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.

Friday, May 30, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: Temporary Restraining Order Issued Against 626 Flatbush

Please note: the below should not be construed as conflating the protest with the judge's decision. The judge is looking at the merits of the suit, and while the protests are being watched closely by locals, politicians and the media, the judge is expected to rule on the merits of the case. The TRO basically says that by laying the foundation, there is imminent potential environmental harm to those cited in the lawsuit, i.e., the neighborhood. And thus, the fact that the defendant did or didn't conduct necessary reviews needs to be considered before Hudson can continue construction.

In what appears to be a temporary victory for David against Goliath, or maybe little David against big David (Kramer), a judge this afternoon issued a temporary restraining order against Hudson Companies to stop pouring concrete til the judge rules, maybe two weeks hence. It would appear that Hudson was strangely eager to move things along, as they even started to line up the trucks before the legal starting time of 7am.

Not long after 6am, neighbors heard the trucks a-comin' and alerted various folks in PPEN and the recently formed MTOPP. or (Coalition Moratorium To Protection of Prospect Park (no I don't understand that org's word order either, nor the letters used for the acronym), and a small but feisty group formed to try to block the trucks from entering. At least one person, Alicia Boyd of CMPPP, or rather MTOPP, also of the Sterling Street Block Association, was arrested. According to a trusted source, by later this afternoon, David Kramer of Hudson had showed up in court with a lawyer who actually made the odd choice to question the NY State Supreme Court judge's legal authority to issue a TRO. Well, the judge HAD that authority, and was more than happy to show Hudson how it works.

Speaking of barristers, another lawyer, representing PPEN said it was quite possibly the first time in Brooklyn that a judge stopped a building from being built as of right, simply because a local community had come out against the project. And so...two weeks from now, we'll look for a ruling as to whether Hudson violated key provisions of its agreement with the State to use government-backed loans for construction.

Stay tuned. The intrigue is intriguing..

BONUS: A press release from Legal Services NYC to fill you in on details:


May 30th, 2014, Brooklyn, NY—Justice Peter Moulton this afternoon ordered that the developers of a 23-story residential tower in Prospect Lefferts Gardens stop laying the foundation of the building pending his decision on a lawsuit filed by residents and community groups. The judge issued a temporary restraining order against Hudson Companies and Lettire Construction company after opponents of the tower argued that it violated state environmental laws.

“Our clients are pleased that the judge has recognized the potential this tower has to cause irreparable harm to the surrounding community,” said Rachel Hannaford, Senior Staff Attorney at Legal Services NYC’s Brooklyn program, which represents the petitioners alongside law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP. “We understand a TRO of this nature is rare and that its effect will be immediate and powerful.”

David B. Bassett, Partner at WilmerHale, adds, “Our clients hope this decision will encourage Hudson to listen to their concerns, and be open to a more socially and environmentally responsible alternative.”

Residents and community groups in Brooklyn’s Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhood filed suit in December, asking that the development of the residential tower in their low-rise, mixed income neighborhood be halted. The lawsuit against the New York State Housing Finance Agency, Hudson Companies Incorporated (a private real estate development company), and other defendants contends that more than $72 million in public funds were approved for the development without the proper environmental impact study required by state law.

Community residents and organizations have formed a coalition to fight the development of the high rise luxury tower. The Prospect Park East Network (PPEN) is not opposed to new construction, but does ask that the development be contextual and respectful of the existing architecture and environment in the neighborhood. Petitioners also include the Flatbush Development Corporation, the Flatbush Tenant Coalition, the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association (PLGNA), and six individual community residents.

While the area has always been mixed-income, the addition of the tower would change the rental market so that long-time residents living on fixed incomes would not be able to afford to stay. The new residents who would occupy the luxury tower would impact the nature of local businesses which have long served the economically and ethnically diverse community. Low-income tenants and businesses would be priced out of the neighborhood.

16 comments:

Seth said...

