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, September 4, 2014

Are We Being Sold A Bill of Goods? Or Not?

Crazy. I didn't even know this tape existed, and it took being called out by Alicia and MTOPP to finally hear it. If I were a real journalist I would've of course. But I'm not. There, I said it. Again.

The folks behind MTOPP have been telling us that Eric Adams has already decided that Empire Blvd will be "upzoned" for tall buildings. BP Adams is ADAMant that is not the case. I'd like to take a look at that dispute a little more closely. Here's the Q's layman Q-nalysis.

Leaving be the fact that "upzoned" is not fully accurate for going from commercial to residential (mixed use is the politically correct term, apparently, though the money's in the housing), it would appear that in order to build "affordable," you must go high (look at 626 and scores of other buildings throughout the City). If low is what you want, you'd have to go market, with a FAR less than 3.0 (roughly 70 feet for most bigger lots, so I hear). But we all know where the City stands on that issue. They get none of their 200,000 units of affordable by building market rate. Yesterday we read that the Mayor is going to make it MANDATORY that you include affordable units for anything requiring zoning changes. It is not unlikely, therefore, that such a mandate would include Empire, should we rezone.

So MTOPP has a good point,, albeit stated, um, abruptly. If you don't want tall buildings along Empire, you might consider the zoning process a suggestion of same, because (as Jesse Hamilton says in the below recorded conversation with MTOPP - his name is spelled Jesse by the way) it becomes a bait and switch the moment you get down to the Mayor and Council. Even if you decide to build six stories max, there are plenty of points along the process where one can use one's political clout to say "but what about the poor?" and get one's way. As it turns out, "helping the working poor" (always got to include the word "working!") has become somewhat synonymous with the City's, and Eric's mantra of "build baby build." None of this is a surprise to me, and may not be to you. But let's get that all front and center. Where you stand on this issue should be informed, and Jesse and Alicia lay out pretty well in the tape, in their back and forth. Just press play.

A lot of the other statements on MTOPP's website are questionable in their analysis; I don't think that the zoning alone, or the density, is the real issue when it comes to affordability or housing prices. It's not likely that resisting zoning will lead to a more affordable neighborhood - there are many factors at play, including creating new housing with a preference for CB9 residents. It's not like halting building on Empire is going to stop price rises. And I think that calling Eric Adams, and the Community Board, and City Planning et al liars (and me a racist) are sure-fire ways to lose influence in the whole process. But that's not MTOPP's point, and if you haven't been around for a good ol' protest movement, strap in because it appears they're going for the gusto.

BUT, the fact is the fact, and Jesse, longtime confidant to Eric, states it  plainly - if the City wants what the City wants the City usually gets. Let me say that this is not, as MTOPP claims, a smoking gun or "con." Jesse is not heard saying that Eric already has plans to build high. He takes pains to say he is not speaking for him. However, what he is explaining, and he would know, is how the process works, and why we should be cynical.

One last point. Jesse makes the case that what's happening here is analagous to what happened in Park Slope vis a vis 4th Avenue. He's selling a popular story, in my view, and I've echoed it publicly many times. He says, and obviously it's what this crowd wanted to hear, that the rich upper Slope sold the lower Slope down the river by asking for downzoning, or rather more historic district protections, and let 4th Ave go higher. I would like to see more proof, rather than be another rumor monger, but it's quite likely true, if not in the Slope, then elsewhere in town. People felt about 4th Avenue the way a lot of us feel about Empire - a waste of good land in a housing-starved city. I used to live off 4th Avenue, and people DID live and work there. Owners on the hill essentially got what they want, and renters down in the valley got the boot, if not by the City, by their landlords. But, like Atlantic Yards before it, there was a "greater good" to consider. Did we get a greater good on 4th Avenue? I suspect that's open to debate, though in terms of economic activity (or, total dollars, jobs etc) it was a net gain. I personally don't care for the business-less high-rises. It makes the place feel very unfriendly.

