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.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Cult Bolts - New Flats Coming

Photo by Elizabeth C.
Seems like 162 Woodruff has seen the last of its COBU/Olde Goode Things/Cloak-of-Secrecy days and will soon be home to more new-style Flatbushians. For those who don't know the story behind the decades-long Hippy Christian Carpet Cleaning Antique Selling Haitian-Helping Cult Church of Bible Understanding and its not-so-hygenic-looking but apparently charismatic-enough leader Stewart Traill, here's my post on it from awhiles back.

Lest there be any doubt about COBU's cultness, COBU was first called The Forever Family. Just saying, that doesn't sound like such a good idea to me, and I can how the change of name helped the "Family" to thrive.

If you have 13 minutes to kill, this is an amazing and creepy break-down of how cults work their black magic.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Got 'em

Vinnie just called to say they got three of the burglars, aged 14, 16 and 17. Looks like they're responsible for the bulk off the crimes. I guess we'll know if the trouble stops.

One Man's Rezoning Is Another Man's Trash

Seems that it may be time for an update on the various voices bellowing loudly for recognition in the rezoning process. Today I see in Brownstoner that MTOPP, a/k/a Alicia Boyd, has tried to create a stir around the (not even yet-proposed) rezoning of Empire Boulevard. Remembering, as the Q has pointed out previously, that we are only now getting to the point of discussing the geographical area of a rezoning study with City Planning, it seems to me very unproductive to create the impression that the neighborhood is united against rezoning and developing Empire Blvd. Quite the opposite. Unlike 626 Flatbush which has had detractors and proponents since the beginning, I've heard relatively few voices express an interest in keeping Empire Blvd the Fast Food and Storage Facility corridor that it is now. I'd also say that I personally find it disruptive to create the impression that more has taken place than it has. At this point, various players have weighed in on what they'd like to see from Empire. But these are all expressions of desire, hardly the stuff of reality at this point. 626 had its permits and its financing when some in the community began to protest. In my opinion, you can't protest something that isn't happening.

Certainly there is much to be discussed about whether and what the appropriate vision should be for Empire Blvd. I've long felt that it is EXACTLY the appropriate space to consider affordable housing options, even a middle-class focus. Hell, much better than East New York in my opinion, though one could imagine a growth along that corridor for lower and middle class housing that extends eastward to Brownsville and ENY. Empire is an excellent, underused location, and responsible development would be welcome. MTOPP is, of course, entitled to its opinion and tactics. But the fact is that 11226 is much more dense than Lefferts Gardens, which MTOPP has misidentified as the most dense neighborhood in Brooklyn. MTOPP, or more precisely Ms. Boyd, continues to go its own way, misstate facts, and sometimes misses opportunities to build useful coalitions. And on this latest mission, I've noted that Alicia has explicitly expressed the primary reason for the MTOPP position on Empire Blvd. She and her Sterling Street Block Association are but one block away, making any development a concern for its direct effects. Ask anyone on Chester one enjoys massive construction happening just outside one's window.

 On that count, at least, we can all agree.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Wanted for Burglary

Sounds like a true rash of burglaries has emerged of late. Probably the same culprits, and much the same method each time - checking to see if you're home, then entering through windows. Clearly if you're home you should not try to confront the criminals, but rather call 911. There seems to be a team of two working, and they're super bold. Keep an eye out. We're going to nab them! Try to get a good description if you see youths taking an active interest in your building or ringing doorbells. Plus...

No one should be on a Fire Escape. No one. Not safe for them, definitely not safe for the people in the apartments near them. If you see someone, call it in. Sorry to be a Nervous Norman, but that's the fact, Jack. The Q has zero tolerance for fire escape antics. Okay, maybe someone smoking a cigarette and their window's wide open, or watering a plant. But c'mon. Even someone locked out should contact the Super rather than pull a Spider Man.

And yes, the 71st is aware and working in concert with Brooklyn South to stem the tide. I'm told there are unmarked cars working the neighborhood, though of course I have no way to confirm that. We have at least 10 reported break-ins in July. I'm speaking with the 71st tomorrow so maybe I'll learn more.

This piece from DNA INFO:

Related? The lobby at 125 Hawthorne was ransacked and hardware and such stolen.

Lock, keep and eye out, and here's a probable suspect. Breaking my heart. 16 years old. And as we've said, probably not alone.

Burglars and Vandals

It's a shame all burglars aren't required to wear the above uniform. Spotting them would be so much easier. And what of Vandals? History has not been kind to the Germanic tribe.

A spate of incidents up in the Manor and environs reminds us all to be vigilant. Despite the neighborly ways 'round here, it's all too easy for ne'er-do-wells to take advantage and cause havoc. Let's examine the evidence.

Recently, a family has had to endure a spate of Vandalism of a most curious nature. Three separate times rocks have been thrown through their first floor windows. Once is a bummer. Twice a mystery. Three times and they'd had enough and father managed to chase after the kids only to have a knife brandished on him. They're working with authorities to apprehend the perps.

A few recent burglaries share a common denominator. It appears that one partner rings a doorbell asking for someone who doesn't live there while an accomplice enters the next door house. How or why this is an effective strategy the Q can't ascertain with his law abiding brain. Keeping windows and doors locked may well be an effective deterrent for thieves intent on easy entrance and egress.

Keep an eye out. Report suspicious activity directly to 911 or to Vinnie Martinos or any of the officers of the 71st at (718) 735-0527. 

And this just in from Vinnie:
We are currently experiencing a rise in garages being  broken into. If anyone sees someone suspicious in back yards or loitering in alley ways please call 911 to report it. If you have in the past or  have video of someone in  backyards that does not belong there and you don't recognize please email me or send me the detailed photos.  It will also be a great help if you do have a video camera facing garages or backyards to please review them for anything suspicious.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Gone Fishin'

I'm not really that fond of fishing, but dang I like that phrase "dark thirty."
Actually, I'll be back when the rental car is due, but this sounds cooler.