Great reporting Tim.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Ceeledee, a PPEN founder, wants you to know this:

I think it possible the comment from the "barrister" was misquoted or misunderstood. The court did not issue the TRO against Hudson simply because the community waged a protest. Make no mistake about it: The plaintiffs (PPEN et al) won the ruling because our attorneys were able to prove the pouring of the foundation would have potential to cause irreparable harm to the community if such a task were to be completed. That is, the design of the building would be literally "set in stone" before the court had a chance to weigh in on the controversy as it has been presented in the main case. Which, of course, was Hudson's intention in rushing to pour the concrete ahead of the scheduled TRO hearing in the first place. Talk about arrogant developer swagger!

Well, the community was having none of those kinds of shenanigans. And neither was the court! Yay! Look for a legal opinion to be issued on the main case in a week or so.

Meanwhile, the fight continues!
Come out to the PPEN rally at City Hall on Friday, June 6 @ 1 p.m.!

MikeF said...

or, laugh from home as they learn what "as of right" means.

G.M. Smith, Jr. said...

Does anybody know who did the famous rendering of the tower sticking up over the trees from the point of a person standing in the park? The one that's been packing taped all over my block? The geometry just doesn't seem right to me. The way the park is situated on our corner, I don't think you'd ever see that much of the building over the trees, except maybe in winter.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

I'm going to answer your comment, Mike F., with less cynicism and condescension than it would seem you offered it.

The lawyers, architects, government officials, professionals of all stripes and general citizens who've made it their business to understand "as of right" don't deserve a snotty brush off. A few years ago, this rezoning should have been taken care of, and "as of right" wouldn't have amounted to more than 8 or 9 stories or so. The best of intentions, not enough follow-through.

That's why words like moratorium and lawsuit and restraining order and protest are being used. Any fool City Planner would have protected the entire perimeter of the Park some time ago, but a lack of will and leadership resulted in the present day debacle. By any means possible, some people want to fight for what they believe is right, Or in this case, against what they believe is wrong.

If you actually look at the lawsuit and timeline, you'll see that the developer could have taken a more measured and inclusive approach to this project, but clearly wanted to push this through before too much attention was paid.

Nasty comments aside, the suit goes on, and we'll hear any day. If Quixote even chips some paint off the windmill I'd consider it a minor victory in a larger re-zoning battle. Sadly, the latter takes time. Too much time.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

GM: Flyers are being circulated and posted by two different groups...if you read them you'll see that one is PPEN and the other MTOPP. I'll write about why there are two later. Suffice to say I find it silly, but hey, all are invited to each.

I've grown tired of defending the rendering. I guess people see what they want to see. I don't think most people have a firm grasp of just how mammoth this thing will be, from Flatbush, Ocean and the Park. People point to Patio Gardens, at 16 stories. That building has been a pain in the views for many years, but I don't see how one mistake is worth another. And 50% higher to boot.

I've done a lot of walking around at various places in the park, and it's gonna suck. Plus, the Alliance just spent a ton of well-raised money to reclaim park land, and create a green sloped surface to cover the rink. We did all that for an essentially three story structure...to preserve the pastoral landscape. Now this.

I wouldn't have dreamed just a few short years ago that we'd be building this high along the Park, in this day and age. Building yes...even densely. But not ruining the minimal skyline from most parts of the park.

Once it's done it's done. And other buildings won't seem so tall. And while some won't care, some will. And they'll continue to care and be reminded that someone took something from the borough when it wasn't looking.

G.M. Smith, Jr. said...

Thanks for your reply, CF!

I'm not sure I'm seeing what I want to see. Still mulling this one over. You see I live on Westbury Ct, but I also work in architecture. Torn! Just interested in the truth of the matter, and specifically who created the drawing and how they did it. I thought I'd seen it on the internet long before it started showing up on that flyer.

If it's accurate, that's great. If not, that's pretty negligent, bordering on dishonest, since every time protesters have stopped me on the street they've referred me to that specific image to convince me this thing's gonna ruin the park.