What I find troubling, and maybe some of you would find offensive, is the idea, expressed by Hamilton, that Lefferts Manor (a/k/a the Mansions as kids from other areas call it who go trick-or-treating there) would do what Park Slope did to 4th Ave - sell it down the river, okay, essentially offer a trade-off, because Empire is "primarily people of color." That's a big assumption about the Manor, and it hasn't been tested. Plus, there's lots of people of color in the Manor already. I would be more careful in the future not to label it "us against them." Me, down on lowly Clarkson, I've grown quite accustomed to density and I don't fear it. Perhaps were the LMA to weigh in, we'd hear a specific viewpoint. I hope they do cast their ballot in the very near future, and that Ben and reps show up at all relevant meetings.

I stand with Eric Adams because I think his heart's in the right place, and I think he's someone you can work with. If he's been talking out of both sides of his mouth, and it can be proven, I will be very bummed. But I don't see that here. Someone else want to shoot some gunsmoke and catch some real meat? Hey, the truth is the truth. I've been told that Eric met with David Kramer of Hudson, and that that is somehow a betrayal. Hardly! I would HOPE he'd meet with him privately, to discuss options, to figure out how to work together. That's how you get things done, and how you communicate. What, Eric should ignore his phone calls?

If you're white, and all this talk of race and class makes you uneasy, please stick with us. Maybe you grew up in an almost all-white place like I did in Ames, IA, and you feel like this is someone else's battle. I urge you not to take the fierce rhetoric to heart. In the end, it's up to us to decide what we want from our elected officials, and what we're willing to stand up for. And if you disagree with my analysis, and your name isn't NoSlappz or ParksideGuy, then I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Anonymous said...

re: "Jesse is not heard saying that Eric already has plans to build high. "

Q, Eric Adams came to my tenants meeting last night. He basically refuted what MTOPP has been claiming. He wasn't advocating for towers; he claimed he was for responsible zoning. He also claimed that when he was still serving up in Albany, he was part of a coalition that stopped a movement to dismantle legislation for rent regulation.

I haven't done to research to see whether his record back up these assertions; I'm just putting it out there.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with that take on the 4th avenue rezoning.. I think everybody wanted residential and density was not the prevailing issue like it is in PLG. The more bigger issue I think was how much would be zoned for inclusionary housing. And I think most people look at the result of that rezoning as a positive one. (Though I acknowledge there are those that think anything over 6 stories is a blight and can't see past that.)

Anonymous said...

Also.. With respect to Empire, remember the power in rezoning is with the council and the mayors office, not the BP. The centerpiece of the Mayors affordable housing program is inclusionary housing and Empire is a great opportunity for that. I think that is a good thing.

Parkside_Guy said...

Millionaire shrinks really get inside your head.

Christopher1974 said...

So much of this debate is so frustrating and I blame the process. There is so much misunderstanding of the dynamics of landuse and planning and no one yet has come to the table and offered a real workshop in visualizing the street and what the playoffs are for doing in certain ways. Right now Empire at the park end is absolutely depressing. Cutting two neighborhoods apart for a strip of fast food restaurants. Within blocks of a major subway stop. There's enough blame to go around here but the process of working with the community and helping the community visualize is so poorly done. It's partly that NYC doesn't really do planning, it does zoning. Someone like MAS needs to get in here and help facilitate a proper workshop. Not a game of political football.

bored at work said...

@ektorp Thanks for the cogent analysis and presentation of some facts.

The misinformation, conjecture and bs on this blog is astonishing. Go take a look at the Park Slope rezoning process and the outcome. Where else in the Park Slope area could you change the zoning to create more housing? You could have upzoned anything outside the historic district but wouldnt have gotten much of anything as there are essentially no development sites. So 4th Avenue was really the only option. We "lost" auto repair shops, tenements, etc. and have gained hundreds of new residential units on a transit-rich corridor.