Big Laughs! He's smoking under water!!

Sorry fellas, but this is just plain weird.

I've never heard this song, but I just know I love it.

Everyone's entitled to a little R'n'R, which in the case of a parent of young ones means Running Ragged. Everything's pretty much all about them, which is of course as it should be, but they have the most ridiculous constant and flamboyant need for new stuff to experience and oy, so much going outside. Though staying INside is worse. But so much falling down! I mean, they've been walking upright now for some time. Skinned knees, bloody noses, hurt this, hurt that, more sandwich, more milk, where's my (fill in the blank), and the near constant refrain of "it's not FAIR!" Those with one probably don't get so much of the latter. I have to constantly monitor how "just" everything is with two, and god forbid one should get something ever so slightly better than the other. Not even better, actually. Different. The actual judging of the quality of things is not a two-year-old's strongest suit. The fiver should know better though, but she's getting smart, and that's the biggest drag of all. She sees right through the parent game, and it sucks, because we were just starting to get good at it too.

But I'm not complaining. I'm living the dream and I know it. The fact that 50 million other Americans are living the same dream doesn't prevent me from seeing it as the dream. Heck I was supposed to be dead or in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame by now, and this beats the hell out of either.

If you see a few fewer posts, it's because right now Lefferts is a couple hundred miles away and that's just fine by me. BUT, if you have stuff that you see or pictures you take or news to impart, by all means shoot me an email. I'll be more than happy to post it, since (for the time being) this seems to be the only Lefferts-centric blog and y'all seem to keep coming back for more of this blah blah blah. I appreciate it actually, I really do. Y'all are part of that "dream," and while I'm not sure how it all fits together or how it's going to end, for a few moments we share a deep connection through the internetosphere. The next time you defrag, think of me will you?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Le Flabenue Needs Vous!!

Take a minute, won't you, from your busy day to fill out another Flatbush Avenue Merchant's Association survey? The train has left the station, with your conductor Dr. Cuts at the helm, with yeoman's service provided by the Pratt Area Community Council (PACC).  Oh, and I'd include the side-businesses just off the Flabenue in your calculations, including Lincoln Road and Parkside, as they abut the Flab. (As the old saying goes, "better to abut the Flab than to Flab the butt.")

From Dr. Desmond Romeo:

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to Pratt Area Community Council (PACC). PACC is a local non-profit organization that has served the central Brooklyn community for 50 years by developing and managing affordable housing and providing direct technical assistance to small businesses. PACC has been very successful in its commercial revitalization initiative for over 15 years. One of PACC's prominent successes in merchant organizing is the formation of the Fulton Area Business (FAB) Association now called the FAB Alliance Business Improvement District, a public-private partnership that provides extensive supplementary services such as increased sanitation, security, and marketing to the Fulton Street corridor.

With that said, we have asked PACC to initially lead with our initiative to formally organize a merchants association that will work to create a vibrant commercial corridor along Flatbush Avenue. A primary mission of the association will be to strategically plan ways to support the quality businesses and to compliment the current retail mix along Flatbush Avenue. The merchants association will also be instrumental in addressing our neighborhood concerns such as vacancies, foot traffic and littered sidewalks. To further stimulate the development of Flatbush Avenue, The Parkside Empire - Flatbush Avenue Merchants Association, in collaboration with PACC, is now conducting a Commercial Needs Survey.

The Flatbush Avenue Commercial Needs Survey is designed to assess local residents' shopping experiences on Flatbush Avenue and gather their input on what types of businesses are needed/wanted in this area. Simply, this survey will assist in determining what residents enjoy in the neighborhood as well as determine what is lacking. The survey will also help us appropriately recruit businesses.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE THE SURVEY. It takes less than 5 minutes to complete. So please take a moment to read each question carefully and answer to the best of your ability for your entire household.

Thank you for your time!

Desmond Romeo,
Merchant Association President
[Owner of Dr Cuts]

Trouble, and Opportunity, at 265 Hawthorne

From the 71st:

July 21, 2014 at approximately 730 PM in front of 265 Hawthorne Street two males were involved in a verbal altercation that turned violent when on male pulled out a firearm and shot the other male 4 times. The victim was taken to Kings County Hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.

July 22, 2014 one male was shot in the lower abdomen at the corner of Washington Ave and Montgomery Street for unknown reasons. At this time it is early in the investigation but we believe the victim knows the perpetrator and was the intended target. Victim was taken to  Kings County Hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.

Anyone with information on these two crimes or any crime please call the 71 Precinct Detective Unit at 718-735-0501.

265 Hawthorne is between Rogers and Nostrand, FYI. The building itself has not been implicated, ironically it's a building I've been planning a post about for some time. Just gathering the info. It's an example of a building where the City took over the property due to landlord negligence and arrears. Then, using Pratt Area Community Council as sponsor, the tenants association is working to make it Limited Equity Coop (HDFC is shorthand around here). The tenants could buy their apartments for $2,000 a piece, and their monthly rents would go up slightly, but it would then be considered "maintenance." Loans get made to do repairs. It's a pretty sweet deal, actually, though you must sell at below market rates preset by the agreement.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dr. Cuts Adds Specialist To Practice

Leave it to Desmond Romeo, proprietor of local fan favorite Dr. Cuts, to shake things up a bit. As Q readers know, I really like Dr. Cuts and have given Desmond the gig to trim my delicate locks and found he had no problem navigating my "straight hair," as it's sometimes referred to in the biz, "straight hair" referring to both curly and actually straight hair typical of European heritage.