And I suppose it's fodder for a later dorm room bull session, but here's a few questions that have crossed my mind recently:

1.) If the rendering is accurate, does that ruin the park? I think of Prospect's Long Meadow and Central's Sheep's Meadow and how the surrounding buildings halo those landscapes, and I've honestly never wished them away. Always thought it was a sort of wonderful effect, actually.

2.) I've heard it said more than a few times that the developer could achieve the same square footage by lowering the tower's overall height. So that fixes the park view problem, but what about the effect on Flatbush? I actually think the current scheme (tower off to the left with a driveway on the right side of the plot) really improves our streetscape by giving the effect of an extended Fenimore St. The crazy superblocks we've got going west of Flatbush are one of my only gripes with Lefferts' wonderful mix of zoning and density, and I like how this scheme tries to break it up a little (actually, one could argue the developer has already done a great service to the neighborhood by knocking down the crazy salmon giant shoebox docoffice that used to be there). If the protest succeeds and we end up with a more squat building, it's gonna stretch all the way across the lot. Welcome back, awful pink park-o-rama.

Just questions at this point. I've seen a lot of these kinds of disputes in BK neighborhoods, and sadly they usually end up squeezing the people pleasure out of the projects in question and result in very ugly, oppressive bottom line-pleasing builds. Hoping our community can find a way to have a clear-headed, robust conversation based on factual info that gets us a great addition and some wonderful, diverse new neighbors.

no_slappz said...

Has anyone walked along Central Park West, Central Park South or Fifth Avenue and said "wow, those tall buildings, they ruin my enjoyment of Central Park"?

Does anyone feel oppressed by presence of Patio Gardens? Do people walk by, look up, point their fingers at the top floor and shake their heads in disgust?

Or do they point and say, "yeah, friends of mine live there. They've got a great view."

Alex said...

My feelings about the project are in line with what G.M. stated above. Frontage spanning the entire lot would be worse for Flatbush ave and marginally better for the park. The unfortunate truth is that PPEN's rendering is misleading - someone modified it to include Patio Gardens and Tivoli Tower to make it more accurate but I haven't seen that version in a while. It's certainly not being posted around the neighborhood.

Height aside, the rapid pace of change in the neighborhood that 626 will accelerate is distressing. In my building, apartments are selling at record prices, and prices are not going up incrementally. We've seen enormous increases just this year (30%-ish over previous highs).

I mentioned to a "newbie" this weekend that I've lived in the neighborhood for 10 years in my coop, and her response was, "[giggling] Wow... You must have a lot of stories!" I looked back quizzically, not understanding what this person was talking about, doing my best not to be offended. Do people assume that 10 years ago the neighborhood was under siege or something?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

I find it mystifying that commenters here are focusing on a rendering made for the purposes of getting people's attention. If you were making an ad for Mitt Romney, would you present a picture of Obama looking presidential? Please. It's good old fashioned propaganda, though not far enough off the mark to beggar believability.

C'mon people. It's about more than the tower, and you know it. Let's stop trying to have "rational" conversations about architecture and start talking about the real damage that's happening to families and communities. If you're white and financially secure or own a home and can make the payments and taxes, OF COURSE you have nothing to fear by outsized development. You probably welcome it. I'm doing my best to give a voice to those opposed to 626, because frankly, they're the losing side in almost all big "D" development and gentrification battles these days. And I'm a realist. Barring major financial or terrorist disasters, the essential character of the neighborhood will have radically changed in 5 years. 3 even. I've already seen massive gains in my house value. It's worth three times what I paid ten years ago. I don't need "wonderfully diverse" new neighbors to make a buck or satisfy any reasonable needs. But I do feel compelled, maybe even obliged, to speak up for the majority (and it IS a majority) of folks around here who feel they are being unfairly targeted during a massive reshaping of the neighborhood.

