for senior housing at old Zion Lutheran Church

Community members still have concerns over the plan to construct an eight-story senior and affordable housing development at the site of the shuttered Zion Lutheran Church on Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park.

On Monday, November 30, at an informational session held at Community Board 7 — which included a presentation by the not-for-profit Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC) and Magnusson Architecture and Planning (MAP) — residents living near the church made clear, once again, that they believe that plans for the space do not take into account the needs of nearby neighbors, who stayed when many moved away and who are now  dealing with lack of available parking, overcrowded schools and gentrification that has forced many long-time neighborhood residents out of their homes.

“It’s also a part of this displacement that is taking place in this community,” contended former Assemblymember Javier Nieves. “We have a perfect mix in this neighborhood. Who is it affordable for? Everyone throws that question around. Sunset Park is not benefiting from it.”

But, Jay Marcus, director of housing development for FAC, said that the facility — which would rise on the site of the church and two adjacent townhouses, 414 and 416 63rd Street — would meet needs currently unmet in the neighborhood. That is one reason why the New York Metropolitan Lutheran Synod had entered into the memorandum of understanding with FAC, because leaders of the synod believe that FAC’s plans fit in with their mission of community service.

“A lot of people say affordable family housing is needed,” Marcus said. “But we also have a lot of seniors here and they are at risk with the gentrification that’s happening. As the rents are going up, a lot of the tenants tend to be seniors. They are the ones most at risk of being displaced. Based on that, we decided we would do senior housing.”

According to the plans presented by FAC, the new development would include 49 apartments for low-income seniors, 62 and older, with 23 units set aside for the formerly homeless, as well as 18 apartments for low-income families. The ground floor and cellar of the new building to house the next-door health center, whose lease is winding down.

The combination is considered intergenerational housing, to accommodate seniors who want to live in such a setup, though there would also be two floors of only senior housing, for those seniors who prefer it. No parking is included in the project.

An effort is being made to ensure that Sunset seniors know about the project, according to Marcus, who said he had visited local senior centers to train staffers there on signing people up. “We want to make sure that all the seniors who need this apply from the senior centers in Sunset Park and Bay Ridge so that their applications are in first,” he stressed.

The goal, said Marcus, is to make the apartments comfortable for the seniors. “Most of the studio apartments will be L-shaped and they’ll be larger than what the city usually likes, 450 square feet on average,” he said. “That is because if a caregiver needs to stay over, there is some privacy.”

In addition, there will be a TV lounge and laundry room on every floor so seniors don’t have travel from floor to floor. There will be a community room on the second floor, with a 2,000-square- patio. There will also be a garden on the sixth floor.

One of the major changes from the original proposal was increasing the age eligibility from 55 to 62. “The community didn’t like the 55 eligibility and, through your feedback, we changed it,” Marcus said.

Nonetheless, community members weren’t pleased.  “This is an ill-conceived idea,” Nieves said. “Based on what you have shown, it is completely out of cultural context. This is going to cause massive amounts of traffic. Plus, you have a school right across the street.”

Marcus disagreed.  “The research revealed this was a big need because seniors are vulnerable,” he said.

“The apartments are all affordable for people earning less than $34,000, including those who are on a fixed income,” he added. “The average rent in Sunset Park is $2,100 for an apartment. Most rents [in this project] are under half that. You want it to be what the market is now getting for apartments here, then so be it.”

Assuming it moves forward, the project is three to four years away from completion.

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