The year started on an upbeat note, despite the digging of an enormous hole into which our beloved 626 Flatbush was to rise. Is it not huge? I mean ABSURDLY huge? A lot of folks thought I was making a mountain out of a molehill, but dang if you don't think that thing is way out of line for the neighborhood, then, well, I guess you don't think it's out of line for the neighborhood. Look down Hawthorne or Fenimore from Bedford. Yikes. Or look from inside of the Park. Blech. We could've rezoned, we didn't rezone, we get what we didn't do when we could've done what we needed to do. I'm convinced had we held Planning's feet to the fire after the original request was denied back in 2008, we would've gotten there. We got no help from the Community Board through the years, but we ARE the community, so who can you blame? And frankly I don't think any of us thought Flatbush (and Ocean) were so vulnerable as this.
Some think the Q's been wishy-washy about development in general, but reading back through the year's posts I actually think I've been clear as a bell as to my own position. Building apartments, ugly as they may be, is what inevitably takes place in boom times. That's how cities get built in the first place, and as you read this, you are quite likely living in the result of such a boom build, of whatever decade or century. I don't care if you're in London, Tucson or Des Moines, this is how humans have come to organize and house themselves, and this is how we've decided as a society we will pay for it. Someone buys the land, crunches the numbers, puts up what they believe the market will bear, and turns over the keys to the tenant/buyer with the best possible demographic, er, credit rating. Simple. Elegant. There's even a nice fat dividend for the savvy developer, and everybody's happy. Right? Right?
Were we expanding like the universe into nothingness, and all places were equal, all would be right in the social order. But in NYC (and San Fran, notably) we build on top of the ruins of the old world. Over and over. These ruins aren't ancient of course. Some were created last week. Some folks, who owned their own houses, sold recently and made out like bandits and headed for the hills, or the South, or even another part of town. A certain amount of cultural churn is to be expected. As a place becomes ever-more desirable, its price commands premium. Conversely, as it becomes less desirable to the market, its price drops. And Adam Smith smiles in his casket.
That's the number one story around here, I'd say. New development, redevelopment, and the emergence of two new voices from the neighborhood. One, Prospect Park East Network (PPEN), went as far as to sue the developers of 626 for ignoring the mandates of environmental review. The other, Movement to Protect the Park (MTOPP) seemed to revel in its anti-everybody-ness while preaching community and togetherness. Once it became clear that 626 wasn't the greatest threat to their quality of life, but rather any potential residential building along glorious Empire Boulevard, the target shifted to anyone and everyone with a pulse. MTOPP has become a thorn in the side of the Community Board, all elected officials, and anyone who dares contradict their often contradictory goals of...oh, I don't know anymore what they want other than to burn Pearl Miles at the stake. (She's the District Manager for CB9, and she's had one hell of a year.)
Therefore, Person of the Year HAS to go to Alicia Boyd for leading the MTOPP movement. She's one of a kind that Ms. Boyd of Sterling I. You know it occurs to me just now that she was sitting at the table with the rest of us at Brooklyn's City Planning office just last summer. She HAD a seat at the planning process. What more can one constituency ask for? PLGNA was there. PPEN was there. The Jewish Community Council was there. The Dodgertown homeowners group was there. Leaders from Montgomery, Crown, Ocean... But what happened was - it became clear Alicia wasn't gonna get her way, so she went on the offensive. Her call for unity and consensus is total bullshit. She wants what she wants and she wants it now. For that, she gets my Person of the Year. May she not repeat.
If 626 Flatbush isn't enough to get your panties in a bunch about why we need rezoning, perhaps this post will remind you just how many projects are potentially being hatched as I write this. And its not Uncle George adding an attic to his garage. This is serious neighborhood redesign. We have pretty much no say in the matter, unless we ask to sit around the table with the powers that be. For God's sakes let's get down to it!
I mean, look what the loudmouths at YIMBY had to say regarding our nabe and our OTHER giant 23-story building, on Nostrand below Church:
To the south, we expect to see Flatbush, Sunset Park, and Kensington emerge as fast-gentrifying neighborhoods — Flatbush as the new Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Sunset Park as the new South Slope and Greenwood Heights, and Kensington as the new Windsor Terrace. Tension over growth should be most pronounced in Flatbush, where zoning is loosest — while we expect Hello Living’s 23-story tower at 1580 Nostrand, practically in East Flatbush, to have the same stellar design and affordable prices as Eli Karp’s other projects, we also see it riling up the left-leaning elements of Flatbush proper, much as 626 Flatbush Avenue did in Prospect Lefferts Gardens.The phrase that jumps out is "zoning is the loosest." You see, not only is our zoning loose, it's common knowledge. Could've been, should've been tightened, but hey, it's gotta go through committee, man! Sometime.