While I am not an expert on the geography of this neighborhood, I think you have a similar situation. With the exception of Empire Blvd there are no locations to get the kind of density you need to build housing and affordable units. So Empire it is.

It is impossible to understand what MTOPP is advocating as they are so incoherent. But it seems they prefer the status quo on Empire, which I would hope most would agree is a blight.

We can actually learn some lessons from 4th Avenue, by encouraging ground floor retail, reducing the parking requirements, etc. so as to create a more vibrant streetscape. And get hundreds of units of housing in the process, too.

Or we can leave it as is with Western Beef, McDs, Wendy's, Checkers and huge blank facades as the most prominent structures.

diak said...

I have to disagree with the characterization of what happened in Park Slope's zoning revision. In broad outlines, what happened there was expansion of the areas of historical preservation (at the top of the hill) in return for opening up a ridiculously underused thoroughfare to more (and bigger) housing. You can argue about what was (and is still being) built there but I don't see how anyone got "sold down the river." If anything, owners at the bottom of the hill were handed an enormous windfall. (I know, renters, as usual, didn't get a piece...)

And how can an analogy be drawn to PLG because Empire is "primarily people of color"? I thought the whole point of all this is that Empire isn't "people" at all—it's storage closets, funeral parlors, and fast food. The hope is to put people (of all colors) there in homes they can afford.

Lastly, while I admit I don't have census numbers, in terms of racial integration, I'd put the Manor up against any neighborhood in the entire city. It might not be the most economically diverse, but racially, damn, its the Klan's worst nightmare.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Diak and Bored: Your characterization is actually exactly what MTOPP is saying both characterized 4th Ave, and I assume the low-rise commercial off it, as a junk heap, despite the fact that lots and lots of real people lived and worked there. You really are coming across like a couple privileged whiners. I used to use a lot of those businesses, INCLUDING the tire repair places. There were WAY more people living there than on Empire, and they are ALL gone. I used to live off 4th Avenue and I must say your dismissal really does reek like the sort of privileged chauvinism that is accused by MTOPP. Just be aware that you may have no idea how you sound here.

And I also don't think you know as much about that process, or lack of it, as you maintain. The developers had plenty to say, in private, to decision-makers, and I doubt very much that you're privy to that dialogue.

I ask you to identify specifically any misinformation in my post. If there is, I'll look at it, and if I'm wrong, I will take it down and apologize. I'm a big fan of acknowledging shortcomings. I was wrong the other day when I said there was no mention of Empire Blvd in CB9's rezoning request, and I posted the actual letter to MTOPP's facebook page with an apology, because lo and behold there it was. I'm trying to get to the bottom of why it was there at all, since we didn't discuss it at the CB meeting.

I'm not jumping to conclusions, but it's very curious if you ask me.

As to conjecture, that's the whole effing point of a blog. If you don't like it, you don't like my opinion, that's all.

diak said...

Mr. CF — OK, maybe one of my readings of the past coincides with one of MTOPP's (if you say so; I find MTOPP largely incoherent, not to mention rude). But isn't it far more important that we completely disagree on what path to pursue in the future?
I said that 4th Avenue was "ridiculously underused" not a "junk heap." As a former resident, do you disagree with that? If you seriously prefer tire repair shops to housing than prehaps you too have no idea how you sound here.
If being in favor of increased housing — market-rate AND affordable AND low-income —on Empire even at the expense of fewer Big Macs and storage rooms and megalaundromats makes me a "privileged whiner" I can certainly live with that. Happily, in fact.
And as to your damning accusation that I wasn't privy to back-room developer deal-making, guilty as charged, I guess. That means I can't offer an opinion? As you say, isn't that the effin' point of a blog.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

I've made it very plain that my preference is for residential on Empire. I've been saying it for years.

I was merely pointing out what you "sound" like. I have no idea what went on with Developers either, but I'm sure it's way more than we know or ever will know.