Desmond will be adding a part-time straight hair specialist, a talented
Tim Wandrey
fellow named Tim Wandrey, who gets a thumbs-up from Play Kids owner Shelley Kramer. Tim will be on hand Wednesday (tomorrow July 23) from 6PM on, and Sunday, August 3, starting at 3PM. I think it's part of a deal for the two to learn more about the others' style of hair styling, but you can get a $20 cut as a walk-in. I'm endlessly fascinated by the hair industry in our neighborhood, and I once again encourage all who share my curiosity to check out the awesome Chris Rock documentary "Good Hair." (For giggles regarding other sorts of hairacters, there's always Warren Beatty in Shampoo.)

Here's Desmond, digging into his craft:

When you think about it, that's an awful lot of trust we place in the scissor-man or braider-lady. I mean, they're behind you, and they have implements. Sharp implements.

Working It Out On Parkside

Growing up in the heartland, the little Q rarely heard so much as a raised voice, let alone the kind of dust-ups you hear in NYC all the time, often about not much at all. "Conflict? Does it even exist except on TV?" coddled Q might have asked. But after 25 years in Brooklyn, had the full-grown Q been in the Kennedy Fried Chicken place on Parkside last night, and the below dialogue broken out, I too would have stuck around to see if the two adversaries would eventually come to an understanding, maybe even shaking hands. Because despite the heightened rhetoric, in their way, they are trying to come to an understanding that will allow both parties to claim partial victory. When the testosterone comes out to play, what you often see is a bit of backing off as the hormone surge recedes, though in this flick we don't get to see the eventual outcome.

A little background: according to the videographer who sent me this clip, the issue that brought it all to a head was when the grill cook spat on the ground while cooking. Why so upset? Perhaps a bug flew into his mouth? We may never know. The patron, understandably concerned by such unsanitary behavior while his food was being assembled, took issue with the action, leading to an invitation by management to engage in an unethical carnal act between patron and chef. Perhaps I should qualify that. It would be unethical, and illegal, were it non-consensual and/or performed in a public environment.

The conclusions I draw from this interaction are quad-fold: 1: I will not be ordering food from this establishment anytime soon. 2: Spitting while cooking is considered vulgar and unhealthy. 3: The use of homophobic profanity is never called for, even in jest. 4. I'm really glad the clip shows the players from the neck down.

Monday, July 21, 2014

23-Story Building to Rise on Nostrand Near Church Ave

I guess 23 is a lucky number for developers. Or perhaps, it's the maximum you can get from FAR for R7-1 zoning for certain sized lots. Either way, the race is on. Nostrand, with its ideal access to public transportation (the 2 and 5 run beneath it) will surely see a massive uptick, literally UPtick.

According to YIMBY,  permits have been filed to build a 23 story building on Nostrand below Church a couple blocks. Currently, the site at 1580 Church is a one-story "tax-payer," as they say in the biz.

Currently, our (CB9's) negotiations with City Planning taking place over the last couple months have identified the areas south of Eastern Parkway and over to New York, west to Ocean and south to Clarkson, as the likely boundaries of a rezoning study. And while that may sound like a good plan for those opposing skyscrapers around here, it may be a mixed blessing. Because any rezoning will likely not involve any net losses in buildable space. Meaning, corridors like Nostrand and Empire might see taller buildings allowed to offset downzoning elsewhere. Stay tuned...

A Tale of, three...wait, four...Neighborhoods

Tripping down Flatbush Lane this Saturday with the kiddies in tow I was struck by how much is just plain happenin' in the 'hood these days. Construction, new joints, new faces. An email I just received today got me thinking about the ways in which we all perceive the world through our own experience - past and present of course, but also through the lens of our hopes for the future.

In a matter of a couple blocks, I enountered four people I've gotten to know a bit better recently. And they were expressing their concerns in a visible and passionate way.

On right, Vivia Morgan
There's Vivia Morgan of 100 Black Construction Workers, who along with the Construction Worker's Union have brought The Rat to 626 Flatbush for using subcontractors who hire non-union workers at sub-standard rates. Vivia and co. would also like to see Hudson hire locally, with the reasonable notion that if you're going to hire scabs, at least help benefit the community by bringing work to locals.
Brenda & Cheryl

Then I ran into Cheryl Sealey and Brenda Edwards of PPEN, who were busy alerting neighbors to the perils of development, now that the big money has discovered the Lefferts Gardens area. They've shown wisdom and passion for the issues affecting the entire neighborhood...they're hardly what I could describe as NIMBY-ists. As longtime neighborhood residents, you could describe them as "gentry," even as the word "gentrification" wafts through the air, which can feel like a real insult, to people who've lived here and raised families and been part of the social fabric of the neighborhood for decades.

Speaking of gentrification, some folks see what's going on throughout Central Brooklyn and spring into action. That's Imani Henry, of Equality for Flatbush. He's working on a documentary to highlight the culture of a world that may soon go the way of the dodo, and he just closed a campaign to raise money through IndieGoGo. If you haven't seen Imani and his video, check it out here.

Imani Henry, holding sign at right
What's fascinating to me right now is the fact that the negative effects of change right now aren't limited to low-income or longtime residents worried for their homes and/or losing the diversity and character of their neighborhood. Recent transplants to the neighborhood are often being manipulated too, as the middle-piece of the upscaling game.  The game, simply put, is to rush buildings out of rent stabilization as quickly as you can, since once an apartment is out, it's out for good.

Looking back on our time in NYC, Mrs. Q and I have watched neighborhood after neighborhood go through the same bizarre dance. In the early '90s, she lived in a very small two bedroom on East 2nd. Folks were being offered money to leave, mostly older Polish immigrants, and the landlord had long-since stopped offering leases on paper, leaving the unsophisticated renters vulnerable. For transient types like Mrs. Q and her roommate, such a cash-only apartment situation seemed almost ideal, knowing that they could easily find a similarly priced apartment elsewhere if need be, and they could simply split on a dime if that was their whim. They were the middle-pieces in the game, back then. Heck, we (meaning me and most of my friends) ALL were.

