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.

Monday, December 9, 2013

PPEN Meets at Jan Hus Church - Report and Thoughts

1,000 signatures. My goodness. I had no idea that many people had put their name to the Prospect Park East Network's petition against the 23-story residential tower going up at 626 Flatbush. That was one of many tidbits I learned tonight at the PPEN-sponsored organizational meeting at Jan Hus Church on Ocean Avenue. 300 or so online. 700 or so off-line. (That off-line advantage suggests something of a digital divide in tactics as well as membership). Yours truly was added late in the game to a diverse panel of locals with various beefs against the tower. As any reader of Q comments knows, my position on the tower has gone from neutral to opposed, for various reasons, though the adamantly smug pro-tower comments helped push me there, so ultimately I felt comfortable sitting up there. As the representative of the "South Lefferts Mid-timer White Parent of Young Children Homeowner Blogger Gentrifier" set, I batted cleanup, though the line was set arbitrarily. The venerable and accomplished Celeste Lacy Davis M.C.'d, making it clear from the outset that the meeting was about organizing and planning for PPEN's opposition, and that it was not an attempt to provide an objective forum. In a frank exchange with another attendee who has been critical of the group's objectives (a super guy by the way, no numbskull), she copped to having written the flyer for the meeting. The flyer itself is something of a manifesto, with words carefully chosen to incite passion, and since Lacy Davis has a long history of identifying social ills and organizing to address them, she's certainly done just that. During the meeting she singled out Suki Cheong as "the spark" of the movement, and it's evident that Suki has done a great deal of work behind the scenes to turn a few isolated chunks of beef into a flavorful beef stew over pasta, some might even call it a political stroganoff.

Nancy Hoch led a history of developer Hudson's plans for the tower, and no new ground was covered, but it was covered in an articulate and thorough, even objective, manner. If you're familiar with the project, you know that that in order to build 23 stories, the company needed only purchase enough land to do so, and that no further review was needed, as zoning permitted such height. Many of the same crew who are leading the PPEN group fought another tall tower slated for construction at 33 Lincoln Road in 2007, a site now being built by Tom Anderson at 9 stories. (Incidentally rumors that 33 Lincoln has switched to all market rate are not true...yet. Tom nixed HDC funding for taking too long and has gone to private money, but still aims to go 20% affordable anyway, affordable being up to 60% of the average local income.)

Also on the panel was Quest Fanning of PLGNA, who has lived within a stone's throw of 626 since conception. He noted that he welcomed new building in the area but objected to an insensitve sentiment echoed by some newcomers and planners, who suggest there isn't a lively, robust and functioning community already here, one that needs to be respected and consulted when major changes are introduced. Then awesome successful small businessman Dr. Cuts, a/k/a Desmond Romeo, said he needed more information to fully assess the situation, but was concerned what the tower might mean to his successful 13-year shop and others who have relied on the current scene to survive. And by-the-by, he noted that he and Shelly Kramer (Playkids) and Joyce David (newly arrived lawyer on the Flabenue) have started to resurrect the Merchants Association, a move that the Q heartily cheers!

Longtime Chester Court resident Brenda Edwards, whom I've really come to respect and recognize as someone who truly knows and understands the young people in the neighborhood as an educator and active community presence, noted the obvious that yes, Patio Gardens is annoyingly tall and fugly too, but she's gotten use to it like "dull headache." She's not eager to embrace a new splitting headache on the other side of her (hopefully) soon-to-be-landmarked cul-de-sac, which I just yesterday learned was originally slated to be landmarked with the rest of the Lefferts Historic District but was left out since it wasn't contiguous. And you know Carol Schaefer who runs the Lefferts Manor Association's House Tours? She was there to explain the Manor's long history of support for "contextual" development and issues effecting the larger neighborhood. Rachel Hannaford from South Brooklyn Legal Services was there to lend support and to lend credence to what she called the "very real" fact of secondary displacement that is taking place all over the borough due to massive luxury projects heavily marketed to a demographic much more moneyed than current residents. Chester Court resident Derek Edwards is a teacher and NYC tour leader who dropped this nugget: of all the neighborhoods he shows to tourists, he often gets a thank you from them when he shows off Lefferts for finally getting to see a "real New York neighborhood." Nice.

