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.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Part II On Monday's Meeting. Or, How Dense Is Too Dense?

NIBBY: Not in Brooklyn's Back Yard!
Then came the meat. Rather, the meat of the matter for those for whom the Q is their hometrain. From the picture you can see that the Prospect Park East Network was out in force Monday night, placards to boot. They mean business. Suki Cheong and Celeste Lacy Davis are gifted speakers, and definitely brought an air of urgency and passion to the proceedings. They're part of the group that filed the lawsuit against the 23-story residential tower going up at 626 Flatbush, with support from PLGNA, LMA and the Prospect Park Alliance and various elected officials. In fact, a bunch of us gathered at Eric Adams borough hall office recently to talk about options. He's concerned too. He'll be holding a town hall to talk specifically about the Flatbush/Ocean stretch and environs and what can be done about preventing a sudden spree of outsized building without warning or consultation. That's what "non-contextual as-of-right" zoning means, and that's the kind of zoning we have right now along that valuable stretch. That's what allowed the developer Hudson to come in and trash whatever precedents had obviously been set in the neighborhood, adhered to by all but Patio Gardens, because quite frankly there was a time when the City couldn't BEG anyone to build over here, and so they cared not about context. Basically our zoning says come and do whatever you want, we don't care. Two officials from the Department of City Planning were there, taking notes, and I hope some of the evening's proceedings sunk in. I suspect they did.

How dense is too dense? Those of us from the Parade Grounds to Nostrand and up to Hawthorne are living in, and I'm quoting here, the densest neighborhood in Brooklyn. A look at the census will bear that out. There was a reason a lot of us fell for Brooklyn. And pretty soon, some of those reasons will disappear. I'm not bailing, I'm just saying. I'm a committed Brooklynite, committed to the great experiment as much as anyone. Once the tall buildings and the arena and the million dollar apartments started popping up, I realized my experience of the "outer borough" had started to radically dissolve. We've hit a moment, in some neighborhoods, of true diversity, but these were the once nearly all black neighborhoods, and the moment is fleeting. The money is loading the dice and rent laws can't hold back the tide (sorry for the mixed metaphors). There's a reason that the black population is quickly declining. Actually it's growing Upstate. Anyone remember that story I related about social service workers telling people down on their luck to move Upstate where there's still a possibility of being able to afford to rent a place? Seems the advice is being heeded.

I caught a couple folks on video who had really interesting things to say, and whom you should really know. The first is Bob Thomason, the guy who started PLGNA. It became a mover and shaker and a community organizing machine. Not that it can't be again mind you, but it certainly ain't that right now. I wished I would have taped the bit where Bob asked why someone doesn't make a musical about the rise of man in East Africa - I really didn't see that one coming, Bob! Back in the days that whites were leaving the City because the blacks moved into their neighborhoods, PLGNA fought to help keep the neighborhood together. They fought redlining and organized tenants. And they did it all without email and Facebook and seemed to have done a pretty good job of it. Here's Bob:

Then there's Derrick Edwards, of Chester Court, a NYC tour guide who threw in a few zingers, including this choice nugget:

CB9 will be collecting thoughts from the forum to share at next Tuesday's full Board meeting. Some random Q thoughts:

Despite the fact that they were both presented on the same night, I truly don't think the issues brought by the Chabad community and the issues of encroaching development in Lefferts belong in the same conversation. That's a freak of City district-making, that we must decide these things together, and shouldn't be allowed to create antagonism between folks. Not at all in fact. Both issues have to do with the zoning, but that's where the similarities end. I have been told by Richard Bearak, the land use guy for the borough president, that there are ways to allow some modifications to homes in a low zoned area without allowing tear-downs and out of context construction. A zoning like R6b (don't quote me) with a text addendum could handle it nicely. Were a significant majority of folks on certain blocks in Crown Heights to agree to such an arrangement, I don't see how it's different than a majority of homeowners wanting to landmark. I know, I know, they're beautiful old buildings. But they ARE people's homes too. If the folks don't want to landmark, are you saying we should force them? Trust me, even if no more streets in Brooklyn get landmarked, we've got a ton of brownstones in the system, and I happen to be on the side of the more the merrier! But don't force people to conform if they don't want to. That's divisive, and given where we're coming from, 20 years after the riots, let's just not go there, okay?