But with prices rising wildly throughout most of Brooklyn, such a move seems more and more scary these days. Many people have moved to the neighborhood and found a rent-stabilized apartment, and hope to stay. The email I got today showcases how strange and tenuous that relationship is, though, particularly if your landlord is itching to hit that $2,500 threshold.

In a nutshell, the person who sent me the email nabbed an apartment for $1,8000, even though the previous tenant was paying $950. Even with the shoddy "renovation," the landlord should not have been allowed to charge more than $1,300. My correspondent learned this too late, however, and NOW the landlord is refusing to offer her a new lease. Eventually they will have to, because our protagonist knows her rights, and is putting up a fight about it. But it would appear that the landlord is going to make life tough for this tenant, and that the ultimate goal is to up the rent again upon her leaving.

Here's a rent calculator that she sent me that can help you assess how much your landlord can increase rent in various scenarios

So how many kinds of housing sitches are we dealing with?

  • Well, there's always the market rate tenants, and they must live with the vagaries of rental negotiations. This is a landlord's favorite scenario, of course.
  • The owners of houses and coops and condos. Despite property tax increases and maintenance costs (yes coop owners, we have those too!), this situation is hugely advantageous to the resident lucky enough to pay a mortgage or own the place outright. Prices have tripled in a decade, and currently show little slowdown. As we've seen recently, home ownership is NOT always a good investment. But here in Brooklyn, even a real estate novice like me looks like a genius.
  • There's the "lucky" renters of low-cost rent-stabilized apartments, who, in the current environment, are often being harassed or neglected or bought out of their leases. And while the buyout may seem lucrative, these folks are going to find a hard time finding similarly priced housing elsewhere. Some folks, too, have been paying "preferenced" rates, meaning that when the landlord has the opportunity (read: now) they can revert to the "allowed" rate, meaning a massive increase in monthly cost, all at once. This will surely force many tenants to leave, almost immediately.
  • There are the "lucky" recent movers into rent-stabilized apartments, who have often been shafted before signing with a price that's not legal. On top of it, they may be merely a link in the chain, as the landlord races against possible legislation to end the current policy of rent-stabilization exit.
Some new affordable units will become available through lottery, in 626 Flatbush for instance. Will that compensate for enormous disappearance of affordable housing in the area? Of course not. And as some landlords actively discriminate against certain "kinds" of people, you can be assured that the neighborhood will go through enormous social and cultural upheaval, not just economic.

If that makes it any clearer why some folks are upset about more than the menu items at the new restaurant, then I suppose we're on the same page. Though I too would prefer some vegatarian options, not because I'm a vegetarian, but because I firmly believe that a just society needs a gastro-pub that caters to everyone, not just the red meat-eaters and the lobster-lovers.

Diversity of food options, too, is often the ideal.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Midwood Flats

No, the Q is not referring to London-style apartments on a certain Lefferts street. Folks, the name of the soon-to-open gastro pub is to be "Midwood Flats," and its menu looks something, or rather exactly, like this:

Hamburger? French Fries? Non Traditional Hamburger? French Fries Nouveau?

The Q is a big fan of restaurant names that tell you exactly where it is. MF is not inspired, but it's not insipid. (Hey, those two words are almost anagrams. Take the R out of inspired and it's insipid...hmmm. gotta work on that one...)

Take it away, boys! A one, two, three, four...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

First Civilian Observation Patrol (C.O.P.) In Many, Many Years

Now THAT was fun. Riding around in a cop car with working sirens and lights and loudspeakers, jabbering away with a new friend. Playing Hutch to his Starsky. Or rather, doing nothing but driving around, down Parkside, up Winthrop, down Hawthorne, up Fenimore, down Rutland, up Midwood, down Maple, up Lincoln, down Lefferts, up Sterling, round Ocean, Clarkson, New York, Empire...and as much Flatbush as possible.

Riding Shotgun With Partner
Six of us so far have signed up and got the hour long talking to that's required, that and the fingerprinting. (Convicted Felons Need Not Apply. A couple misdemeanors, hey, everyone makes mistakes). We are absolutely NOT doing any policing. The idea is for us to get to know the neighborhood better, its hangouts and hotspots, and to report anything we see. Most of it will probably be common knowledge to the precinct, but at least we'll be able to hold them accountable for taking notice. Plus, it never hurts to have another vehicle trolling the streets, letting folks know to keep it civil. (There are four basic sounds the cop cars can make, and they are a lot fun. It will take a lot of discipline on the Q's part not to push them. A lot.)

So, we need more recruits! I don't expect you'll do more than drive a three or four hour shift once a month of your choosing (like the Park Slope Food Coop!), or you could do more if you like, of course. Do it with a friend and make it a date! It is most definitely NOT a dangerous job, and you will have no weapon or really any authority to do anything but observe. Is it helpful? We think it will be when it's happening more regularly, and this way we can create a community of concerned neighborhood types who have a regular and meaningful dialogue and trust with the 71st.

So...send me an email if you're up for it and when I get six more, I'll schedule another orientation with Vinny Martinos.

Medgar Evers Quad Design - Third Time's a Charm?

from the Daily News

In an open letter to Tish James a few years back, the Q waded into controversial local politics for perhaps the first time, and certainly the first time since being given a seat on the Community Board, which I've recently learned can be snapped away on a whim - bye-bye our wonderful Transportation Committee chair, for instance, who was not re-appointed. Sigh. So what was the Q's beef to Tish?

Basically I was confused why she and other community leaders came out against the Quad project, and why they would consider parking and moderate traffic flow on Crown Street more important than creating an actual permanent campus for a college that has carved a niche providing higher education to Brooklyn's most needy, yet most motivated, young people. AND tons of adult learners. No brainer, right? More green, less exhaust on campus, more interaction between students and faculty, more community events. All there was to it was to close down one block of one lowly street. And the street as is (Crown, Bedford to Franklin) could currently be named after Bud Ugglie. It draws some morning communter traffic, but it's hardly a main artery for Central Brooklyn. So why all the vitriol coming from the community against such common sense public space?