It's worth emphasizing that Celeste adamantly maintains that this is NOT an anti-gentrification protest. In another time, say 25 years ago, SHE was the gentry, buying her beautiful house on Ocean, moving from Harlem, and raising a family. And she IS part of the old gentry now (sorry Celeste, I mean "remarkably young old gentry"). People will move, they will sell, prices will rise, folks will "discover" neighborhoods, all of that is perfectly natural. What is not natural, so says PPEN, is a massively out of context building that should have gone through a review process, and that the City should have downzoned the Ocean/Flatbush groove in the first place had they listened to the community. The fact of government-backed financing and tax breaks demands transparency and neighborhood buy-in, they say. I'm inclined to agree. Responsible development. That's what they want. Their flyer lays out their platform.

The Q? I related a lot to what was said by the panel, and to the folks in the crowd. There's a lot of fear out there, and a lot of it has become manifest in an absurdly large tower that will (c'mon now be honest) house mostly whites on a mostly low-rise block of businesses in a mostly black neighborhood that gets put-down by newcomers as not classy or tidy enough for them (I'm with you on the tidy part - we're working on it. Safety too). Word's gotten around, and people are in fact feeling the squeeze. Patio Gardens itself is pushing folks out, folks who have lived their for years and years. A resident tells me of their shady practice of listing one price on the lease that's over the rent stabilization limit then giving a rebate, just to keep the apartment off the r.s. rolls. You can bet that many longtime businesses and renters along Flatbush will be gone in a couple years due to this building and others, and of course, housing prices in general will rise big time, not because there will suddenly be more inventory (that would suggest a downward trajectory) but because the neighborhood will be more attractive to college educated professionals, many of them heretofore uncomfortable with the...the..."urban" vibe. I will gladly take a bet on that...say, a dinner at the one of the new bistros to open in the next three years?

But the icing on the bitter cake, to me, is the audacity of a company to slip in behind everyone's back (I know, I know, we were all sleeping, including our do-nothing councilperson) and build the biggest tower anywhere along the park, when it was fully well-known we wanted rezoning.  To me, it's a basic matter of fairness, of self-determination, of the beloved park. Did you know that former park president Tupper Thomas wrote a letter against it? That the current Prospect Park Alliance is against it? And incoming Borough President Eric Adams? And Assemblyman Karim Camara? And Senator Kevin Parker? And Councilman Eugene? Plus Public Advocate Tish James will surely jump on this one. And see the below from the good Rabbi, chair of CB9. PPEN is no joke folks, and whether there's a prayer of getting de Blasio on board, who represents the only chance of actually negotiating with an "as of right" building developer, who knows. Because, as I noted at the meeting, the Mayor can in fact step in and change the rules, or make it clear that if the developer wants smooth sailing in the future, he's got plenty of room on his big lot to build as many units at a lower height. To be continued...




36 comments:

Anonymous said...

I support the tower being built as planned, and while I'm also for PPENs right to advocate for their development desires, their rhetoric seems fearmongering and misleading, and it makes me skeptical of the 1000 signatures they've gathered. Not that they're fake, but that they've been biased. And on all of this I haven't heard one knowledgable person actually weigh in on whether any of this opposition has a chance of putting the brakes on the project.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Yeah, they have a gameplan, and if you want to join you'll get to play. The 300 online signatures is obviously not fake. Whether some of the hard copy ones are duplicates...maybe, I haven't seen them. Why quibble though? Either way, it's a lot more than I would have guessed initially, and it's growing.

Fear-mongering. Not sure about that. Projecting the future as either net positive or net negative is just what people do when they try to make decisions, right? They're presenting the case for net-negative. I don't see how that's fear-mongering. It's no different than developers who come out and say things like "this is a Win-Win for everyone!"

BKmommy said...

The conversation I recently had with a fellow neighbor who supports the project and wanted me to sign the petition was certainly bordering on fear mongering.

I am in full support of this project. Unless more housing opportunities arise in this neighborhood (that isn't a 1 million dollar brownstone), my family has about a year left living comfortably in this neighborhood. I have a partner and two kids and we're quickly running out of space. New development and new commercial opportunities are very much welcome in my book.

BKmommy said...

And FYI, I've been here 10 years and would really love to stay but the living options are quite slim.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Gotcha, and good points.

