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.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Time To Act Was Then

It may still be a longshot, but you can't pretend that the effort isn't long overdue. Watch this video, share the video, and give to this effort.  

If after you see the video you have questions, or require more detail, I ask that you consider sending me an email and will let you in on the activities of the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Heritage Council. There are reasons not to be too specific about properties, personnel and logistics, since to a certain extent this is a race against time to beat back the efforts of developers to manipulate our miserably out-dated zoning regulations and their near constant attempts to take advantage of current homeowners. This is an effort best handled face to face and house by house, building by building, block association by block assocation, so we can all recognize our common ground and need to protect certain aspects of the community we call home. Change is good, change is inevitable. But some kinds of change are unbearable and frankly unnecessary.

The nutshell argument is this:

The Prospect Lefferts Gardens Historic District (roughly Fenimore to Lefferts/Sterling) has been extremely successful in maintaining the character of PART of the neighborhood. But its designation in 1979 left out huge chunks of the nabe that have equally historic value. Surprising to some, the same architects and vision were applied to the "other" parts of the neighborhood, even if the Victorian rowhouses of Midwood and Maple are what most people think of when they think of "preservation." Even the pre-war apartment buildings are now nearly 100 years old, with some famous and notorious architects and developers embedded in the history. I'll leave it to Richard Walkes and the rest of the Heritage Council to make their case - they're currently raising money to finish the applications for inclusion on the National Historic Registry and to the City's Landmarks agency. A great deal of research is being done by talented folks. If you join the effort we'll be sure to take you along for the ride, and some of it is just plain fun.

Due in part to the current PLG Historic District, pressure towards new development has been shifted to blocks north and south and east and southwest (like Caledonia), areas with too-high zoning, and to the avenues, without ANY protections or obligation to build affordable (i.e. below market) housing to help preserve the neighborhood's diversity, both income-wise and cultural. It's big stuff, and as I've complained many, many times before here on ye olde blogge, there are some in the community who prefer to do NOTHING rather than plan, landmark and dialogue. Others feel obliged to slow us to a crawl. In a word, it's excruciating to behold.

It may all be too late; it might not work. But it's worth a try. If you have the capacity, please consider a tax-deductible contribution to the non-profit that has been created specifically to address these issues, as they build an all-out multi-block strategy to landmark. At the very least, this new organization will provide a home for the contemplation and discussion of these issues OUTSIDE the older and more well-established Lefferts Manor Association. To a certain extent, these issues are ours - those of us who live on the south side of Fenimore and below. To date, too many decisions and activist actions have been focused to "the north."

Prospect Lefferts Gardens Heritage Council, INC from PLGHC on Vimeo.


MikeF said...

"beat back the efforts of developers to manipulate our miserably out-dated zoning regulations and their near constant attempts to take advantage of current homeowners."

The person interested in getting selling their land gets a higher price for it than they would under the newer, more restrictive regulations you support.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Not what I mean, Mike. I'm talking about the Developers with cash looking for a quick turnaround, scaring people, looking for unsophisticated homeowners. Obviously you have a knack for real estate, but not everyone is so savvy.

Right now, though, the price for a teardown or a rehab are about equal. This won't last long...if you prefer the entire neighborhood get razed, well, that's your opinion and you're welcome to it.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Frankly I'd prefer we'd gone the route of rezoning and maximizing affordability on avenues. This is a second, and as you note more restrictive, option. I'm not making the mistake of owning it however. I'm just passing along that the effort is happening, should anyone want to participate.

Bob Marvin said...

"To a certain extent, these issues are ours - those of us who live on the south side of Fenimore and below. To date, too many decisions and activist actions have been focused to "the north."

Bravo Tim! While I would hope that LMA will give any assistance of which it's capable to efforts at expanding the Historic District the main impetus must come from homeowners and other residents in the area that is to be covered. The relatively recent eforts in Crown Heights, North and South, and in Bedford Stuyvecent are perfect examples.

Alex said...

Is Lefferts Ave not included in this effort?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Sadly no. The PLGHC was set up by Richard Walkes with a board of 4 who all live in the south and their research is a contiguous set of a couple dozen blocks from southside of Fenimore on down. However I believe Ms. Alicia Boyd would be an excellent partner should you should to address Sterling and Lefferts.

Seriously though, if there is great interest in looking at additional blocks let me know and we can start looking for partners. I know quite a number of folks on your block in the houses for instance, and the Lefferts block association members Francisca Leopold and Dr. Fredericksen are deeply involved in all this land use stuff and on the CB and politically connected. One of Alicia's best MTOPP buddies lives right across from you too! Alicia herself seemed strangely against landmarking (perceived costs? being told what to do? being part of a team?)

Anonymous said...

Hi Q,
I would consider donating etc. but what are the chances for Winthrop 2 for instant, with its new erected building? Will this new organization make a difference? I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

How about Winthrop 2?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Winthrop 2 is in the application. Whether or not new buildings have gone up doesn't have anything to do with it, fortunately. That's one of the many myths that this effort will hopefully address, including the idea that big ol' apartment buildings aren't eligible. We're talking about a "district," not individual buildings.

My mother got my childhood neighborhood on the historic registry. In Ames IA. Trust me, very little on the outside would have suggested it was worthy of anything other than yard sale.

Anonymous said...

Alex said...