"Privileged Whiners" is a pretty apt phrase, because like I said, it may sound like we're saying something logical and coherent, but not everyone hears it that way. It's very easy to say that you know what's best for the City when it conforms to your worldview. These giant luxury buildings scare the hell out of a lot of people, and I think it's important we all recognize that and why.

And I fully EXPECT you to keep expressing yourself. But yours was not an argument against the MTOPP position. You were practically making their case by expressing the phrase "underutilized." Ektorp said 4th Ave was positive, Bored said losing tire shops and tenements was a good thing for 4th Ave. Fine. It was the combination of those statements that made me wince.

But that 4th Ave experience, and that of Downtown Brooklyn, is very much on people's minds at this point. In "My Brooklyn" you see gentrifiers complaining about the ugly and useless Fulton Mall. Which could hardly be less true to tens of thousands of people who loved it and the feeling they got when they were hanging out or shopping there.

When people have a hard time understanding what others are riled up about, I think it's instructive to wonder whether our view is perhaps cloudy. And that goes for both sides.

diak said...

So MTOPP also believes Empire is "underutilized"? And what is their proposed remedy for the situation? More storage space?

As for our differences, I think the problem here might be how we're defining "residential." When you say "...these giant luxury buildings scare the hell out of a lot of people" is the implication that giant luxury buildings are what I'm advocating? Because it isn't. I think bored at work hit on the head when he said we should look at 4th Avenue as an example of what NOT to do. I'd support lower-profile, wider footprints, sidewalk retail, and most importantly, mixed income levels.
(And before you jump on me for changing tunes from my neutrality re 626 Flatbush, I'll say I think there is a HUGE difference between one luxury park-view building on a relatively small site and block after block after block of behemoths like you see 4th Avenue.)

And while I know you think the whole world is going to hell, I'm often on the blocks between 4th and 3rd Avenues and between 3rd and 2nd, and you know what? There's still quite a few auto body shops, and warehouses, and recycling dropoff places, and taxi depots, and furniture workshops and I bet still a couple of tire shops. And a couple of good barbecue places too. And the Bell House. (And, oy, Whole Foods but that's another story...) You should go visit your old neighborhood. Smell the motor oil. Maybe you'll feel better...

Anonymous said...

Ektorp - you sound like a good soldier for the Mayor and his housing plan, if not an advocate for the interests of PLG residents. We of course, will live with years of the noise, dust and traffic obstruction that come with extensive residential construction, and the cost of thousands of new residents competing for parking, joining the lines at banks and post offices, and overwhelming our already overcrowded mass transit system. Not to mention the loss of privacy, light, and quiet if the new buildings happen to be in your backyard, regardless of whether you are now a tenant or a homeowner.

But its not even true that zoning for "inclusionary housing" is the centerpiece of the Mayor's affordable housing plan. The biggest component of his plan is PRESERVATION of existing affordable housing, NOT new construction. Yes, that's right, the majority of the affordable housing units envisioned will come from keeping rent stabilized and Mitchell Lama units affordable. And in PLG,where 75% of our housing stock is affordable rent stabilized apartments, our overriding goal should be preservation of those affordable apartments, not the construction of thousands of new units of market rate housing plus a few hundred affordable units, which is what would result from inclusionary residential zoning on Empire Boulevard.

"Inclusionary residential zoning" on Empire is a perfect opportunity for property owners on Empire and developers to make a lot of money, not an opportunity to prevent displacement of our residents.

Anonymous said...

re: While I am not an expert on the geography of this neighborhood, I think you have a similar situation. With the exception of Empire Blvd there are no locations to get the kind of density you need to build housing and affordable units. So Empire it is. "
Look at Franklin Avenue between Sullivan Place and Crown Street. The Sea Crest site has been sold and I've heard the old spice factory also was sold recently.