My suspicions were confirmed as my understanding grew. Folks on Montgomery and Crown between Bedford and Rogers, gorgeous blocks for sure, have felt kicked around and disrespected by Medgar for years, ever since it took root in 1970. Longtime commercial buildings were razed to make way for the college. The college wasn't always friendly and accommodating to community needs, and communication was non-existent. The college even renamed a block after itself. Then, when an unpopular college president announced the $15 million project, tempers exploded. Twas gonna look like this:
And so, behind closed doors, a compromise was apparently reached. And while the street will apparently not be shut down entirely, I hardly see how the slight difference was worth all the fuss. Looking at the drawing as a layperson, I'd say that eventually the street WILL be closed to traffic. With all the planned pedestrian activity, it seems foolish to try to keep cars moving through the Quad.

You may wonder why the Q would concern himself with stuff happening north of Empire. As a bike rider and CB9 guy, I've come to very much view this area as part of my neighborhood. And if the redevelopment of Empire Blvd comes to fruition, and the re-purposing of the Bedford-Union Armory happens, and new bars and restaurants take root along Franklin, Bedford, Rogers and Nostrand below Eastern Parkway, I suspect the distinctions between Crown Heights South and Lefferts Gardens will be less severe. It's Empire Blvd's current junky vibe that cuts the two in half, and Eric Adams et al would love to see it turned into a tourist and shopping and residential high-rise zone. With hotels. More on that as the rezoning process continues...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Speaking of Pedestrian Safety...

If you haven't had a chance to add your voice to the cool map being offered up by "Vision Zero," you can zoom in on this app and add comments to each and every intersection in the neighborhood and add your own comments and pet peeves. Believe it or not, your input is actually actively being solicited. Please add as many comments as you can! We need all the help from DOT that we can get.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Pedestrian Death

It would appear from the Twitter that a pedestrian was struck and killed near the Flatbush Trees at Flatbush and Empire a couple hours ago. Any additional info anyone? I'm heading to bed, saddened by the news. A terrible intersection, and a terrible tragedy.

UPDATE: From CBS news, below. Seems that the accident took place farther north, along the long road from Empire to GAP.

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A woman was struck and killed by a vehicle Monday evening on the stretch of Flatbush Avenue that runs through Prospect Park in Brooklyn. The accident happened Monday night on Flatbush Avenue between Grand Army Plaza and Empire Boulevard, police told CBS 2. The 48-year-old woman was walking west across Flatbush Avenue when she was struck by a driver heading south on Flatbush Avenue, police said. The woman, identified as Sokhna Niang of Staten Island, was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. Police told CBS 2 the driver initially fled off, but later came back. Police identified the driver as a 37-year-old man. The investigation continued early Tuesday morning.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Beginning to Understand

The Q's been reading everything he can about the way high finance works when it comes to rapidly changing Brooklyn neighborhoods. Because for the life of me, I can't quite come to grips with the RATE of change. Not that neighborhoods don't change, and all over NYC we've witnessed the re-urbanization of the middle and upper classes for decades. A lot of us felt, many years ago, that the trajectory of prices in Lefferts would trend higher as folks decided it was a pleasant and less expensive alternative to others. (I'm primarily interested in rents in this post, though, because the value of townhouses seems the result of limited supply and pent up demand as much as regular ol' NYC price games. The tripling of prices in a decade is truly irrational without considering a psychological element, and massive propaganda. And clearly, a lot of people grew up on Sesame Street, and they want to live above Ernie and Bert. Probably a little more that, thank living under Spike Lee in Do the Right Thing.) Something is happening beneath our feet, not a conspiracy per se, but more a financial convergence, and it was killing me that I couldn't quite grasp it.

On a fact-finding mission, Thursday I met with Celia Weaver of the Urban Homesteading Assistance Bureau. UHAB may be a mouthful of a name, but a trusted resource since 1973 when it comes to keeping folks in their homes. They came of age in the era of "The Bronx is Burning," when thousands of City properties had been abandoned by landlords unable to unload them at any price. To stop the bleeding, an ingenious formula was devised to legally transfer buildings to the (often poor) tenants in the form of "limited equity coops." There are still lots of them around from those days, and proud homeowners they are, though some units have since transitioned into market rate buildings after certain terms were up and owners could reap the benefits of selling a home. The idea was an oldy but goody; give people a stake in their home and they'll do everything they can to improve the building, its block, its neighborhood. One could argue that it was the fearless generation that STAYED in NYC through its near-bankruptcy and subsequent drug wars that deserve the real kudos in the current renaissance, as many of the best blocks and buildings owe their allure to the conscientious prior gentry. Detroit is going through a similar defining moment right now - by investing in the various sorts of potential homeowners willing to give Detroit the old college try, the whole boat can gradually rise together. It happened here, it can happen there, though being a world capital of culture didn't hurt NYC. Oh, and Wall Street, though there was a time folks wondered whether Wall Street would just up and move to the 'burbs as well.

All well and good, I get it, you get it. But still, something more...

The idea that I learned and honed through my talk with Ms. Weaver is that the underlying speed with which things are moving is very much related to the rapid buying and selling of debt related to the big residential buildings all around us. Sure developers are building new stuff, like 626 Flatbush, and that garners a lot of the attention. But the biggest story here in Brooklyn, I would argue, is that Wall Street, and the biggest banks and real estate players, have made enormous bets on the upward trend. By doing so, they've warped the game considerably. I'll use one building, one realty holding company, and one set of personal stories to illustrate. However, in a spreadsheet sent to me by Celia, I was able to see dozens of big apartment buildings in southern Crown Heights and Lefferts Gardens that are going through the EXACT same scenario pretty much simultaneously. (I know some of you finance experts are saying "duh," but trust me when I say the vast majority of folks have no idea how any of this works. I'm writing to them, and you can feel free to gently correct me on the details.)

