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.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Has MTOPP Decided To Play Ball?

As I was reading the recent Brownstoner post on MTOPP, I couldn't help digging up a personal email Alicia Boyd - the founder, leader and "heart" and soul of the movement - sent to me back in August. In it she wrote, in her strange verse stylings:

Again (Tim) your racism shows loud and clear and everyone
who reads your blogs sees it and it seems that someone
hasn't liked your position or your intention to do your best
to remove the people of color out of our community.
Let it be clear, we will protect Empire Blvd.
We will continue to expose those who's intentions are to harm
the people of this community.
My message is clear,
no residential on Empire Blvd
Downzone Empire Blvd.
Maybe just the hysterical rhetoric of the moment? Hardly. Alicia has repeated often and loudly that the rezoning study requested by CB9 - hardly an inflammatory document in and of itself - was corrupt, racist, illegal and pro-gentrification. I've maintained here that it was none of those, crafted as it was in cooperation with the community. (Download Docs from CB9's homepage.) At one share session, it was suggested that residential along Empire Blvd would be good for the neighborhood. I believe I even added that it would help end the "dividing line" aspect of Empire, making the Medgar Evers part of the 'hood feel more like "ours" too. Crown-Lefferts! As a result of this, and what we'd learned about the Mayor's affordable housing goals, and the CB's longstanding requests for more affordable housing, we hoped to start a dialogue about encouraging the development of 80/20, 70/30 or 50/30/20 housing - which in turn meant increased density (read: more people, maybe a couple thousand tops). Remember, this was just to start the conversation. The resolution was essentially a starting point, and we fully expected many changes and discussions along the way towards an actual rezoning. None of the MTOPP folks came to any of those early meetings, or if they did, they were silent. Only after the resolution passed did they start to agitate.
And agitate they did. CB9 did itself no favors by flubbing a vote to rescind the resolution, on a motion that came out of the blue by board member Fred Baptiste. In the end...who cares besides the lawyers? We're still where we were a year ago. No study is being conducted, and the threat of more 626 Flatbush 23-story buildings persists. A massive hotel could go up on or near Empire Blvd. And persistent development during this particular edition of Brooklyn Real Estate Madness means whatever happens now is what we have to live with for...I dunno, another 50 years at least? If I'm lucky, I'll live for 30 of that. In fact, looking at that number I'm starting to wonder if I should care at all. About anything other than my colon!
The lawsuits against CB9 and its district manager Pearl Miles continue to distract. Pearl ain't going anywhere til she decides to retire, and anyone who knows her knows she's one tough cookie. NYC corporate counsel doesn't seem to think the lawsuits are anything but frivolous, not LEAST because the role of the Community Board is advisory. In other words, if we work WITH City Planning we can have a role. But if we fight them, it's not likely we'll end up with anything more than bruised knuckles.
And Eric Adams, the Devil Incarnate according to Boyd? He said, for the umpteenth time at a Washington Ave Block Association meeting that he is for five or six story buildings ONLY. He's not for towers on Empire. Where did that crap start anyway? He wants new businesses and apartments, some affordable according to the current AMI, probably topping out at 60% AMI. So yeah, affordable. Not to the super poor, but affordable to families making $30K to $50K. It's a drop in the bucket, we all know. But the real fight for affordability has nothing to do with zoning. It's about fighting unscrupulous landlords.
Here's what Brownstoner learned from its interview with MTOPP. Note that even the mighty B-Stoner's Cate Corcoran has trouble sorting out fact from fiction:

“The resolution called for increased residential and retail density on commercial and transit corridors, putting 101 blocks of the study area (half of our district) on the table for upzoning,” MTOPP member Elizabeth Mackin told us. “Our community has repeatedly called for contextual zoning and downzoning. This was not reflected in the resolution at all.”
In fact, the resolution did call for zoning to preserve the “existing character of the neighborhood,” specifically to “prevent/limit of context i.e. high-rise development in the R7-1 zoned areas of the district.” But, as Mackin said, it also called for increased density and “contextual mixed-use developments along commercial corridors, including Empire Boulevard.” (You can read the whole thing on Community Board 9′s website.) In the past, MTOPP’s Alicia Boyd told us MTOPP opposes any rezoning of Empire Boulevard. The street, pictured above, is zoned for commercial only, so land values and development so far have not become heated as they have in other parts of the borough.