2. New Leadership All Around
You can't sidestep the fact that everywhere you look new faces have come to lead the scene. You could start with the new heads of the 71st and 70th precincts, but I know George Fitzgibbon the best at the 7-1 and I give him passing grades and a big shout out here for being available and acting accountable for what goes on under his command. Right now, what happens to Bratton's tenure is anyone's guess, with many cops just plain ignoring their duty to enforce the laws in response to the tragic assassination of two cops over on Myrtle. It's not the first time cops have been killed of course, but the timing and the shocking premeditated brutality sent the whole discussion of race and policing back to the dark ages. Had the killing been part of some madman's strategy to forward the course of policing in America, and it appears it was not in any sense but the madman part, it could not have been more ill-timed or ill-conceived. We will be dealing with the aftermath, I suspect, for ages.
Desmond Romeo and Shelley Kramer et all have started strong with their Parkside Empire merchant's association. Replacing the miserable and outdated Flatbush Empire to Parkside Merchant's Association (FEPMA) the new group has come out swinging, sponsoring workshops, collecting surveys, and running a shop local campaign. They've been creating relationships with Sanitation and the Cops and we should continue to see strong growth from that economic corridor in the coming years. Good work and keep it up!
New Mayor. New Borough President. New State Senator. New Councilwoman (above Empire). Same Councilman below. Ah well, can't win 'em all. That's a lot of new blood, and one can always hope that the new bosses have the integrity and vision to lead effectively.
New Chancellor of schools. New principal at Jackie Robinson (the school most of us are zoned for). New Superintendent for District 17, thank the lord.
Lastly the Community Board. After decades of leadership from Rabbi Jacob Goldstein, our beloved CB9 shook things up radically, electing new chair Dwayne Nicholson and receiving a whopping 18 new members via the Borough President's office. While it's too soon to tell whether the new group and its By-Laws and Executive Committees will set in motion positive change, I'll tell you right now that I've been saddened by the slow pace of action on Zoning. Alicia Boyd's basically been running the CB meetings, and it seems all Dwayne does is in reaction to her. We haven't even met the ULURP committee since last Spring. Yes, we're an embarrassment right now, but maybe January will see us come together and get the job done with City Planning. The best offense against Alicia is to ignore her. To my bewilderment, the Board actually rescinded the work it did last year on Zoning, appeasing MTOPP and their outside agitators. How shameful, in my opinion, to simply ignore the wishes of the previous Board in order to satisfy a misplaced notion of "process." You know what process is? Voting overwhelmingly for something. The current Board acted as if that never happened, and slowed the pace of the Zoning Study by a whole year. I rewrote the zoning resolution to remove even the slightest traces of controversy just to see if anyone cared that we've wasted 9 months on this ridiculous argument. Of course, it lost, though I wonder if someone else had led the charge it might've been at the very least DISCUSSED. A sad state of affairs, but them's the cookies.
3. Changing Traffic Patterns on the Flabenue
I recall last winter that many were decrying the redesign of traffic lanes along Flatbush as catastrophic. Turns out the first couple days of the new patterns coincided with a water main break down on Caton, and the hour delays along Flatbush from Grand Army Plaza were short lived. Coupled with the new slower speed limits, I'd say the Flabenue has calmed considerably. The new intersection at Washington/Flatbush/Lincoln has finally stopped the flow from Lincoln going east then up Washington. That intersection is a dozen times safer. The BP gas station still has cars coming and going from every orifice, but what you gonna do? We begged, but no dice. Some of us will keep hammering for a move of the express B41 down to the south portion of the BP, because right now 1,000s of people every day jaywalk from the Phat Albert's to the subway station, the B41 being so poorly sited as to actually encourage it. I'm missing Ed Fanning at CB9 Transportation right now. He wasn't reappointed. I'm probably next.