As to PPEN's claims of an emergency, damn right. When a neighborhood "arrives" in the NY Times Real Estate section, the game's basically already a blowout in the fourth quarter, but...I admire the tenacity and spirit of the group and their message. I admire that they took their grievance to court, and brought so many others along for the fight. I think anyone who thinks they're kidding around need only look into Suki's eyes when she's delivering a speech and see she ain't one to back down! That goes for the whole bunch of PPEN's leadership. A tenacious bunch if ever I've seen one.

Lastly, I'll say this. When gentrification is the matter of one seller and one buyer, I can hang with that. When it's about a bistro and coffee shop opening up, cool. But when gentrification becomes a money-making juggernaut, designed by politicians and businesses outside the neighborhood, sowed with cynicism and contempt, and yes racism, I ain't into that. Please real estate people, don't give me that line about how "it's the diversity of Lefferts" that's so appealing. If it was so appealing, you would have built your tower years ago. You've only been given the greenlight now by the money players because enough white people are living here now that you can rent at the right price to make big bucks. You've watched it work in other neighborhoods and now, as hearsay tells me a Hudson exec said, it's time to cash in.



Alex said...

Hi Tim - thanks for the summary. What proposed changes were discussed? A specific zoning change? Was changing zoning on Empire to allow/encourage residential development discussed?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Between you and me, Alex (okay whom am I kidding here in the open comment section), that absolutely needs to be part of the broader zoning study and WILL be addressed. For now, it might just muddy the waters.

I suspect all but Ronald McDonald and Dave Thomas would be on Board for that. Don't worry about the King of Burger. He's been detained by authorities trying to smuggle Whoppers into Pakistan.

Kimplicated said...

Improving Empire to get more foot traffic and a better contribution to the neighborhood came up several times, but always in a very general way. There was a distinct effort, it seemed, to keep this conversation in layspeak and not let it d/evolve into zoning jargon that would be opaque to a lot of the audience. So there was very little "How about we make this stretch R4a?" and much more "I don't feel safe on Empire, and I'd like to see mixed use buildings and not big warehouses."

I talked with the zoning people at length after the meeting, and they got our message loud and clear. They said that perhaps the biggest factor for moving this forward is consensus--both community consensus and political consensus with the community's consensus. That worries me a bit, because I fear that teasing out a delicate solution to the South Crown Heights debate will delay action on Flatbush, which has near unanimous community agreement for contextual down-zoning (at least as represented in that meeting). I asked if one area could move forward with zoning changes while another is still being reviewed, but got a very tepid response.

As for timeframe, it's however long it takes to develop a proposal, then at least 6 months of public (community/political) review, and then approval. So we're a year out, at the very least. I'm concerned.

babs said...

From what I can decipher of the NYC zoning map, most of the area in question is already zoned R4 - R71; there are only a few blocks of Carroll, President, and Crown Streets that are zoned R2:

And, like it or not, the "gentrifiers", if that's what you want to call them, are moving in to this area, too (Corcoran sold a house on Carroll St between NY and Brooklyn Aves (the R2 zone) for $989K last October).

As more and more owners in this tract decide to cash in and head for more hospitable climes, zoning-wise, I predict this point will become moot.

Alex said...

Kimplicated, thanks for the summary.

It would be great if making Empire more appealing for housing (actually, anything other than fast food and auto shops) could be discussed at the same time as down-zoning Flatbush for reasons that have been stated previously on the blog. Given the pace of zoning changes, a piecemeal approach probably isn't ideal.

diak said...

Walking on Empire today I saw a massive demo operation going on between the BP station and Stop&Stor (or whatever that big silver box is called).
From reading the permits on the fence it appears that the storage facility is expanding (by about 50% I'd guess from the site and the signage).
In a city desperate for affordable housing, does it make any sense to use prime sites to build more and more storage closets? Maybe the thinking is, leave your stuff here when you have to move out of town...

Anonymous said...

diak, the storage facilities would offer storage space for people who can't keep everything in matchbox-sized apartments at once.

i see nyc-centric ads all the time for other storage facilities. there apparently is a market for it.

the recent addition of that senior citizen day care center on that strip on empire between bedford and rogers is interesting. it was so random!

diak said...

disco princess — I know who the storage facilities are for and the purpose they serve. (For nearly two decades I lived in one of those matchboxes.) I'm just suggesting that maybe a better use for some of this land is for homes for people. And their stuff.

As for what to do with all your stuff, George Carlin said it best: