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, January 21, 2014

PPEN Hearing Against 626 This Thursday

Last night local residents met at a private home to discuss the latest regarding efforts to fast-track contextual zoning along the Flatbush-Ocean parallel corridors from Parkside to Empire. For those just getting up to speed on this one, a local group called Prospect Park East Network (PPEN) has emerged to both enlist community opposition and to wage war against unfettered and outsized development in our neighborhood. The building at 626 Flatbush has galvanized some in the community against the developer Hudson Inc., led by David Kramer. A suit has been filed against the state for agreeing to finance the project in view of a promised 20% of the 23-story tower's apartments being set aside for affordable housing. The long and short is that a hearing will be held on Thursday at 111 Centre Street for a judge to hear the merits of the lawsuit that's been brought by PPEN against the State for agreeing to release financing without doing a proper environmental review. By environmental, ALL aspects of the effect of a building must be studied before the money spigot opens. This usually means looking at context and economic impact as well as the more obvious issues of infrastructure and health.

In meeting with and talking to residents leading this charge, the Q feels that despite the need for more, and more affordable, housing for Brooklynites, the trend towards massive wholesale reconfiguration of the borough without (in my view) thought or care has proven incredibly destructive, both to the character of neighborhoods and to the people who have long called Central Brooklyn home. While some pay lipservice to the idea of democracy within big D development, anyone who has seen the doc My Brooklyn or has kept up with the rapid pace of big money following big money into our borough knows how plans are made and implemented without the consent or even general knowledge of the people most affected. The "people" have no say in how their neighborhoods and City are being changed, and changed so rapidly as to take one's breath away.

Here's the full release, which includes a few choice remarks by said local politicians:

Brooklyn Community Files Lawsuit to Stop Luxury High-Rise

23-story luxury tower planned for Prospect Lefferts Gardens defies low rise historic neighborhood

BROOKLYN, NY, December 19, 2013—Residents and community groups in Brooklyn’s Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhood have filed a lawsuit asking that the development of a 23-story residential tower in their low-rise, mixed income neighborhood be halted. The lawsuit against the New York State Housing Finance Agency, Hudson Companies Incorporated (a private real estate development company), and other defendants contends that more than $72 million in public funds were approved for the development without the proper environmental impact study required by state law. Petitioners are represented by law firm WilmerHale and Legal Services NYC’s Brooklyn program.

Community residents and organizations have formed a coalition to fight the development of the high rise luxury tower. The Prospect Park East Network (PPEN) is not opposed to new construction, but does ask that the development be contextual and respectful of the existing architecture and environment in the neighborhood. Petitioners also include the Flatbush Development Corporation, the Flatbush Tenant Coalition, the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association (PLGNA), and six individual community residents.

Members of PPEN sought legal counsel in this issue so that their voices could be heard,” said David Bassett, legal counsel for the petitioners, and a partner at WilmerHale. “They contend that the Housing Finance Agency’s determination that the construction of a 23-story tower in the midst of their low rise neighborhood on the edge of Prospect Park would have no significant environmental impact was improper and arbitrary, and in violation of New York State law.”

While the area has always been mixed-income, the addition of the tower would change the rental market so that long-time residents living on fixed incomes would not be able to afford to stay. The new residents who would occupy the luxury tower would impact the nature of local businesses which have long served the economically and ethnically diverse community. Low-income tenants and businesses would be priced out of the neighborhood.

The NYS Housing Finance Agency failed to take a hard look at the impact this tower will have on the neighborhood’s residents and businesses,” said Rachel Hannaford, Senior Staff Attorney at Legal Services NYC’s Brooklyn program. “Our clients are concerned that this tower will lead to tenant displacement, as landlords see new opportunities in a high rent market. In recent years, developments like this one have changed the character of Brooklyn neighborhoods and forced the most vulnerable out of their homes and communities.”

"As a group of tenant associations battling the displacement of long-term tenants in the neighborhood, the Flatbush Tenant Coalition is very concerned about the scale and affordability of this proposed development,” said FTC member Redoneva Andrews.  “Without more affordable housing for low-income families, the development will change the neighborhood.  It will drive up rents and the cost of everything else in the area, and drive out low-income tenants and small store owners. Low-income families are already treated with little respect—apartments are so run down that tenants are forced to move out. We want to make sure all families are treated with respect and have safe, affordable housing."

The building would also dramatically affect Prospect Park, as it would be almost 50% taller than any other building on or near the perimeter of the park. The tower would cast shadows, impacting flora and fauna.  It would also, by towering above the tree-sky vista that is currently the view from within the park, violate the design intentions of Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted who carefully designed Prospect Park to be a rural retreat from the sights, sounds and stresses of urban life. Buildings this tall are not permitted by zoning in other neighborhoods that border Prospect Park, including Park Slope, Windsor Terrace and Kensington.

The people of Prospect Lefferts Gardens share a neighborhood of remarkable beauty,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke. “I have lived on Midwood Street for my entire life, and I know that this neighborhood’s character has been defined by generations of families and small business who have remained here for decades. The construction of a twenty-three floor tower in a neighborhood where even the highest buildings are less than half that height threatens to undermine the quality of life enjoyed by the people in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. I urge a thorough review of this proposal and its potential consequences.”

"Given the drastic change the proposed 23-story mixed use tower will cause to the skyline of this historic portion of Flatbush Avenue, as viewed from Prospect Park and from Prospect Lefferts Garden, I think it is important that there be some extended public discussion of the project's appropriateness before demolition and construction begin on the site," said State Senator Kevin Parker

I am energized and excited by the efforts of this community group to take a strong stance for responsible development in Prospect Lefferts Gardens,” said Assembly Member Karim Camara. “Additionally, I am working with my colleagues in the City and State to propose more encompassing legislation regarding contextual zoning, community notification, and a greater commitment to affordable housing, particularly when taxpayer dollars are used for development.”

It is important that we maintain the character and integrity of our communities,” said NYC Council Member Mathieu Eugene. “Prospect-Lefferts Gardens is a neighborhood with a rich history.  I strongly advocate that the City Planning Commission soon review the current zoning in the area of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens adjacent to Prospect Park.”

It is imperative that we maintain and protect the integrity of Prospect Lefferts Garden's low rise and historic homes,” saidBrenda Edwards, a homeowner on Chester Court and a member of PPEN. “This does not include a 23-story tower hovering relentlessly over our heads. I feel that without the immediate approval of contextual zoning, which was requested since 2008, that the proposed Hudson tower at 626 Flatbush Avenue will become an invitation for other such development.”

Prospect Lefferts Gardens is a real community, with both diversity and cohesion,” said Quest Eric Bohman Fanning, a tenant of Patio Gardens and lifelong resident of the neighborhood. “Our community is unique and vibrant; we don't need to become Manhattan.”

About Prospect Park East Network
Prospect Park East Network (PPEN) is an organization of concerned residents formed to address this development and the larger concerns it brings, which include the urgent need for contextual zoning and impact studies on such issues as traffic, subways, parking, schools, safety, sanitation, low income and affordable housing, and Prospect Park itself.

About Flatbush Development Corporation
Flatbush Development Corporation (FDC) is a nonprofit dedicated to meeting the needs of a diverse Flatbush community. FDC identifies and responds to these needs by creating programs, campaigns, and partnerships through economic development, housing, youth, immigration and other initiatives that promote enhanced quality of life, safety, and preservation of the neighborhoods of Flatbush, East Flatbush, and South Crown Heights (which includes Prospect Lefferts Gardens).


Rudy on Winthrop said...

Would someone please post the index number for this action, and/or provide a link to the complaint? Thanks.

Q Fan said...

Text is totally illegible in black font. And in general, could you please change your color scheme to get rid of the blue background/white font? It's really hard to read.

Anonymous said...

Index number is 101695/2013 in Brooklyn Supreme Court. No e-filing, so you'd presumably have to go down to the courthouse to get a copy of the complaint. Is the hearing thursday open to the public?

I'm very curious to see how this plays out, but I think the odds strongly favor Hudson, however PPEN tries to argue the environmental review requirement. They've already started dismantling the building at 626. Hopefully whatever happens, it isn't just a hole for the next decade.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

anon 12:26 - when I cut and paste and then publish without previewing, sometimes I forget that the font of the source material was a different color.

I like the blue background white font and don't see the problem. Is this something others consider an issue? I may be nostalgic, but I like the crappy homemade quality of the look of the blog. Black against white is Slope!

Alex said...

I share some of anon 12:50's concerns about ending up with a hole in the ground. I know that nobody wants that, but it could very well happen.

Given that opinions on 626 Flatbush vary throughout the community, I am a little dismayed to see our elected officials sign on to the complaint with such vigor. It's not that I disagree with them. It's that I would love to see them sign on as enthusiastically when it comes to sanitation, the overall sh*tty job that the 71st does with enforcement, crime, etc. It's great that they're feeling galvanized behind a cause, but why don't they show up on other issues? They're seemingly hell bent on holding the state and Hudson accountable, but why not Sanitation? Why not the 71st?

As I've posted before, I am working with Dr. Eugene's office to try and get some action on the 71st, but frankly it's not looking positive. Hats off to PPEN, but it frustrates me that for our elected officials, staving off this development seems to take priority over basic services and public safety.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

First off, we're not going to end up with a hole in the ground. That's not anyone's idea of a solution. Best outcome is that the State has to do a proper review, they conclude something that demands concessions from the developer. In the meantime, contextual zoning gets taken up at Planning (we were supposed to have a 197a mtg with them last night but was cancelled) for Flatbush/Ocean and the nabe generally (perhaps separately). Worst case, the suit is thrown out and they build their building as planned.

Meanwhile, the reason the electeds haven't signed on to the other is they don't yet see the outrage, except from a couple constituents. If we make as big a fuss about the other issues, we will see change.

There will be a mtg w/Fitzgibbon on the 30th and I'll post more about that later. Hold the date if you need to tell the commander something personally!

Anonymous said...

You can get a copy of the complaint here. Just plug in the the index number or one of the parties.

Anonymous said...

Let's hope that the suit is thrown out and attention
gets paid to real quality of life issues...
crime, trash, transportation.

Anonymous said...

After reading the complaint, I must say that if you support the project as it went down you're basically supporting breaking the law, or at the very least the intent of the environmental review provision. The plaintiffs aren't claiming anything extravagant. They're saying care wasn't taken to determine whether this project was appropriate given a whole host of issues. The review was clearly inadequate, if it was undertaken at all, and with an unprecedented project along the park of this scope and size you'd think some review would be appropriate. Stakeholders didn't find out til the plans were set and the money allocated. State money, supposedly subject to democratic oversight.

Who can honestly argue that that's okay? It's the worst kind of corporate sneakiness, and I suspect that some of those electeds who now decry it knew about it but didn't know enough or care enough to do anything about it.

Those of you who support the project should consider whether you're so eager for full-scale gentrification that you've blinded yourself to decency.

Anonymous said...

Thanks you! Let it play out. It's not like it's just one person leveling the suit. It's hundreds. Let them have their day in court.

Anonymous said...

I'm in full agreement with you. It's not that I object with PPEN's position on 626-more power to them if they can institute a change. My problem is why aren't they taken Eugene, the 71st, or the Sanitation Dept. to task, particularly when this community lacks basic, quality of life services.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

PPEN began just last year to take on this issue. It would be great to see them develop into a full-on force for good in the neighborhood.

This development fight is the sort of thing that PLGNA was known for - taking on the powers that be. If PPEN becomes a housing committee of PLGNA, then they'd be one and the same. However, there could be reasons for PPEN to remain independent. I'm sure Quest Fanning, a member of both, could speak to the details.

That's all for the group to decide. If you want to have a voice, I'm sure they'd be glad to have you.

Anonymous said...

I read the whole thing, and gotta say the complaint makes a pretty strong case that the State failed in its duty to properly review the project.

Though a few of the purported impacts listed are pretty silly. My favorite was "increased noise from 345 new residents will irreversibly damage the environment." Seriously? Are we anticipating 345 poorly trained opera singers moving in?

-Paul G.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

The opera singers are slated for the affordable units. The other 80% go to free-jazz saxophonists.

Perhaps, Paul, you can do a rendering with the above pictured, windows open?

While you're right that one is a bit silly, I do think the year or two of noise and construction will be a bummer for those nearby, though we all expect such things living in the City.

How about that rift between good friends in the war between MoMA and the ex-Folk Museum? Architextual Scandal!