Okay. So say you DO want to have a rational conversation about building heights. Some of you want Prospect Park to have the same skyscraper skyline as Central Park? Fine. That's your opinion. I don't share it. At some point, around 100 years ago, the City's leaders decided to build up in Midtown and created a second tall commercial district, ruining for many what had been a pristine park. I'm sure there were dissenters. Even now, there's been a massive outcry over the newest midtown behemoths and the new administration is being forced to take their concerns seriously. Me, I don't care for skyscrapers in my park, but I agree that CPS's skyline is iconic. However, when I moved near the park I liked that it wasn't iconic...it was just a really nice, crazy somewhat unkempt park.

If you like the idea of a tower at 626, then cool you'll probably get what you want. If you don't, here's your last chance to express yourself meaningfully.

But don't look for the rendering on a flyer to establish your feelings. If you want, why not create one that's more accurate? I'll be happy to post it.


G.M. Smith, Jr. said...

Well the reason I asked was because I was thinking of tackling one myself. My main motivation here is curiosity. When I asked if anybody knew who did the drawing, it wasn't some kind of accusation. I really want to know who did it, cuz maybe it was done accurately, and then I'm off the hook. Not sure why a question like that would stick in anybody's craw.

Propaganda would have been a giant cartoon building leaning over Lakeside glaring down at miniature discoskaters. This is a photo-realistic image. And no, I don't find anything charming or old-fashioned about misleading people.

Like I said, I haven't made up my mind on this. And when I mentioned I was looking forward to diverse new neighbors, I was trying to emphasize the fact that I hoped 626 would offer as much affordable housing as possible.

Admittedly CPS isn't the greatest comparison. And no, I'm not interested in duplicating Central Park, mostly because I think Prospect is better, even considering its disrepair. But I think PPW/Sheep's Meadow is pretty good jumping off point if we're gonna discuss 'imposing' architecture and its effects on adjacent public space. The buildings there are of a similar height to the proposed 626, and a great deal closer to the park.

I really do get the larger issue. I'm white, I've been in Flatbush for five years, in Brooklyn 10, and although I'm at an income level that would qualify me for affordable housing, I understand that's not at all comparable to the life experience of most of my neighbors, and that they're justified in scrutinizing these large developments. I see my role as an urban designer as one of responsibility to my neighbors. Each project should be sensitive to its neighborhood aesthetically, but also socio-economically.

Accordingly, I welcome all this debate and protest, but think people should have access to good information. So just in case somebody new glanced over these comments, does anybody know who made the rendering?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

GM: Go to PPEN.org and look at the renderings. If those are the ones you're referring to, I'll hook you up with the artist.

If you feel that those renderings are trying to purposely mislead people, rather merely influence them to act, I'd agree that it would be uncool, but hardly worth mentioning. It's hard to tell exactly what this building will feel like in the end, though the zoning issue has be furious by now, and I've been involved every step of the way.

I look forward to your rendering, and will gladly post it. You're not off the hook yet!

no_slappz said...

Clarkson, this is where you jump the tracks:

... the majority (and it IS a majority) of folks around here who feel they are being unfairly targeted during a massive reshaping of the neighborhood.

In this city, which has been growing for 400 years, there's always a reason that an area draws the attention of developers and residents. Such as -- close to Manhattan, close to Prospect Park, served by a handy subway stop.

None of the advantages of the location and access to it make the current residents into "targets". Don't you think that view is rather xenophobic? No foreigners here! Not welcome! Sorry. Take it down the road. Try Queens. I hear they have some openings...

Nope. It's the ever pertinent adage about real estate: location, location, location.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Slappz, I pray one day you wake up black.

G.M. Smith, Jr. said...

Yeah, that's them. I had emailed the contact on that page, but so far no reply.

Thanks,
Greg

disco princess said...

Re: Don't you think that view is rather xenophobic? No foreigners here! Not welcome!

No foreigners? That's rich, when you consider that there is a significant immigrant population in the neighborhood.