FYI, the new building will not have many big units. Mostly studios and one-bedrooms, some two bedrooms. Studios to start at $1,900, perhaps more by the time it's built.

BKmommy said...

Oy! Why are 3 bedrooms so hard to come by?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

We have friends who have a huge 3 bedroom on Ocean for $2100, though it's not stabilized.

Anonymous said...

Hate to break it to the residents of Chester Court, but suppose you succeed and knock the building height down to, say 12 stories - a 12 story building occupying 60% of the site will loom nearly as large as a 23 story building occupying 20% of the site (the current ratio). Sorry, but mass is mass.

Not to mention that will do nothing to remedy the fact that it would still be dumping a couple hundred market rate apartments smack in the middle of PLG.

Good grief you people make me feel like such a nihilist!

-Paul

rose said...


I’m sorry Q; I’m usually with you and follow your logic. This time however, I disagree with the amount of energy and effort being spent on this topic.
I wished this new group would take on other issues like the crime rate, safety, new amenities and cleanliness of the neighborhood with just as much gusto. Those are issues that I find that are pressing in our hood. Q as I said before, I was raised in the area and I am middle age-not a newcomer or a gentrifier. So there are some of us that don't feel this is such a large issue. I think moving forward we should set the standards. But for now I feel this is a mute point.

Anonymous said...

The consistency of some of the pro 626 anonymous comments in the previous post make me wonder whether Hudson or its PR wing haven't taken to the blogosphere. I mean really, if it's such a done deal why argue with such gusto? Does anyone really feel the need to knock a bunch of locals trying to preserve their piece of the pie? It's not like we're getting a pro sports franchise out of it like the arena. As far as I can tell we get nothing really. Just some crappy apartments that cost too much and a lot of bad blood and maybe a ground floor au bon pain.

Anonymous said...

Hi neighbor, I don't work for Hudson but I am willing to sign my name. How about you?

Open debate is a healthy thing. PLG is a family, and as someone pointed out at the meeting sometimes families disagree. But we can all hug it out and have coffee at Tugboat after.

Right?

-Paul G.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Rose I hear you. I do find it interesting though that so many elected and the park have chosen to sign on. While I respect yours and Paul's opinions, I happen to think 626 is a major, major game-changer and as such, deserves the attention it's getting.

Also, I hope you know that I'm not backing down on any of those other issues and that I hope PPEN will join me in many a crusade!

Clarkson FlatBed said...

its. it's its. and it's electeds. damn sticky keys and brain burps.

and paul, that dude said anonymous comments, so i think you and babs are in the clear...

Anonymous said...

Oh right - dur. My bad.

-Paul

Lifetime on Lefferts said...

The fact is that many people have been not so secretly wanting this to happen for years. This is the payoff for their investment. They don't care if there's some collateral damage. They can rationalize all they want but this building is a victory for everyone who wishes they could have afforded to live somewhere else. But it's a loss for everyone who needed this neighborhood to stay the affordable side of the park. You can claim your victory but you don't have to be smug about it.

Anonymous said...

clarkson writes:

I do find it interesting though that so many elected and the park have chosen to sign on.

What's interesting? Politicians always find a way to get in front of a crowd and then claim they're leading it. In this case, there's one developer who appears to have all his ducks in a row, which means the local elected officials can pretend to fight the good fight knowing the plans are set in stone and the building's going up no matter what.

Like those who railed against Barclays Center. They strutted, pontificated, chastised, remonstrated and raged against the place, giving voters worthy performances. And?

It's a no-lose proposition for the office-holders. They look good to their supporters and pose no threat to the developer. And once the building is up, the brouhaha will be forgotten.

Meanwhile, rather than waste time fighting a pointless battle, opponents should position themselves to make some hay from the coming changes. A new fully rented 23-story building guarantees some neighborhood businesses will benefit a lot. Then more buildings will rise, and before you know it, the place will shed its grimy look and replace it with something a lot more appealing.

Anonymous said...

Whoa whoa whoa, our do nothing council person? Last time i checked he was busy "serving" the people by creating more housing. Specifically one house, since he lives in canarsie.

Bruce Hammerson said...

YES!!! They can rationalize all they want but this building is a victory for everyone, who wishes they could have afforded to live somewhere else.


Regards,
Komatsu Parts

Bob Marvin said...