“MTOPP maintains that a large scale upzoning of our community will invite rapid development of luxury residential housing that will, in turn, cause massive direct and indirect displacement, as we have seen in Williamsburg, Downtown Brooklyn and Park Slope’s 4th Avenue,” Mackin continued.

She added, “MTOPP is also not anti-development or anti-gentrification,” which confused us — we thought they were anti-gentrification. “MTOPP is fighting to preserve the affordable rental housing in Community District 9, almost 94 percent of which is rent-stabilized or otherwise subsidized,” she said.

Meanwhile, the group is allegedly considering a lawsuit to remove current members of Community Board 9 on the grounds of fraud or incompetence concerning the miscount of the vote to rescind the resolution calling for a zoning study, according to published reports. We asked, but MTOPP did not say anything about its plans.
Not Anti-Development? Not Anti-Gentrification? Really? So this is just a mild-mannered dialogue over the removal of the words "increased density along transit corridors?"
Okay. I guess that's a start, MTOPP. Remove those words from the resolution and you stop disrupting the process? Fair enough. I don't think we'd have a problem with that in committee. date, there's been no ULURP committee meeting scheduled, for fear of another disaster I guess. After months of pleading by yours truly, we still don't have a way forward. And maybe in the end that's what Alicia and company REALLY want. There are competing motivations all over the place in this fight...and while members of the community board have been tainted by accusations of being corrupt and in the pockets of greedy developers, apparently it's NOT okay to suggest that MTOPP members might have mixed motivations as well. Surely any MTOPP member who owns a home near Empire, for instance, can easily be accused of NIMBYism - protecting their perceived quality of life over the greater needs of the community and City - just as members of CB9 can be accused of playing to the Mayor's, BP's or developer's interests. As they say, point one finger and four are pointed back at you.
I guess one thing I've learned from the whole thing is that when white and black folks disagree, it's tantalizingly easy to grab the term "racist" to claim the moral high ground. I'm not naive enough to be surprised, but I'm pretty saddened that discourse can't happen about how best to move forward via consensus without the ugly rhetoric. Especially when systemic racism is such a reality, and remains a primary scourge of our times. Even those best suited to work together are torn apart by mistrust and angry words. Yet, we continue to try to get it right. For the sake of the race - the "human" race - we simply must.

In it for the long haul,


pam said...

does NYC need affordable housing? of course. Is land near a train station optimal? 'natch. and when the current uses you are displacing are mostly fast food and storage facilities? easy. and the new market rates units will be a boon to the retailers in PLG. let's be rational.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

But Pam...where are all those new people on Empire going to store their extra crap?

Alex said...

Can City Planning conduct a study without a request from a community board?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Of course. They do it all the time. Actually, anyone can request a study. Alex - go for it!

But of course, they typically turn them down because it's a dumb idea or they don't have the staff/funds. For instance - PPEN formally asked for a study last year, just of Flatbush/Ocean, and we went and met with them and they said no. That's when it became clear to me that we had to do it THEIR way, with the right language and the right general idea. Pearl nailed it with her resolution, and I did everything in my power to get it through the CB. I felt like a hero, a real Atticus Finch. But alas, it was not to be...

Alex said...

So, theoretically, could MTOPP have requested their own study without going after CB9?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Yes. There are those of us who continue to wonder why they didn't go that route. But given their antics, I can pretty much guarantee it would be D.O.A.

The word we got from the Brooklyn office of City Planning was that in order to rezone Flatbush/Ocean we'd have to get significant support from the community, and that meant going to CB9, and if DCP were going to go through the trouble of studying Flatbush they might as well take a bigger chunk, since a lot of what they'd be studying would be about the surrounding area anyway. And yes, despite what latecomers to the conversation have been saying to the contrary, a big part of the study is looking at infrastructure - schools, roads, subways etc. Then we had to discuss whether it was possible to limit the study to a contiguous area on the western edge of the district, bypassing requests from the Jewish community to upzone, and Dodgertown to downzone.

We were making serious headway on all those issues when all hell broke loose.

Alex, as I've mentioned elsewhere, this has nothing to do with rationality. So asking rational questions won't get to the heart of it. Eric Adams embarrassed Alicia Boyd at that meeting at the John Hus church, in front of her community, by basically telling her to back off. From that moment forward, she was on a mission. Given some of the psychological subtext that I noted in another post, it all makes a sort of sense, though I'm not going to diagnose from my armchair. Except that I just did, of course. Or rather, you need to fill in the blanks that I've left on purpose.