Harvey’s neighbors: Condos Developer has no plans for a hotel at Ft. Greene site

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A developer that paid $12 million for four lots next to the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater in Fort Greene plans to build a large-scale luxury condominium complex, a spokeswoman for the developer said.

The representative of Manhattan-based The Clarett Group contacted The Brooklyn Papers after the newspaper reported last week that the company had quietly bought up and cleared of tenants the properties next to the performance space on Fulton Street at Ashland Place.

Despite rumors that Clarett would seek to build a hotel on the site, a use allowed under the current commercial zoning, the source said the developer would instead build condominiums there, which they can do as-of-right by including ground-floor commercial space.

The site could support a 30-story residential tower.

Fort Greene Councilwoman Letitia James, who dealt with Clarett on behalf of some of the evicted tenants who lived and worked in the low-rise buildings at 655 through 671 Fulton St., called the company’s plans “underhanded.”

“I spoke to their attorney earlier on because they were trying to evict one of the tenants,” said James, referring to Ruth West, owner of Ruthie’s Restaurant, a soul food eatery on DeKalb Avenue that had signed a long-term lease for one of the commercial spaces before Clarett bought it.

“She’d applied to open a restaurant, she got the permits issued, and then they sold the building right out from under her,” said James.

Not yet ready to go public with their plans, Clarett has alluded to the project on its Web site only as the “Brooklyn Project.” The company source said they wanted to wait until the project was closer to realization, but confirmed demolition was intended for the existing buildings.

“We’re trying to reach out to them, and I’ve been trying to schedule a meeting with them to no avail,” said James. “They’re trying to do this in secrecy.”

Whether the demolition would affect the BAM Harvey Theater, a BAM spokeswoman wouldn’t say.

“We have no official comment at this time,” said spokeswoman Sandy Sowatka.

The project, which lies just outside the planned BAM Cultural District, would benefit from the anticipated new streetscapes, landscaping and other initiatives being planned a block to the south.

BAM Local Development Corporation spokesman Lee Silberstein said it wouldn’t change the LDC’s mission.

“It’s not one of their development sites so I don’t think it will affect the [BAM LDC] development,” said Silberstein, referring to various sites in the BAM Cultural District planned for artistic, commercial and housing development.

Melissa Lee, a spokeswoman for the Pratt Area Community Council (PACC), a longstanding non-profit organization that helps small business and housing development thrive in the Fort Greene-Clinton Hill area, decried the loss of those businesses from 655-671 Fulton St.

“I think the businesses will definitely be missed,” said Lee.

“There was a hot yoga studio, which had been there for a number of years,” she said, referring to Yoga People’s Hot Yoga, at 659 Fulton St. “It was very accommodating, and had a huge following. They certainly will be missed.”

The studio has one other facility, on Remsen Street in Brooklyn Heights.

“We also lost a restaurant that never moved in,” she said, retelling West’s story.

“We needed another sit-down restaurant,” Lee said. “Most of the businesses don’t open on that street until evening; this place would have had a steady lunchtime menu.

“I’m not quite sure what the intention is for the condominium project, we haven’t had much contact with the owners, and haven’t been privy to the plans for the project. We’ve gotten very little information on it.”

To build as of right, businesses would need to “anchor” the lower floors of the building, said Lee, and could be similar to what was there, “Depending on what their motives are, which is probably to serve their potential buyers,” she said. “It’s a great question.”

Community Board 2, which would have input and review of any proposed changes of the zoning map or variances to override zoning, hasn’t yet heard from the developer.

“We’ve talked to various people,” said Robert Perris, the board’s district manager. “What I keep hearing is that the project’s going to be as of right. If it is, we generally don’t get a chance to review it.”

He added that CB2 has invited Clarett officials to the September board meeting to talk about their project.

Department of City Planning spokeswoman Rachaele Raynoff said as long as the building included ground-floor retail, set-backs on the street-walls, and 70 percent of the lot frontage, the property could be developed residentially as-of-right.

“In Brooklyn, we know that many of the areas have a requirement for continuous retail and transparency to make it more of a lively and engaging district” said Raynoff, explaining why such a massive apartment structure could fit in a low-rise commercial and brownstone district.

“When you have the residential component you have the foot traffic at all hours, it creates more than an office environment that shuts down at 5,” she said.

Since 2003, The Clarett Group has developed four tower-style residential properties in various upscale Manhattan neighborhoods.

This will be their first Brooklyn project.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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