"this building is a victory for everyone who wishes they could have afforded to live somewhere else. But it's a loss for everyone who needed this neighborhood to stay the affordable side of the park"

I've ben trying to make sense of this statement from "lifetime on Lefferts" but I really can't. As I read it he/she is writing about people with similar economic circumstances (low income), but different attitudes towards our neighborhood [needing to stay here for economic reasons, but wishing to live elsewhere, as opposed to needing to stay here for similar economic reasons, but liking life here. I can't see how this new building will be a "victory" for the former. or a "loss" for the latter or, indeed, how it would impact either group of people in any meaningful way.

Anonymous said...

Bob, I think the commenter was trying to set up a dichotomy between recent buyers and long-term renters, I.e. The former bought here because they couldn't afford Prospect Heights, and the latter have benefitted from the neighborhoods relative obscurity and attendant relatively lower rents.

Bob Marvin said...

Thanks. As a long term owner, who could have bought elsewhere* I guess I don't fit into this dichotomy (which, I confess, I STILL don't see).


*We could have bought in the S. Slope, where we lived 1970–74, but the houses were much nicer here and the neighborhood was (believe it or not) MUCH safer.

rose said...

Same here Bob.
I could have purchased in Crown Heights or even Prospect Heights years ago,but I chose to come back to PLG,because it was familiar, it was home. So I don't fit this scenario either!

diak said...

I'd like to respectfully ask "Lifetime on Lefferts" what evidence you have for your comments (11:46PM above). Not grudges or resentments. Not assumptions or stereotypes about people who you probably don't actually know.
Evidence.

Lifetime said...

Diak - your question isn't asked respectfully at all. Many people I know first hand have told me they attempted to buy in other neighborhoods and were priced out. You must be blind or deaf not to know that. They settled on PLG. It was not there first choice. And now they are thrilled to see that there neighborhood is becoming more like the ones they couldn't afford. You ask for evidence. Why not ask around.

Lifetime said...

And I helped sell them on the neighborhood of course.

diak said...

Lifetime on Lefferts: yes, it was asked respectfully. But I don't have to ask around; I asked you. You made the sweeping accusations. I'm simply asking what reasons you have for them.

So your evidence is your interpersonal experiences. That's fine, but it isn't my experience. My wife and I looked in several Brooklyn neighborhoods before we first saw PLG (this was in 1999). After our first visit to the neighborhood we never looked elsewhere again. This was our first choice from that point on. The realization that we could get more house for less money was a big part, but hardly the only part, of that decision. Never, ever, did we "settle" for PLG. We moved here to live here; not see our "investment" pay off. We will in no way be "thrilled" if PLG becomes Park Slope-y or Williamsburg Lite. And among the people I know anyway, our feelings about choosing PLG and living in PLG are commonplace.

I'm sorry that you sold some people on the neighborhood and now it sounds like you feel betrayed. But you don't know everyone and you don't know everyone's motivations or aspirations... so isn't it unfair to condemn everyone?

cheryl on parkside ave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob Marvin said...

"My wife and I looked in several Brooklyn neighborhoods before we first saw PLG (this was in 1999). After our first visit to the neighborhood we never looked elsewhere again. This was our first choice from that point on"

That statement could also apply to my wife and I. We stopped looking elsewhere after going on the 1974 PLG house tour, closed on our house four months later, and have never regretted moving here, or wanted to live elsewhere.

cheryl on parkside ave said...

cheryl on parkside ave said...
Agreeing with Bob...bought my home in PLG in 1995.. I looked at homes in Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, Bedford Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, and in many of the now, so call "better neighborhoods " and even in the so call "not so nice neighborhoods". I choose PLG, because I loved the home I eventually bought. I have made lifetime friendships in this community and consider many of my neighbors to be more like family over the years. I wish folks will stop stereotyping the many hundreds of families who have chosen to make Prospect Lefferts Garden, home and not because they could not afford Park Slope or wherever. We have raised families, reached out to new residents, some who may have even moved to PLG, because they could not afford the neighborhood across the park. We continue to work with each other to achieve a more harmonious, productive and progressive community.

Alex said...