4. Old Victorians Coming Down Left and Right
They don't get the same love as brownstones and maybe rightly so. But the delightful woodframe houses that dot our neighborhood are coming down faster than you can bat an I-beam. I'm saddest about the Haunted House of Clarkson and the three well-maintained houses on my block that gave the density a bit of a break. Other development sites are detailed here, and that's just the old news. I can think of at least a dozen others, and new ones are happening almost every week. Utilizing outdated zoning, many of these will become eyesores on their respective streets. But hey, Delirious NY continues. Seen Williamsburg lately? Whoa Nelly.
5. Opening of 123 on the Park
When I moved to NY, the old Caledonian Hospital was still a going concern. Just imagine how different Parkside was with an emergency room entrance right near the Parade Ground. Then when I moved here a dozen years ago, it was still alive as a medical building - doctor's offices and such. Then it was closed and lay unused and unloved for many years. Now it's a swank apartment building, and while current Caledonian residents might find the rents outrageously high, for an apartment right on Prospect Park many are finding the rents relatively cheap. The real story here, besides re-purposing an old building (this is the kind of market rate development that makes a great deal of sense) is that the old "this side of the park, that side of the park" dichotomy is beginning to break down. With Lefferts having been "discovered" by developers and apartment hunters, it's only a matter of time before the old 1/2 ratio falls for good - that being that prices on THIS side of the park are roughly half what they are in Park Slope. That held true for many decades, but we're moving towards parity. 123 and its resulting demographics push us closer. Don't believe me? Check out the below latest from the 123 website. By the way, these aren't even as high as are the real rents. They're "net effective" after they give you a month or two free. To put it mildly, these numbers would have been unheard of just a few short years ago.
|1M||1 Bedroom / Flex 2||1 Bath||$2,631||Immediately|
|1U||1 Bedroom||1 Bath||$3,086||Immediately|
|6L||1 Bedroom||1 Bath||$3,134||Immediately|
|7D||1 Bedroom||1 Bath||$3,253||Immediately|
|1B||2 Bedroom||1 Bath||$2,824||Immediately|
|3K||2 Bedroom||2 Baths||$3,081||Immediately|
|6D||2 Bedroom||2 Baths||$3,536||Immediately|
It's been a slow but steady climb for Rudy Delson and his cohorts at the Parkside Committee. But this was the year they turned a corner, and with your help of about $6,000, they plan to have an operational plaza at the Q at Parkside this summer. Oh, and those trees are courtesy of the P.C. as well. Replanted and guarded by handmade treepit rails, the trees themselves make a huge improvement. Send Rudy a note if you'd like to help.
Meanwhile, just around the corner, Amy Musick and her indefatigable bunch keep on beautifying Ocean Avenue. After getting dozens of tree pit guards from the City, they clean and mulch and plant bulbs in the pits, and come this spring look for a gorgeous display of flora. They've got their eyes on the longview, so don't expect Ocean to backstep anytime soon. And now a group is forming to address the entire perimeter of the Park on the park side. The trees and sidewalks need serious love, and this inter-neighborhood group will need support, and you can always be on the lookout for an Ocean beautification day. Keep your browser pointed here.
7. Our Neighborhood Has Been Bought
If you live in a large apartment building - the big pre-war five and six stories that dominate the area - chances are its been bought and sold within the last few years. A handful of companies, with names like Pinnacle and Shamco (I kid you not), have invested in the neighborhood in a big, big way. The south-moving gentrification process has shown just how the gig works, having spun its black magic from Clinton Hill, Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights and even northward from Flatbush (particularly Ditmas). The business plan is simple: buy a big building with 50+ units, which is likely mostly or all rent stabilized and therefore sold at a perceived discount. Make minimal but visible capital improvements. Renovate apartments as rent stabilized tenants "leave," allowing you to jack up the rents. Make life somewhat miserable for the new tenants that got what they thought was a steal off Craigslist. Repeat. Get each apartment to top $2,500 in rent, so that it leaves rent stabilization for good. If you're making good money, hang on to the building. But you can usually sell for a profit anyway. Better yet, leverage your building to the hilt to buy more buildings. Build a big fat portfolio. Ride the Housing Bubble Tiger! (People keep telling me Brooklyn's not in a bubble, just a boom. I would argue that because we're so out of line with both the rest of the country and historical price/income, that we must be bubbling big time. Part of it is that Brooklyn has become more desirable to high-earner-high-net-worth folks. But that can't explain it all. Irrational exuberance is an old familiar phrase. Then again, I famously predicted Wesley Clark would be president.)