85 Clarkson Avenue is in many ways a run of the mill gorgeous multi-family, pre-war apartment building. It was purchased about a decade ago by Pinnacle Realty. Forget, just for the moment, that Pinnacle has a horrible reputation in this town for putting out longtime tenants by using unethical practices.  Pinnacle made a bet on this neighborhood about then, sensing that the neighborhood had a big upside to ride. They bought the building at roughly what it was worth, a calculation based on current rent rolls and projected maintenance costs and typical rent increases. During the frenzy that came before the great crash of 2007-8, they were slowly but surely easing out old-timers at 85 and renting to fresh faces. Some claim they were specifically renting to young whites, though no one managed to prove it in court. In fact, just after they bought the building they fired the longtime super, Jose Diaz, a typical practice for Pinnacle. They wanted new blood and a new attitude. The super and the tenants were shocked. But frankly, 85 didn't really "take off" as they'd hoped, and they found themselves in a bit of a holding pattern. Had that mid-00s boom not burst, I suspect Pinnacle would have been where it is now in, oh, 2010. But it took a little while for them to sense that the time was right for the big transition. They got the greenlight a year or two ago, from the industry itself essentially, to go for it. Crown Heights North was cooking with gas, and CHS and PLG were on deck. And guess what they did, according to a friend that lives there? They fired the longtime super, again someone who was popular with tenants.

And this is where I would like to make a particularly devastating revelation very, very clear. I'm even putting it in bold, and I wish I had it on tape. Just before this most recent super was fired, he told my friend that the landlord has had enough, and that they were going to "stop renting to black people." Or perhaps more accurately, one would presume, certain KINDS of black people, when such a distinction can be made. One might imagine that Pinnacle would make exceptions for the right sorts of credit histories, demeanor or resume. Why not throw the book at them, you may ask? Well, if you don't do the undercover work, you're not going to be able to prove anything. Here's an example of building in the neighborhood where the AG DID an investigation, and they nailed landlord Yeshaya Wasserman for the crap I just described.

Then, a few days later, a good friend and block association colleague, and longtime resident of the block, told me that HER landlord was gonna stop renting to black people, and that in fact he'd been trying to do that for some time and found it hard to keep them for longer than a few months. Which, as I've come to learn, is not such a bad deal for a landlord looking towards a day when his building stops being regulated.

Then there are the numbers. What's amazing to note from the data I received was the remarkable amount of new debt that Pinnacle has taken on this year alone, throughout their portfolio of buildings. In many cases, they've added 25% or more to their mortgages. Why would a landlord do that? Well, for one, (like the joke about why a dog licks his balls) because he can. Plus, having more money to play with means you can go out and scrounge for more properties to buy and deals to make. An analogy might be the way a single family homeowner can go refinance and take out some cash and go to Vegas with a sure-fire plan to beat the house. On the upside, some of it is probably going to renovating apartments as they became vacant to attract a new clientele. Maybe a new roof, or a lobby paint job. Some of it can be used to "buy out" current tenants to make way for the more affluent ones behind them. In a nutshell, though, they're banking on a swift upward trend in rents, and they'll need to be aggressive to make that happen. A sharp downturn in the market and they could find themselves drenched in red ink, having to unload their properties quickly, to yet another investor interested in "distressed" properties, which is how many of these current big landlords described the properties when they bought them.

The other wild thing to note is that it's not just banks that are lending and buying and moving cash around. Big hedge fund types like Blackstone and Colony are gobbling up properties too, sometimes even single family homes that they can rent while they accrue value. All these lenders are also involved in...and here's the head-scratcher...the exact same forms of mortgage-backed securities that got us in the last mess a mere six years ago. Bundling. Tranches. The whole nine. With commercial buildings it's a little different than single family homes, but not much. Leverage. Making fast bucks and passing off questionable loans into packages to be sold to investors. (We can only hope Uncle Sam has learned a lesson and won't buy up a lot of these questionable loans and leave you and me on the hook.) Depending on your perspective it's "adding liquidity to the market" or "Ponzi with an MBA."

Stepping back from the mumbo jumbo for a minute, what I'm really saying is that when Big Money discovers you, the jig is up, or perhaps more accurately the jig is rigged. The sad part is that this is what Rent Stabilization was meant to protect tenants from - the vagaries and the greed inherent in the markets. Were we talking about other goods or services, maybe a case could be made that such profit motives worked to everyone's advantage - say, the tech industry. But we're talking about people's homes here. Remember the three basics? Food, clothing, shelter. I'd add clean water and health care to the list. And maybe coffee. But honestly, have we really sunk so low that Commercial Mortgage Backed Securities (CMBS) are more important than a family's two bedroom home sweet home? We're not talking about gilded mansions here, or "summer" homes. The vast majority of residents are either seniors, children or working people, not spongers, as those on the right might want you to believe. (We know better; we live here. Real people are all around us, not caricatures.) The irony of course is that so many of the working people living in these rent stabilized apartments are in the business of servicing wealthier people's "needs" for upscale food, clothing, shelter and, particularly around here, health care. And some are in the business of servicing the whole city's needs for sanitation and teaching and nannying and plumbing and housecleaning and yes, of course, everything else under the sun. But my main point is that what we're really talking about here is honest, decent folk. You could stereotype a building's people by the nastiest of its tenants, but that would buy into a narrative that simply isn't true. Suggesting that wholesale change in a building is GOOD for the neighborhood is like throwing out the babies with the bathwater, and I don't know about you but I LIKE babies.

