The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Le Flabenue Needs Vous!!

Take a minute, won't you, from your busy day to fill out another Flatbush Avenue Merchant's Association survey? The train has left the station, with your conductor Dr. Cuts at the helm, with yeoman's service provided by the Pratt Area Community Council (PACC).  Oh, and I'd include the side-businesses just off the Flabenue in your calculations, including Lincoln Road and Parkside, as they abut the Flab. (As the old saying goes, "better to abut the Flab than to Flab the butt.")

From Dr. Desmond Romeo:

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to Pratt Area Community Council (PACC). PACC is a local non-profit organization that has served the central Brooklyn community for 50 years by developing and managing affordable housing and providing direct technical assistance to small businesses. PACC has been very successful in its commercial revitalization initiative for over 15 years. One of PACC's prominent successes in merchant organizing is the formation of the Fulton Area Business (FAB) Association now called the FAB Alliance Business Improvement District, a public-private partnership that provides extensive supplementary services such as increased sanitation, security, and marketing to the Fulton Street corridor.

With that said, we have asked PACC to initially lead with our initiative to formally organize a merchants association that will work to create a vibrant commercial corridor along Flatbush Avenue. A primary mission of the association will be to strategically plan ways to support the quality businesses and to compliment the current retail mix along Flatbush Avenue. The merchants association will also be instrumental in addressing our neighborhood concerns such as vacancies, foot traffic and littered sidewalks. To further stimulate the development of Flatbush Avenue, The Parkside Empire - Flatbush Avenue Merchants Association, in collaboration with PACC, is now conducting a Commercial Needs Survey.

The Flatbush Avenue Commercial Needs Survey is designed to assess local residents' shopping experiences on Flatbush Avenue and gather their input on what types of businesses are needed/wanted in this area. Simply, this survey will assist in determining what residents enjoy in the neighborhood as well as determine what is lacking. The survey will also help us appropriately recruit businesses.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE THE SURVEY. It takes less than 5 minutes to complete. So please take a moment to read each question carefully and answer to the best of your ability for your entire household.

Thank you for your time!

Desmond Romeo,
Merchant Association President
[Owner of Dr Cuts]

Trouble, and Opportunity, at 265 Hawthorne

From the 71st:

July 21, 2014 at approximately 730 PM in front of 265 Hawthorne Street two males were involved in a verbal altercation that turned violent when on male pulled out a firearm and shot the other male 4 times. The victim was taken to Kings County Hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.

July 22, 2014 one male was shot in the lower abdomen at the corner of Washington Ave and Montgomery Street for unknown reasons. At this time it is early in the investigation but we believe the victim knows the perpetrator and was the intended target. Victim was taken to  Kings County Hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.

Anyone with information on these two crimes or any crime please call the 71 Precinct Detective Unit at 718-735-0501.

265 Hawthorne is between Rogers and Nostrand, FYI. The building itself has not been implicated, ironically it's a building I've been planning a post about for some time. Just gathering the info. It's an example of a building where the City took over the property due to landlord negligence and arrears. Then, using Pratt Area Community Council as sponsor, the tenants association is working to make it Limited Equity Coop (HDFC is shorthand around here). The tenants could buy their apartments for $2,000 a piece, and their monthly rents would go up slightly, but it would then be considered "maintenance." Loans get made to do repairs. It's a pretty sweet deal, actually, though you must sell at below market rates preset by the agreement.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dr. Cuts Adds Specialist To Practice

Leave it to Desmond Romeo, proprietor of local fan favorite Dr. Cuts, to shake things up a bit. As Q readers know, I really like Dr. Cuts and have given Desmond the gig to trim my delicate locks and found he had no problem navigating my "straight hair," as it's sometimes referred to in the biz, "straight hair" referring to both curly and actually straight hair typical of European heritage.

Desmond will be adding a part-time straight hair specialist, a talented
Tim Wandrey
fellow named Tim Wandrey, who gets a thumbs-up from Play Kids owner Shelley Kramer. Tim will be on hand Wednesday (tomorrow July 23) from 6PM on, and Sunday, August 3, starting at 3PM. I think it's part of a deal for the two to learn more about the others' style of hair styling, but you can get a $20 cut as a walk-in. I'm endlessly fascinated by the hair industry in our neighborhood, and I once again encourage all who share my curiosity to check out the awesome Chris Rock documentary "Good Hair." (For giggles regarding other sorts of hairacters, there's always Warren Beatty in Shampoo.)

Here's Desmond, digging into his craft:

When you think about it, that's an awful lot of trust we place in the scissor-man or braider-lady. I mean, they're behind you, and they have implements. Sharp implements.

Working It Out On Parkside

Growing up in the heartland, the little Q rarely heard so much as a raised voice, let alone the kind of dust-ups you hear in NYC all the time, often about not much at all. "Conflict? Does it even exist except on TV?" coddled Q might have asked. But after 25 years in Brooklyn, had the full-grown Q been in the Kennedy Fried Chicken place on Parkside last night, and the below dialogue broken out, I too would have stuck around to see if the two adversaries would eventually come to an understanding, maybe even shaking hands. Because despite the heightened rhetoric, in their way, they are trying to come to an understanding that will allow both parties to claim partial victory. When the testosterone comes out to play, what you often see is a bit of backing off as the hormone surge recedes, though in this flick we don't get to see the eventual outcome.

A little background: according to the videographer who sent me this clip, the issue that brought it all to a head was when the grill cook spat on the ground while cooking. Why so upset? Perhaps a bug flew into his mouth? We may never know. The patron, understandably concerned by such unsanitary behavior while his food was being assembled, took issue with the action, leading to an invitation by management to engage in an unethical carnal act between patron and chef. Perhaps I should qualify that. It would be unethical, and illegal, were it non-consensual and/or performed in a public environment.

The conclusions I draw from this interaction are quad-fold: 1: I will not be ordering food from this establishment anytime soon. 2: Spitting while cooking is considered vulgar and unhealthy. 3: The use of homophobic profanity is never called for, even in jest. 4. I'm really glad the clip shows the players from the neck down.

Monday, July 21, 2014

23-Story Building to Rise on Nostrand Near Church Ave

I guess 23 is a lucky number for developers. Or perhaps, it's the maximum you can get from FAR for R7-1 zoning for certain sized lots. Either way, the race is on. Nostrand, with its ideal access to public transportation (the 2 and 5 run beneath it) will surely see a massive uptick, literally UPtick.

According to YIMBY,  permits have been filed to build a 23 story building on Nostrand below Church a couple blocks. Currently, the site at 1580 Church is a one-story "tax-payer," as they say in the biz.

Currently, our (CB9's) negotiations with City Planning taking place over the last couple months have identified the areas south of Eastern Parkway and over to New York, west to Ocean and south to Clarkson, as the likely boundaries of a rezoning study. And while that may sound like a good plan for those opposing skyscrapers around here, it may be a mixed blessing. Because any rezoning will likely not involve any net losses in buildable space. Meaning, corridors like Nostrand and Empire might see taller buildings allowed to offset downzoning elsewhere. Stay tuned...

A Tale of, three...wait, four...Neighborhoods

Tripping down Flatbush Lane this Saturday with the kiddies in tow I was struck by how much is just plain happenin' in the 'hood these days. Construction, new joints, new faces. An email I just received today got me thinking about the ways in which we all perceive the world through our own experience - past and present of course, but also through the lens of our hopes for the future.

In a matter of a couple blocks, I enountered four people I've gotten to know a bit better recently. And they were expressing their concerns in a visible and passionate way.

On right, Vivia Morgan
There's Vivia Morgan of 100 Black Construction Workers, who along with the Construction Worker's Union have brought The Rat to 626 Flatbush for using subcontractors who hire non-union workers at sub-standard rates. Vivia and co. would also like to see Hudson hire locally, with the reasonable notion that if you're going to hire scabs, at least help benefit the community by bringing work to locals.
Brenda & Cheryl

Then I ran into Cheryl Sealey and Brenda Edwards of PPEN, who were busy alerting neighbors to the perils of development, now that the big money has discovered the Lefferts Gardens area. They've shown wisdom and passion for the issues affecting the entire neighborhood...they're hardly what I could describe as NIMBY-ists. As longtime neighborhood residents, you could describe them as "gentry," even as the word "gentrification" wafts through the air, which can feel like a real insult, to people who've lived here and raised families and been part of the social fabric of the neighborhood for decades.

Speaking of gentrification, some folks see what's going on throughout Central Brooklyn and spring into action. That's Imani Henry, of Equality for Flatbush. He's working on a documentary to highlight the culture of a world that may soon go the way of the dodo, and he just closed a campaign to raise money through IndieGoGo. If you haven't seen Imani and his video, check it out here.

