1,000 signatures. My goodness. I had no idea that many people had put their name to the Prospect Park East Network's
petition against the 23-story residential tower going up at 626 Flatbush. That was one of many tidbits I learned tonight at the PPEN-sponsored organizational meeting at Jan Hus Church on Ocean Avenue. 300 or so online. 700 or so off-line
. (That off-line advantage suggests something of a digital divide in tactics as well as membership). Yours truly was added late in the game to a diverse panel of locals with various beefs against the tower. As any reader of Q comments knows, my position on the tower has gone from neutral to opposed, for various reasons, though the adamantly smug pro-tower comments helped push me there, so ultimately I felt comfortable sitting up there. As the representative of the "South Lefferts Mid-timer White Parent of Young Children Homeowner Blogger Gentrifier
" set, I batted cleanup, though the line was set arbitrarily. The venerable and accomplished Celeste Lacy Davis
M.C.'d, making it clear from the outset that the meeting was about organizing and planning for PPEN's opposition, and that it was not an attempt to provide an objective forum. In a frank exchange with another attendee who has been critical of the group's objectives (a super guy by the way, no numbskull), she copped to having written the flyer
for the meeting. The flyer itself is something of a manifesto, with words carefully chosen to incite passion, and since Lacy Davis has a long history of identifying social ills and organizing to address them, she's certainly done just that. During the meeting she singled out Suki Cheong
as "the spark" of the movement, and it's evident that Suki has done a great deal of work behind the scenes to turn a few isolated chunks of beef into a flavorful beef stew over pasta, some might even call it a political stroganoff
led a history of developer Hudson's plans for the tower, and no new ground was covered, but it was covered in an articulate and thorough, even objective, manner. If you're familiar with the project, you know that that in order to build 23 stories, the company needed only purchase enough land to do so, and that no further review was needed, as zoning permitted such height. Many of the same crew who are leading the PPEN group fought another tall tower slated for construction at 33 Lincoln Road in 2007, a site now being built by Tom Anderson at 9 stories. (Incidentally rumors that 33 Lincoln has switched to all market rate are not true...yet. Tom nixed HDC funding for taking too long and has gone to private money, but still aims to go 20% affordable anyway, affordable being up to 60% of the average local income.)
Also on the panel was Quest Fanning
of PLGNA, who has lived within a stone's throw of 626 since conception. He noted that he welcomed new building in the area but objected to an insensitve sentiment echoed by some newcomers and planners, who suggest there isn't a lively, robust and functioning community already here
, one that needs to be respected and consulted when major changes are introduced. Then awesome successful small businessman Dr. Cuts, a/k/a Desmond Romeo
, said he needed more information to fully assess the situation, but was concerned what the tower might mean to his successful 13-year shop and others who have relied on the current scene to survive. And by-the-by, he noted that he and Shelly Kramer
(Playkids) and Joyce David
(newly arrived lawyer on the Flabenue) have started to resurrect the Merchants Association, a move that the Q heartily cheers!
Longtime Chester Court resident Brenda Edwards
, whom I've really come to respect and recognize as someone who truly knows and understands the young people in the neighborhood as an educator and active community presence, noted the obvious that yes, Patio Gardens is annoyingly tall and fugly too, but she's gotten use to it like "dull headache." She's not eager to embrace a new splitting headache on the other side of her (hopefully) soon-to-be-landmarked cul-de-sac, which I just yesterday learned was originally slated to be landmarked with the rest of the Lefferts Historic District but was left out since it wasn't contiguous. And you know Carol Schaefer
who runs the Lefferts Manor Association's House Tours? She was there to explain the Manor's long history of support for "contextual" development and issues effecting the larger neighborhood. Rachel Hannaford
from South Brooklyn Legal Services was there to lend support and to lend credence to what she called the "very real" fact of secondary displacement that is taking place all over the borough due to massive luxury projects heavily marketed to a demographic much more moneyed than current residents. Chester Court resident Derek Edwards
is a teacher and NYC tour leader who dropped this nugget: of all the neighborhoods he shows to tourists, he often gets a thank you from them when he shows off Lefferts for finally getting to see a "real New York neighborhood." Nice.
It's worth emphasizing that Celeste adamantly maintains that this is NOT an anti-gentrification protest. In another time, say 25 years ago, SHE was the gentry, buying her beautiful house on Ocean, moving from Harlem, and raising a family. And she IS part of the old gentry now (sorry Celeste, I mean "remarkably young old gentry"). People will move, they will sell, prices will rise, folks will "discover" neighborhoods, all of that is perfectly natural. What is not natural, so says PPEN, is a massively out of context building that should have gone through a review process, and that the City should have downzoned the Ocean/Flatbush groove in the first place had they listened to the community. The fact of government-backed financing and tax breaks demands transparency and neighborhood buy-in, they say. I'm inclined to agree. Responsible development. That's what they want. Their flyer lays out their platform.
The Q? I related a lot to what was said by the panel, and to the folks in the crowd. There's a lot of fear out there, and a lot of it has become manifest in an absurdly large tower that will (c'mon now be honest) house mostly whites on a mostly low-rise block of businesses in a mostly black neighborhood that gets put-down by newcomers as not classy or tidy enough for them (I'm with you on the tidy part - we're working on it. Safety too). Word's gotten around, and people are in fact feeling the squeeze. Patio Gardens itself is pushing folks out, folks who have lived their for years and years. A resident tells me of their shady practice of listing one price on the lease that's over the rent stabilization limit then giving a rebate, just to keep the apartment off the r.s. rolls. You can bet that many longtime businesses and renters along Flatbush will be gone in a couple years due to this building and others, and of course, housing prices in general will rise big time, not because there will suddenly be more inventory (that would suggest a downward trajectory) but because the neighborhood will be more attractive to college educated professionals, many of them heretofore uncomfortable with the...the..."urban" vibe. I will gladly take a bet on that...say, a dinner at the one of the new bistros to open in the next three years?
But the icing on the bitter cake, to me, is the audacity of a company to slip in behind everyone's back (I know, I know, we were all sleeping, including our do-nothing councilperson) and build the biggest tower anywhere along the park, when it was fully well-known we wanted rezoning. To me, it's a basic matter of fairness, of self-determination, of the beloved park. Did you know that former park president Tupper Thomas wrote a letter against it? That the current Prospect Park Alliance is against it? And incoming Borough President Eric Adams? And Assemblyman Karim Camara? And Senator Kevin Parker? And Councilman Eugene? Plus Public Advocate Tish James will surely jump on this one. And see the below from the good Rabbi, chair of CB9. PPEN is no joke folks, and whether there's a prayer of getting de Blasio on board, who represents the only chance of actually negotiating with an "as of right" building developer, who knows. Because, as I noted at the meeting, the Mayor can in fact step in and change the rules, or make it clear that if the developer wants smooth sailing in the future, he's got plenty of room on his big lot to build as many units at a lower height. To be continued...