Organizations like Flatbush Tenants Coalition and the recently mobilized Crown Heights Tenants Union, with assistance from UHAB and PACC (Pratt Area Community Council) and others, are becoming much more assertive in arguing for a more just and humane response to Brooklyn's surge in popularity among affluent renters. In the case of the CH Tenants Union, you're seeing a crucial alliance developing between longtime residents and younger newer tenants fighting to keep their apartments during management companies' efforts to bring rents up to support underlying debt. For many landlords, the young middle class renter who can afford a $1500 or $2000 apartment, often as a share, can help accelerate the desirability of the neighborhood. Better yet, many of these renters don't stay long, giving landlords another opportunity to legally add significant dollars to the baseline rent stabilized rate. Remember, once the apartment is out of stabilization it's out for good. So the race is on...get out of RS before Albany acts to up the $2,500 limit or de Blasio gets creative preserving affordable housing through...oh I don't know, I'm not the housing expert. Something creative.

So how does the Crown Heights Tenants Union go about creating these alliances? The old fashioned way...going out to the buildings that are identified as over-leveraged and putting up flyers and meeting in lobbies and educating tenants of their rights and the need for solidarity. Come join them on the 17th for their next meeting. Each building must create a solid tenants association to work with the landlord. The Tenants Union is getting tons of press, and its numbers are growing daily. Housing advocates are watching closely to see if this new alliance has legs. If you're interested in helping see that your building owner plays by the rules, and you're interested in being part of a movement for housing justice, by all means contact the Union or the Coalition via their websites. Or contact the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association, which is becoming more active on the issue. Or me, and I'll rout you to the best contact at any or all of the above.

Lastly, you may be wondering which buildings Pinnacle now controls. List below. But remember, it's just one of a few powerful companies that owns a big portfolio around here. Most of these are located within spitting distance of Lefferts, but a few are right here and with all this new money flowing in, I suspect we'll see more purchases in the next year or two. I'll be seeking out more lists like this to see what buildings are ready to pop.



1171 President Street3991
382 Eastern Parkway 46 88 $1,004,916
225 Parkside Avenue 126 64 $4,568,762
991 Carroll Street 69 54 $2,001,751
681 Ocean Avenue 60 37 1,897,549
1554 Ocean Avenue 71 35 $2,059,413
459 Schenectad 90 31 $3,218,176
176 Clarkson Avenue 91 31 $2,462,088
3301 Farragut Road 42 30
489 Eastern Parkway 16 27 $1,689,595
481 Eastern Parkway 17 17 *
497 Eastern Parkway 16 9 *
40 Argyle Road 49 22 $2,392,567
28 Argyle Road 31 0 *
307 12th Street 25 22
1535 Ocean Avenue 45 20
1362 Ocean Avenue 48 20 $1,257,626
619 Rugby Road 16 19 $1,108,140
615 Rugby Road 16 12 *
607 Rugby Road 16 17 *
292 St Johns Place 16 16 $417,896
926 Carroll Street 58 16 $1,639,744
916 Carroll Street 58 15 $2,138,344
85 Clarkson Avenue 71 10 $2,047,472
529 East 22nd Street 48 8 $1,744,916
601 Crown Street 27 3 $552,047
426 East 22nd Street 64 67 $1,866,203
222 Lenox Road 158 44 $3,535,660
176 Clarkson Ave 91 4 $2,462,088

Friday, July 11, 2014

Come and Get It!

Modest, yes. But delicious.

A Little Bit About A Lot Of Things

Today's Farm Market in front of the Q station at Parkside starts at 11am!

You know you're a hyper local blog when signs like this generate interest:

The remarkably awesome location of this shop, just next to Bicycle Life on Lincoln Road's southside, is going to be a real estate office called Renters Dream. I suppose they took the advice of The Gods of Real Estate of "location, location, location." Take a peek at some of their listings here. They clearly plan to be a player in our neck of the borough. It's not even worth commenting on the prices of places on Westbury or Woodruff. If you're looking for a place, these may well be "steals" for all I know. Mine is not to question why...(actually, it is).

And the new sign at the Halal Felafel (falafel? feelawful?) place on Parkside is quite festive:

I guess it's now Gyro Cafe. I've always enjoyed my nibbles from there, though I wouldn't expect a life-changing felafel. Though I didn't feel-awful after eating it, nor did the price feel gougey.

Greg Haas from DOT informs the Q that they recognize that the traffic patterns on Flatbush have completely reverted to their formal insane and chaotic selves, since the harsh winter freezes and saltings rubbed the new lanes plumb off. That's the problem with traffic being directed by lane markings alone. Personally I'd rather see some of those floppy candlesticks out there, the kind they use in tunnels. Because quite frankly, you shouldn't be changing lanes all the time, and that's what the Dollar Vans do that's so damn dangerous. Anyone who's driven our stretch of Flatbush knows it's crazy out there. And pedestrians? Keep your wits about you. It's a bad place to get mad deep into your ear buds. The Dubstep in particular is hazardous to your street smarts.

If in fact you're too old skool to know from the dubstep, here's a great primer. I urge you to listen through to 1 minute and ten seconds when the true defining moment of dubstep takes place...the "drop."

Music snobs, quit yer snickerin' and go back to your Pitchfork reviews. The rest of you, consider yourself l'arned. It's really trippy stuff, and I'm sure if I were 16 when I heard this stuff I'd be a big, big fan.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Free Gastropublicity From the Q

Gastroenterologists in particular will refluxively salivate when they catch wind of the sleek facade coming to 596 Flatbush at Midwood. Kalkin Narvilas, who owns Italian eatery Cent'Anni in Crown Heights, has teamed with Chad from Tugboat, to create what the Q is 103% sure will be very good news to lovers of lobster rolls and Bohemian Pilsners. By virtue of being the first (and certainly not the last) entry in the Lefferts Gardens Nouveau Brooklyn Gastropub sweepstakes, I give the place 1-to-15 odds of being a runaway smash hit.

pic by Stephen Brown
Only two questions it couth to order a double of single malt? and will they accept bitcoin?

Awaiting comment on its opening date. Anyone like to venture a guess as to the name?