Imani Henry, holding sign at right
What's fascinating to me right now is the fact that the negative effects of change right now aren't limited to low-income or longtime residents worried for their homes and/or losing the diversity and character of their neighborhood. Recent transplants to the neighborhood are often being manipulated too, as the middle-piece of the upscaling game.  The game, simply put, is to rush buildings out of rent stabilization as quickly as you can, since once an apartment is out, it's out for good.

Looking back on our time in NYC, Mrs. Q and I have watched neighborhood after neighborhood go through the same bizarre dance. In the early '90s, she lived in a very small two bedroom on East 2nd. Folks were being offered money to leave, mostly older Polish immigrants, and the landlord had long-since stopped offering leases on paper, leaving the unsophisticated renters vulnerable. For transient types like Mrs. Q and her roommate, such a cash-only apartment situation seemed almost ideal, knowing that they could easily find a similarly priced apartment elsewhere if need be, and they could simply split on a dime if that was their whim. They were the middle-pieces in the game, back then. Heck, we (meaning me and most of my friends) ALL were.

But with prices rising wildly throughout most of Brooklyn, such a move seems more and more scary these days. Many people have moved to the neighborhood and found a rent-stabilized apartment, and hope to stay. The email I got today showcases how strange and tenuous that relationship is, though, particularly if your landlord is itching to hit that $2,500 threshold.

In a nutshell, the person who sent me the email nabbed an apartment for $1,8000, even though the previous tenant was paying $950. Even with the shoddy "renovation," the landlord should not have been allowed to charge more than $1,300. My correspondent learned this too late, however, and NOW the landlord is refusing to offer her a new lease. Eventually they will have to, because our protagonist knows her rights, and is putting up a fight about it. But it would appear that the landlord is going to make life tough for this tenant, and that the ultimate goal is to up the rent again upon her leaving.

Here's a rent calculator that she sent me that can help you assess how much your landlord can increase rent in various scenarios

So how many kinds of housing sitches are we dealing with?

  • Well, there's always the market rate tenants, and they must live with the vagaries of rental negotiations. This is a landlord's favorite scenario, of course.
  • The owners of houses and coops and condos. Despite property tax increases and maintenance costs (yes coop owners, we have those too!), this situation is hugely advantageous to the resident lucky enough to pay a mortgage or own the place outright. Prices have tripled in a decade, and currently show little slowdown. As we've seen recently, home ownership is NOT always a good investment. But here in Brooklyn, even a real estate novice like me looks like a genius.
  • There's the "lucky" renters of low-cost rent-stabilized apartments, who, in the current environment, are often being harassed or neglected or bought out of their leases. And while the buyout may seem lucrative, these folks are going to find a hard time finding similarly priced housing elsewhere. Some folks, too, have been paying "preferenced" rates, meaning that when the landlord has the opportunity (read: now) they can revert to the "allowed" rate, meaning a massive increase in monthly cost, all at once. This will surely force many tenants to leave, almost immediately.
  • There are the "lucky" recent movers into rent-stabilized apartments, who have often been shafted before signing with a price that's not legal. On top of it, they may be merely a link in the chain, as the landlord races against possible legislation to end the current policy of rent-stabilization exit.
Some new affordable units will become available through lottery, in 626 Flatbush for instance. Will that compensate for enormous disappearance of affordable housing in the area? Of course not. And as some landlords actively discriminate against certain "kinds" of people, you can be assured that the neighborhood will go through enormous social and cultural upheaval, not just economic.

If that makes it any clearer why some folks are upset about more than the menu items at the new restaurant, then I suppose we're on the same page. Though I too would prefer some vegatarian options, not because I'm a vegetarian, but because I firmly believe that a just society needs a gastro-pub that caters to everyone, not just the red meat-eaters and the lobster-lovers.

Diversity of food options, too, is often the ideal.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Midwood Flats

No, the Q is not referring to London-style apartments on a certain Lefferts street. Folks, the name of the soon-to-open gastro pub is to be "Midwood Flats," and its menu looks something, or rather exactly, like this:

Hamburger? French Fries? Non Traditional Hamburger? French Fries Nouveau?

The Q is a big fan of restaurant names that tell you exactly where it is. MF is not inspired, but it's not insipid. (Hey, those two words are almost anagrams. Take the R out of inspired and it's insipid...hmmm. gotta work on that one...)