9. New Openings Galore
Midwood Flats. Erv's. Cinnamon Girl. Blessings. Gratitude Cafe. Bluebird. Mountain. All are game-changers for the neighborhood, and join Tip of the Tongue (the Q calls it TOTT) and Tugboat to bring Lefferts Gardens into the age of modern Brooklyn eats and drinks. Look for a new Mexican place and a couple more surprises in the coming weeks and months.
And by the way, we already HAD a plethora of good food choices. Shelley Kramer of Play Kids did a nice job of summarizing your options here. From Scoops to De Hot Pot to Jus' Fishy and Mango Seed, you'd be a fool not to try the great Island options around here.
How about Planet Fitness? And the new co-work space The Compound? And the Bikram Yoga joint above the beer distributor? New uses galore for the Phat Albert's 'n' Sons parallelogram tween Lefferts and Empire.
Oh. And Lakeside! Geez Louise how quickly I forget that this remarkable asset to our side of the park is pretty much brand spanking new. And it has a decent restaurant to boot. Oh yeah, and ice and roller skating and a splash pad. Lakeside has been the Q's favorite new amenity by a longshot.
10. The Rise of Tenant Activism
This was the year that the power of occupy Wall Street met the power of tenant organizing. Since both longtime and shortime renters are getting hit by the same market forces - and treated to some deplorable landlord b.s. - groups like the Crown Heights Tenants Union and the Flatbush Tenants Coalition are changing the notion that ridiculous rent hikes are like taxes - inevitable and inescapable. Folks, they ain't. This City has a long history of rent activism and tenants rights. Now's the time to join the struggle and help people on your block know that there's help out there. The CHTU meets every third Thursday, and don't let the name fool you. You're welcome and encouraged to help make Lefferts part of the movement.
Landlords are intimidating tenants, and some are just plain racist in their renting. Most insidiously, they're offering buyouts that sound like big money to longtime tenants, but that actually amount to precious little over the long haul. What's $25,000 when you're paying $800 a month for a two-bedroom apartment? Cuz you gotta live somewhere. I guess if you were planning to move anyway it's a good deal. That happened to folks I know during the last run-up in prices in the East Village and Dumbo. But if your life and family are right here, the buyout makes no sense at all. Except to the landlord. Think about it. If he's willing to hand over $25,000 in cash, what must it REALLY be worth?
11. Lefferts Gardens Food Coop Takes Flight
Do you believe in magic? Well don't, it'll burn you every time. (Oh, David Copperfield, why hast thou foresaken me? You can't fly...I was such a fool.) Believe rather in the hard work of neighbors like Karen Oh who spent years ushering in a new coop to the neighborhood. Even the Q was skeptical...I kept thinking why reinvent the wheel when the biggest Coop wheel around is just a bike ride or car service ride or B41 ride away? But when I attended the Open House I got it. Coops ARE about local, and here's to the Lefferts Coop having a long and successful and cooperative existence.
12. Chester Court - Historic
Thanks for reminding me. This one has been dragging out for so long I almost forgot it was news. But yes indeedy the remarkable cul de sac known as Chester Court is now and forever will be a gaggle of comely Tudors. I love the way this pic includes Chester's 900 pound Gorilla friend peering over its shoulder.
13. The Flatbush Trees
How could I not end with this, the Q's white whale, finally being harpooned? Granted, I'm not the artist. The brilliant David Eppley is well into the process of creating the hexagrams that will become the flowers of the Flatbush Trees at Empire and Flatbush. Folks, this is going to be outrageously cool. Middle school kids are already making the pieces of sign vinyl and David will attach them to the trees in the Spring. Every one of you who gave to the project will get your name on the dedication. Just thinking forward to that day, I'm filled with the joy of a thousand cuddly toys in a red barn on a cools summer's eve, surrounded by freshly bathed domesticated animal babies while listening to the soothing sounds of the breeze through the ample waves of grain, in my favorite sweater, smartphone in hand, dialing up Little House on the Prairie as read by Gore Vidal.
Hey, we all have fantasies don't we? Don't judge.
Here's to 2015. And if I missed something of significance, which I undoubtedly did because I'm writing this while caretaking three little girls as they tear apart the house, please drop your wisdom below. Oh, and goodbye No Slappz! I'll miss you, you old racist scumbag. The last big story for the Q? Moderation is now ON.
To the Trees!