On the day after Labor Day in the historically Caribbean neighborhood of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens in central Brooklyn, the thumping bass and steel drums of the annual West Indian Day Parade gave way to a different urban soundtrack: jackhammers and nail guns.
At 626 Flatbush Ave., yellow-vested construction workers scrambled around the five-story frame of what will eventually become a 23-story luxury residential tower. Less than two blocks away, at 33 Lincoln Road, work continued on a nine-story apartment building. And farther east, at 651 New York Ave., builders were laying the foundation for a 40-unit condo development that will feature private elevators and large, open terraces.
All told, at least 10 new luxury towers are going up in the residential section of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Meanwhile, the city is mulling the rezoning of Empire Boulevard, a one-mile stretch of low-rise warehouses and storage units, to foster construction of affordable housing.
The neighborhood has a population density that is among the highest in the borough. No wonder some residents are crying "Enough already!" in a clash that could make the rezoning an important test case for the mayor's push for more housing, as well as one likely to deepen divisions within the community.
When it comes to private development, more seems inevitable. Back in May, The New York Times declared Prospect-Lefferts Gardens to have arrived "on the map." Some real estate brokers compare the area to the Park Slope of 20 years ago.
"It's the real thing," said Evan Duby, a broker at Douglas Elliman.
Meanwhile, with a new mayor in office—one determined to build 80,000 units of affordable housing during the next decade—attention is shifting northward to Empire Boulevard, where Prospect-Lefferts Gardens meets Crown Heights. Zoned for commercial use, the boulevard is home to giant storage and warehouse businesses, auto shops and a handful of fast-food joints. In April, the local community board asked the City Planning Department for a zoning study of the neighborhood, with a particular focus on Empire Boulevard. Since then, the department has held a half-dozen meetings with residents.
No doubt at all"Empire needs to be developed; there's no doubt about that," said F. Richard Hurley, a local lawyer and president of the Crown Heights Community Council.
What many community members hope to see built is not luxury housing but the apartments that they can afford to live in. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan, developers wanting to take advantage of new zoning must set aside between 20% and 50% of the apartments they build as affordable, but local leaders like Mr. Hurley warn that City Hall needs to tread cautiously. He notes that skepticism about the city's definition of "affordable" runs deep in the community.
"They always throw 'affordable housing' in there, but it's not affordable to anyone who lives here, only to those coming from Manhattan," he said. "De Blasio is shoving it down our throats, whether we like it or not."
Some residents are already starting to push back. A town-hall meeting in early August hosted by Borough President Eric Adams saw a barrage of criticism from opponents of a possible rezoning. A spokesman for the City Planning Department said the agency is still studying the matter.
One group, calling itself the Movement to Protect the People, claims that Mr. Adams and his supporters want to rezone Empire Boulevard to turn it "into a tourist attraction and make tons of money off the community." Among other things, critics note that Prospect-Lefferts Gardens is already one of Brooklyn's most densely packed neighborhoods, with as many as 61,000 people per square mile—nearly twice the boroughwide average—according to recent Census data.
On the upsideSome business owners take a different view. The say they'd welcome taller buildings and more people in the area, reckoning it would help bring more customers through their doors.
"I don't think it would hurt," said Carlos Rivera, who manages Advantage Wholesale Supply. "Not at all."
Bob Lucas of Firestone Complete Auto Care agrees. "Not one iota," he said when asked how a crop of residential towers springing up around his business might affect life along Empire Boulevard. Even some residents who unsuccessfully sued to block residential construction elsewhere in the neighborhood are OK with rezoning Empire Boulevard for added density—just as long as it doesn't take the form of the type of steel-and-glass towers they've come to loathe.
"Nobody wants buildings out of context with the neighborhood," said Leah Margulies, who as a member of the group Prospect Park East Network has tried to block the 23-story tower at 626 Flatbush Ave. "But I don't personally have a problem with greater density."