Thanks, Tim. If you could get someone to represent Lefferts I, II and III that would be great. I do not have the bandwidth to take on something like that.

Jacob said...

This is admirable. The video is well done. I like the idea of recognizing the importance of apt buildings as well as row houses. There are many wonderful apartment buildings here.
The issue is complex. Beautiful buildings are not necessarily unusual buildings. Many of our rowhouses and apts were built in huge numbers all over the city. So it's tough for landmarks to say that they are worthwhile. Even in Lefferts Manor they landmarked not because the buildings were unique, but because "the whole was greater than the parts" - "the whole" being the unaltered rows of single family houses. So in the rest of PLG, alterations, multi-family, houses mixed with apt buildings - those things are not so unusual in the city as a whole.
On the other hand there seems to be a glut of new units hitting the market right now and landlords are making concessions. Even evil 626 Flatbush is giving away 1 or 2 months free rent. This would indicate that the crazy free market ranters had some truth, at least in this short term environment. More units can lower rents.
The morally upstanding course of action is not so clear here.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

I'm reluctantly following the wishes of my neighbors here. To be honest, I don't really give a shit about the "historic" nature of blocks of houses where people live until they die or sell or move. So fucking what. There's much bigger fish to broil.

And I'm tired of trying to get anyone to care about any of it. The City developed some really innovative tools to build more housing to relieve the influx of wealth and "gentrification" and the people, in their infinite wisdom, refused to accept a new reality. In this age, ANY use of government expertise and dollars is viewed with suspicion and anger.

Fuck it. People want to landmark god bless 'em. I'm one of the lucky ones who bought a house he could afford when he could afford it. I hope I stay financially afloat so I can leave it to my girls. I hope they don't tear down the house to the left, or the house to the right. I hope I'm finally able to grow some grass next year and the Leaning Tower of Treesa stays alive long enough to continue to enjoy that tree hammock. And I hope the basement doesn't flood. And that I don't get colon cancer.


Bob Marvin said...

Alex: Just Lefferts I [and Sterling I, if anyone cares to work on it]; Lefferts II & III are in the existing Historic District, as are Sterling II & III.

Bob Marvin said...


As we all know landmarking is ONLY about aesthetics and history and has NOTHING at all to do with land use (heaven forbid!) BUT just occasionally, it MIGHT also help with limiting development [wink wink, nudge nudge]. Of course if quoted as having written that I'll pull a Drumpf and deny it :-)

MikeF said...

If all else fails, you can always cash out and live in large swaths of the country.

Jacob said...

Well there are some interesting ramifications of landmarking vs downzoning.
Landmarking would not prevent someone from say, adding more stories to a house with available FAR. They would just need to get the addition approved by landmarks.
It doesn't prevent someone from turning a single-family home into multiple units (assuming the home isn't protected by a single family covenant, which the homes in the area in question are not).
It doesn't prevent someone from building a long extension into the backyard (as long as the house is no more than 65% lot coverage and leaves a 30 foot yard). They don't even need landmarks approval for that since it can't be seen from the street.
It doesn't prevent a developer from carving up a multi-unit apartment building and putting in many smaller units.
All of these things have an effect on neighborhood character. They also potentially add to the number of new residents in the area and put a strain on resources.
As the Flatbush PS 1 shows, it doesn't even prevent a building from deteriorating so much that it becomes a danger and has to be torn down. This becomes especially dangerous after a landmarking where a building owner doesn't have the funds to do (now much more expensive) historically appropriate repairs.
Meanwhile, there are some beautiful buildings here which are not landmarked and aren't in the area being considered. None of the grand apartment buildings on Ocean Ave are landmarked. This was once the premiere avenue in Brooklyn: Cathedral Arms, Chateau Frontenac, Braicebridge Hall, or the Viennese Secession building at Albermarle and Ocean. The commercial building at 818 Flatbush which shares ornament with the landmarked Chanin Building in Manhattan. Or 820 Flatbush, next door. Striking rows of intact Arts and Crafts houses like Martense Court or Vanderveer Place. The Kings Theater isn't even landmarked!

Bob Marvin said...

I agree with much of what Jacob wrote, BUT landmarking and down-zoning are NOT mutually exclusive. Both approaches can be attempted simultaneously.

diak said...

To Jacob's comment above regarding building a backyard extension not requiring Landmarks' approval:
As I understand it, landmarking covers the entire exterior of the building—front, back, sides, roof.
Of course, in reality, you'd be far less likely to be called out for a landmark violation for something not obvious from the street...

Jacob said...

Landmarks only covers parts of buildings visible from the street. Some buildings have rear facades that are visible from the street and some don't. Those that are visible would need landmarks approval. An attached house in the middle of the block has a back facade that is almost always not visible from the street but a detached house does. Same with corner houses. The ones close to the corner can go either way.

Suki said...

Jacob - the Kings Theater isn't landmarked and our government spent $90 mil on a historic restoration???? Also, I'm very annoyed that just a few doors down from LK, one of the most nicely maintained 4 story historic buildings was just demolished to put up some awful new commercial building. If government has that kind of money for historic preservation perhaps we should have considered spreading it around a bit.

Recently stayed at this LOVELY historic hotel in Asia, every interior and exterior detail recreated, even the cobblestone driveways, but not in a historic district. Guess what, someone else was building a crap tower right behind it. Definitely destroys the ambience for a tourist.