Clinton Hill civic gurus overwhelmingly supported a local charter school’s plan to erect a new learning house in a historically industrial part of the neighborhood, despite pushback from some locals, who argued the classrooms will further reduce the number of blue-collar jobs in the area, and expose students to dangers such as heavy traffic and pollution.
Members of Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee on March 20 cast their purely advisory vote in favor of rezoning the current manufacturing site at 30 Clinton Ave. between the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway and Flushing Avenue, so that leaders of Clinton Hill’s International Charter School can build a new facility for its students, who currently learn at two separate campuses on Willoughby Street and Hanover Place in America’s Downtown.
But one local worried that the board’s blessing will eliminate manufacturing jobs at the Brooklyn Navy Yard–adjacent site — which is currently home to an ironworks facility, an auto-repair shop, and a food-storage warehouse — and larger neighborhood, which she claimed already lost many similar gigs to redevelopment over the years.
“Our manufacturing districts need to be protected,” said Lucy Koteen. “Because of the rampant gentrification that’s going on everywhere throughout the city, and particularly in Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, along Flatbush Avenue and Fulton Street, we need to be protective of our manufacturing and industry sections, because they’re very important for jobs and for diversity. I think we need to be really careful to allow too much development in those areas that’s contrary to manufacturing and the industries that we need.”
Another panel member wondered if students at the charter school — which opened in 2015, currently teaches some 355 pupils in kindergarten through fourth grade, and could grow to include fifth-through-eighth-grade classrooms and serve as many as 727 youngsters if the rezoning is approved — would be exposed to air and noise pollution, and dangerous traffic, if it opens up so close to the expressway.
“Your location is between the BQE and the Navy Yard, so you’re looking at a lot of noise, you’re looking at a lot of traffic, you’re also looking at possible air pollution, how are you handling all of those three conditions?” asked Bill Flounoy.
Local parents would have nothing to worry about, however, according to an engineer tapped by the school and its chosen developer for the project, who said planners determined that pollution levels would not harm any children, after running an emissions simulator and consulting Department of Transportation data to see how many vehicles use the highway.
“It was determined that the emissions from the BQE would not fall above the regulatory standards of having an impact on students,” said Equity Environmental Engineering staffer Amber Karatlyan.
The engineers also checked for surrounding industrial polluters and investigated area crosswalks, according to Karatlyan, who claimed her firm went above and beyond to prove that the school will not put kids in harms way in order to get the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals to sign off on the rezoning.
“I have a 3-year-old, I am a mother. Any time I’m dealing with schools in a manufacturing district, I go above and beyond State Environmental Quality Review guidelines,” she said.
International Charter School leaders must also prove that they could not find a more suitable site in the school’s district than the Clinton Avenue lot, which they told the panel took them more than four years to find. And there are already schools nearby, including Clinton Avenue’s public Benjamin Banneker Academy high school between the expressway and Myrtle Avenue.
More than 200 locals signed a petition supporting the project, according to an International Charter School parent and CB2 member, who said the new location would better serve students — and keep them safer — than its current split-site classrooms Downtown.
“The traffic down there is pretty haphazard itself, in terms of kids crossing the street on Willoughby and Hanover,” said Juliet Cullen-Cheung, who was joined by fellow International Charter School parents and students, and its principal Ellen Borenstein, at the meeting.
Still, Cullen-Cheung encouraged planners to thoroughly vet the site as they move forward with the project, claiming the area has become more pedestrian friendly in the 13 year’s she’s worked at the nearby Navy Yard, but that it still draws many big rigs due to its history as a manufacturing zone.
“I think that Clinton Avenue is a little rough right now,” she said. “The truck activity that’s happening over there, that’s something that needs to be mitigated. I think that the developers and the school can address that, as well as the noise concerns and the environmental concerns once they actually do the actual air-quality testing.”
The leader of the school’s parent-teacher association praised those locals who voiced concerns about its possible new site, calling the debate a sign of the community’s care for its youngest residents.
“Honestly, being at this meeting tonight and hearing how concerned you are about our children is a dream, we want to be in a place that you care about our kids’s safety,” said Jaclyn Carter.
Educators hope to open the new school as soon as 2021, should the Board of Standards and Appeals approve the rezoning. Renderings of the proposed building — which would be constructed by Barone Management, the same firm behind the redevelopment of Dyker Heights’s Angel Guardian home — show it would rise five stories, and include a little less than a football field’s worth of space, including an enclosed gym on the top floor.