The trend of converting churches into luxury housing has also hit Bushwick. It comes as no surprise when there are ravening hordes lusting after real estate throughout Kings County, and Bushwick boasts no less than 56 properties listed as places of worship within its conventional boundaries. To the secular, this may seem like a lot of houses of God and one might be compelled to argue that a few less churches wouldn’t do much harm, especially when a couple of churches can become as many as 131 residential units.
However, some of us have concerns about the kind of housing that is created in situations like this, and whether these type of property grabs will leave any space for nonresidential use, especially given that the socioeconomic equilibrium of a neighborhood is enhanced by diversity, both demographically and in terms of land use (consider the concept of the ‘bedroom community,’ an exclusively residential neighborhood and suburban condition that doesn’t allow for much balance and sustainability).
Two local church-to-condo conversions, both located on Bushwick Avenue, are currently in the works: each will be exclusively “luxury” apartments. Given the visibility and original purpose of both buildings, they strike us as missed opportunities to provide the neighborhood with mixed-use buildings that could serve a broad group of Bushwick inhabitants rather than being the private demesne of their inhabitants.
Halsey and Weirfield St. Church Conversion
The first one of these conversions is happening between Halsey and Weirfield streets, and it will become 32 residential units. The original 1927 building of the Holy Tabernacle Church may not be an architectural jewel on its own, but it definitely adds to the character of Bushwick Avenue, typically composed of mansions, row houses and other public buildings. This was probably the intention behind preserving the facade in front of the four stories of reflecting glass. Leaving aesthetics aside, preserving some of the church spaces in the lower floors could have housed a variety of small-scale uses such as a store, a couple of offices or a dance studio, which are all compatible with residential units.
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church
The second residential mutation is located at the corner of Jefferson St. and Bushwick Ave. Perhaps this case is aesthetically less harsh, but in terms of exploring a mixed-use opportunity, this one is a major failure. Years after its original parish left the building (built in 1891), Saint Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church was temporarily used as a movie set, party venue, and performance and art space. The ongoing church renovation is only one of the three components of the residential complex being developed. The other two parts are taking place in the former school next to the church, and a new building going up at the corner of Troutman St., where “one of Bushwick’s most derelict abandoned buildings” was located before it collapsed in 2011.
The church and school structures, already sized for public uses and a vacant lot, does add up to a lot of available space that could be used in many different ways – but the amount of space is’t the only reason why the development of 99 residential units seem odd. It is particularly strange because this development is located in one of the few areas in Bushwick where the zoning allows for a mix of commercial and residential uses. This zoning – C2-1, commercial overlay – allows for uses that “include neighborhood grocery stores, restaurants and beauty parlors and even a slightly wider range of uses.” Dear developer, do you need some ideas about what could coexist with the lucrative enterprise of renting “luxury” housing to the very few that can afford it? How about a big shared office/studio space in the church, a daycare in the ground floor of the old school and/or retail spaces at street level in the new building?
Let’s pray for a brighter destiny for the remaining churches in Bushwick. Let’s hope for a greater variety of use, more housing but less “luxurious” and exclusionary housing. Amen.