I don't think that "lifetime" is making any sweeping statements at all - what s/he stated is accurate for many homeowners and renters. Not all, of course, but there are many people who live here because they weren't happy with how far their money went in other neighborhoods. Having been on my coop board, nearly every single interviewee expressed that sentiment, and people were rarely shy about their interest in seeing more amenities and other improvements - development included - come to the neighborhood. If their neighborhood became a littlle more like Park Slope or Williamsburg, you'd have a lot of very happy residents.

I am not endorsing the sentiment above, just stating that it's highly prevalent.

Alex said...

I should also add that while I did not attend the PPEN meeting, I'm happy to hear that Celeste is involved - I've been a big fan for a long time!

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Sticking up for Lifetime here I'd say that he/she may have put it inelegantly but I don't think they were claiming to be talking about everyone. Actually I know that - s/he said "many." This is what I'm talking about that everyone is so defensive on these issues. SOME people obviously feel they want the neighborhood to be more like others. SOME people fear that were it to become so, they'd be priced out. SOME people have lived here a long time and have always loved it. SOME people are probably brand new and couldn't be happier. That's not a dichotomy, that's a quadchotomy, and there are many more "sides" I'm sure.

But the defensiveness is troubling to me, my own included if I'm honest, because I think what's at play is a very imperfect study of what's been, what is and what is to come. The change happens so fast and it's scary. I'm frankly floored by what's happened in Brooklyn in the last dozen years since 9/11. Whole neighborhoods are completely unrecognizable. After 9/11 we thought the City might just disappear as we knew it. It did. Just not like we thought it might!

And c'mon guys, let's be honest here. The racial change of neighborhoods is absolutely astounding. There is no precedent for it, accept perhaps the Great Migration northward. If the PPEN movement skews black, it is likely the result of this. I think Lifetime was pointing out that the forces of demographic change are extraordinarily powerful, both race and class (I'm putting words in mouth here) and that some seem to be winning and others losing. How can you argue the point? I can't see it otherwise, frankly. We don't have to take it so personally, really. If he/she had said the word ALL you'd have a beef, but that's not what they said. Diak in particular said that Lifetime was condemning all, and I think that's unfair. I suspect your nuanced view of the neighborhood is beyond that person's criticism, so loosen up.

And to those who do wish this neighborhood get a little more Prospect Heights, your wish will soon be at hand. I'm a betting man. I give it five years tops, barring a major terrorist attack or financial implosion.

Anonymous said...

I bought here this summer not because we could not afford to live on the other side of the park, but because we could buy an entire house that was the nicest we had seen in over 9 months of looking and for the same price as the single floors or duplexes of brownstones in PS or the classic 6s and 7s on PPW we were originally going to buy.

I bought here specifically because I expect it to change significantly over the next 5-10 years and sure hope it does both for our investment and for our daily quality of life. I'd rather it look a lot more like prospect heights on Flatbush avenue than the hot mess it is right now.

I've lived in quite a few of the Brooklyn neighborhoods that went through similar changes throughout the years and it certainly seems as though it's about to happen here as well and the sooner the better. Not so I can cash out, but so I can raise my family here and not worry about people getting shot in broad daylight on Flatbush avenue like we saw the first week we moved in this summer.

Hopefully the development gets done with some sort of compromise to make it more contextual and still has the impact of bringing more amenities and a cleaner , safer Flatbush avenue.

Anonymous said...

Don't underestimate what a zombie apocalypse could do to housing values, Q.

Anonymous said...

Build it, and they will come.

It's that simple. Though the opportunity to buy at a discount doesn't hurt. When it comes to real estate, New York City has never offered stability. Things have always lurched one way or another. However, the long-term trend has always had an upward bias.

De Blasio even has a plan to speed up the development of properties. Idle land is the devil's tool in his book. To end what he sees as the pokey pace of construction, he says he's going to push for time limits mandating action. Use it or lose it, that's going to be his real estate mantra.

Build or sell to someone who will. However, no matter what happens, the PLG discount will disappear. Arbitrage opportunities are always short-lived, especially when they're areas that have been leap-frogged for reasons that have begun to go away.

Anonymous said...

So, what in concrete terms are the anti-development advocates proposing to address unwanted development in our neighborhood? To make blanket statements against change isn't coming up with a actual strategy.

Higher density and probably socio-economic change is coming, since we're 20 minutes from Manhattan, on a great subway line, and with a huge green space on our doorsteps.

Some posts remind me of the Oscar Wilde joke; Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.

Jenny