Good luck boys!

Lefferts Rents Rising Faster Than Billyburg

Gotta say that Rachel Holiday Smith at DNA Info is doing a bang-up job covering our neighborhood. Her latest scoop pulls out the data from an MNS Real Estate Report that cites the Lefferts neighborhood's 6 1/2 percent jump in ONE MONTH this year. Holy Mother of God; that's cray cray, y'all, and as the Q likes to say, it's simply not sustainable, and certainly NOT regular ol' market movement. More on that in a post I'll write later tonight, as my eyes have been opened to how some of the big money players effectively manipulate the cost of buildings, thereby manipulating the incentive to push rents higher and higher, and poor folks out. It's an ugly business, and as usual, the buck stops at Wall Street. With help from Wall Street's back door man, Uncle Sam.

From Smith's piece:

Combining studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms, average rents in Prospect-Lefferts increased from $1,751 to $1,864 per month between May and June of this year, a 6.43 percent increase according to a report by MNS Real Estate. That beat out other hot neighborhoods like Bushwick, Crown Heights and Williamsburg that MNS analyzed. The report did not include all of Brooklyn, instead focusing on the northern neighborhoods from Park Slope to Greenpoint.

Parkside Farm Market - Tomorrow Afternoon!

Update: The market should start at 11am today, Friday, July 11!!

Many of you signed a petition during a freezing December to bring a Farm Market (I'm bypassing the whole issue of whether to use a possessive "s") to the Plaza in front of the Q at Parkside. With very little outside financial support, local do-gooder Seeds in the Middle has worked with us to open a market on Friday afternoons (1-6pm) and at the plaza at Empire/Flatbush/Ocean on Saturdays.

Tomorrow is the first day of the market, and the Q highly encourages you to come out and check out the goods from RH Farms. We need these first few Fridays to be a BIG success so that we can build on this modest beginning, and show SitM that we can support a fresh greenmarket.

See you tomorrow at the Farm(no s) Market at The Q at Parkside! Sneak peeks below...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

PLGourmand on ToTT

Enthusiastic contributor Debra K, a/k/a the PLGourmand, turns her tastebuds towards ToTT. (She told me she'll focus on places she actually likes, for now anyway.) ToTT is the name the Q started calling Tip of the Tongue even before it opened. Something about that name didn't sit right, but I LOVE the name ToTT. Three t's, little o. True, I could have made the second T small rather than capital, but it just doesn't look right. The kids call it ToTT too, and the become visibly excited when we say we're stopping in for a treat. And now I see that Debra is also using the name. Scott and Eric: just sayin'! (I guess both the words "tip" and "tongue" get used in other contexts, and images of a tongue on a tip, or even the ACTUAL tip of a tongue, say dangling from the lips...enough said. If ToTT hadn't stuck I'm sure we'd be saying BnB for Baked and Brewed. Maybe some of you already are?)

Spotlight on Tip of the Tongue: Baked and Brewed
43 Lincoln Road btw Ocean and Flatbush

I remember my first visit to Tip of the Tongue. I was having a terrible day in late November so I decided to take a walk in the park even though it was way too cold. I did not live in PLG yet – but was set to move to the area in December – so on a whim I exited the park at Lincoln Road, shivering and maybe crying a little. I found Tip of the Tongue and asked the Barista (pathetically) if he had any hot chocolate. He said with a smile, “Yes we do. And it’s amazing. It’s French!” And something about that optimistic response made me smile back and say “Magnifique!” and then when I tried it, I immediately thought, “Oh my God. It’s all gonna be okay!”

Some of that might be a reflection of my semi-dysfunctional relationship with chocolate – but really it’s mostly because the drink was so uniquely delicious; warm and rich – somewhere between milk and dark chocolate and instantly comforting. (Though certainly NOT instant!!)

I have since become a regular at Tip of the Tongue and I still get that same comforting fix every time I go. Whether I’m exhausted on the day of an important meeting and order one of their many incredibly delicious and powerful espresso drinks to perk up, or there is loud work being done on my building and I spend the day at TOTT working on my laptop, sipping coffee/eating lunch/grabbing a snack/sipping more coffee – I have been known to flee to TOTT with almost as much desperation as the first time; and ALWAYS get that same “It’s all gonna be okay” feeling.

The owners, Eric and Scott, live right in the neighborhood. They are caterers and they know top quality food. Their specialty in this local shop is the bakery and you cannot go wrong with any of the cookies, cakes, scones, brownies, muffins, rolls or croissants – they’re all magnifique! And tasty breakfast and lunch dishes are usually perfectly paired with baked treats, like Chick Pea and Spinach Salad with Focaccia; Veggie Chili with Pretzel Roll (my favorite!); Scrambled Eggs with Crossant; Pear, Cranberry and Walnut Baked French Toast and more. They also offer Cheeses, Yogurt Parfaits, Irish Oatmeal, and all sorts of Coffee and Tea drinks, from standard to Cold Brews to Chai Lattes and Macchiatos. You can order extra shots of espresso when you’re in need of a boost.

Or – if you’re in need of a cocktail - TOTT serves supper yummy coffee and tea inspired drinks like Iced Rum Spiced Chai and Iced Baileys Cappuccino in the summer and hot spiked coffee, tea and hot chocolate in the winter. And in the spirit of it all being okay, they refer to their Happy Hour as “Happier Hour.” All the hours are happy there!

Tip of the Tongue is open Monday-Friday, 7am-7pm, Saturday and Sunday 8am-7pm, at 43 Lincoln Road between Flatbush and Ocean. Their kitchen closes at 4pm for meals but treats and drinks are always available. You can order whole cakes if you place your order 48 hours in advance. The menu is seasonal. Get your comforting delicious fix on your way to the park or subway – or hang out with your laptop soaking in the friendly vibe. It really will all be okay. - Debra K, The PLGourmand.