Take it away, boys! A one, two, three, four...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

First Civilian Observation Patrol (C.O.P.) In Many, Many Years

Now THAT was fun. Riding around in a cop car with working sirens and lights and loudspeakers, jabbering away with a new friend. Playing Hutch to his Starsky. Or rather, doing nothing but driving around, down Parkside, up Winthrop, down Hawthorne, up Fenimore, down Rutland, up Midwood, down Maple, up Lincoln, down Lefferts, up Sterling, round Ocean, Clarkson, New York, Empire...and as much Flatbush as possible.

Riding Shotgun With Partner
Six of us so far have signed up and got the hour long talking to that's required, that and the fingerprinting. (Convicted Felons Need Not Apply. A couple misdemeanors, hey, everyone makes mistakes). We are absolutely NOT doing any policing. The idea is for us to get to know the neighborhood better, its hangouts and hotspots, and to report anything we see. Most of it will probably be common knowledge to the precinct, but at least we'll be able to hold them accountable for taking notice. Plus, it never hurts to have another vehicle trolling the streets, letting folks know to keep it civil. (There are four basic sounds the cop cars can make, and they are a lot fun. It will take a lot of discipline on the Q's part not to push them. A lot.)

So, we need more recruits! I don't expect you'll do more than drive a three or four hour shift once a month of your choosing (like the Park Slope Food Coop!), or you could do more if you like, of course. Do it with a friend and make it a date! It is most definitely NOT a dangerous job, and you will have no weapon or really any authority to do anything but observe. Is it helpful? We think it will be when it's happening more regularly, and this way we can create a community of concerned neighborhood types who have a regular and meaningful dialogue and trust with the 71st.

So...send me an email if you're up for it and when I get six more, I'll schedule another orientation with Vinny Martinos.

Medgar Evers Quad Design - Third Time's a Charm?

from the Daily News

In an open letter to Tish James a few years back, the Q waded into controversial local politics for perhaps the first time, and certainly the first time since being given a seat on the Community Board, which I've recently learned can be snapped away on a whim - bye-bye our wonderful Transportation Committee chair, for instance, who was not re-appointed. Sigh. So what was the Q's beef to Tish?

Basically I was confused why she and other community leaders came out against the Quad project, and why they would consider parking and moderate traffic flow on Crown Street more important than creating an actual permanent campus for a college that has carved a niche providing higher education to Brooklyn's most needy, yet most motivated, young people. AND tons of adult learners. No brainer, right? More green, less exhaust on campus, more interaction between students and faculty, more community events. All there was to it was to close down one block of one lowly street. And the street as is (Crown, Bedford to Franklin) could currently be named after Bud Ugglie. It draws some morning communter traffic, but it's hardly a main artery for Central Brooklyn. So why all the vitriol coming from the community against such common sense public space?

My suspicions were confirmed as my understanding grew. Folks on Montgomery and Crown between Bedford and Rogers, gorgeous blocks for sure, have felt kicked around and disrespected by Medgar for years, ever since it took root in 1970. Longtime commercial buildings were razed to make way for the college. The college wasn't always friendly and accommodating to community needs, and communication was non-existent. The college even renamed a block after itself. Then, when an unpopular college president announced the $15 million project, tempers exploded. Twas gonna look like this:
And so, behind closed doors, a compromise was apparently reached. And while the street will apparently not be shut down entirely, I hardly see how the slight difference was worth all the fuss. Looking at the drawing as a layperson, I'd say that eventually the street WILL be closed to traffic. With all the planned pedestrian activity, it seems foolish to try to keep cars moving through the Quad.

You may wonder why the Q would concern himself with stuff happening north of Empire. As a bike rider and CB9 guy, I've come to very much view this area as part of my neighborhood. And if the redevelopment of Empire Blvd comes to fruition, and the re-purposing of the Bedford-Union Armory happens, and new bars and restaurants take root along Franklin, Bedford, Rogers and Nostrand below Eastern Parkway, I suspect the distinctions between Crown Heights South and Lefferts Gardens will be less severe. It's Empire Blvd's current junky vibe that cuts the two in half, and Eric Adams et al would love to see it turned into a tourist and shopping and residential high-rise zone. With hotels. More on that as the rezoning process continues...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Speaking of Pedestrian Safety...

If you haven't had a chance to add your voice to the cool map being offered up by "Vision Zero," you can zoom in on this app and add comments to each and every intersection in the neighborhood and add your own comments and pet peeves. Believe it or not, your input is actually actively being solicited. Please add as many comments as you can! We need all the help from DOT that we can get.