Anonymous said...

re: And how can an analogy be drawn to PLG because Empire is "primarily people of color"? I thought the whole point of all this is that Empire isn't "people" at all—it's storage closets, funeral parlors, and fast food. The hope is to put people (of all colors) there in homes they can afford.

There are some people on Empire. There are apartment buildings directly adjacent to Western Beef on Empire Boulevard? 110 Empire Boulevard.

Now there is also a day center for the elderly on Empire between Bedford and Rogers-a home away from home of sorts during the day.

diak said...

disco princess,
Thank you. In making my point I overlooked those residents. In my opinion, buildings of the size and scope of 110 Empire are just what would be best for that area (but I admit I have no idea whatsoever about the conditions or rents in that building). Any reimagining of Empire should keep that building and its residents in place (fingers crossed).
And regarding the adult daycare facility... I'd be hard pressed to come up with a better kind of ground-floor tenant for a 5 or 6 story apartment house.

Susan Hemley said...

110 and 104 by the way are basically the same building and used to be primarily people of color but the demographics of the building are changing. This is neither here nor there to me just following some of the lines of thought here. As a resident on Empire I really, really hope that residential and storefront development starts soon, especially in the ugly vacancies across from Western Beef. Perhaps some competition for Western Beef. Heard talk of a Walgreens there, that would be fantastic, some competition for that shoddy Rite Aid. More people equals more services which Empire lacks badly. Bring it on.

Anonymous said...

Susan Hemley, I want to see that Walgreens come as well, but I haven't see any activity on that site. So, I dunno whether that will ever to come to be.

re: More people equals more services which Empire lacks badly.

Why should it take moving more people onto Empire to bring more services? There are plenty of residents living in the immediate vicinity. For example, Ebbets Field Apartments is a large apartment complex situated one block from Empire Boulevard.

FWIW, no permanent resident has taken over the space formerly occupied by RS Strauss since the company declared bankruptcy in 2012. There are vacant commercial spaces, but I'm not sure whether there is a real demand for stuff other than the dreaded storage places or fast food places (except for most of 7-Eleven's immediate neighbors).

Unknown said...

I pretty much abhor NYC zoning. All of the residential zoning categories require that you lurch toward making the city more like Detroit with insane parking minimums and 'open space' requirements (with exceptions for LIC and Manhattan, but not for us). Except for a few contextual categories like R6A, R6B, R7A, and R7B there are no actual limits on height and the set back requirements in all the residential zoning categories encourage towers surrounded by surface lot parking, i.e. the opposite of what you want in a city.

The current zoning categories were developed when New York City wanted to turn itself into Detroit as quickly as possible and at any cost. Over the last 60+ years we've adapted the system with overlays, contextual zoning (the A & B modifiers), and by creating special exceptions from the nuttiest requirements in Manhattan. But really we should throw the whole thing out and develop a city plan and zoning appropriate to our actual goals which today is not to follow Detroit's self-annihilation plan to the T.

Most of our neighborhood was built before the current zoning regime and is out of compliance with it. And this is part of why our neighborhood is so livable.

All that said. I'd much prefer a R7B with a C1-5 overlay over the current C8 zoning. R7B would introduce a height limit, where today we have none and R7B with a commercial overlay requires that the ground floor be a commercial space, but not the rabbit slaughter, shooting galleries and strip clubs desired by the current zoning. The apartments created would not be ones I could live in. I make too much for affordable housing and too little to pay market rent in a new building. But it would mean fewer of my current friends and neighbors would be priced out and I would welcome the new neighbors as well.

Everyone knows our neighborhood is gentrifying now. When I tell people where I live these days, half the time they know Lefferts. Five years ago no one did. But it has actually been gentrifying for years now, and one way you can tell is by looking at how the population has dropped from 64k to 57k between 2000 and 2010 (in 11225). In this time the number of housing units was essentially constant. Better off people moved in and lived fewer to each unit. I've already lost some of my favorite neighbors to points south. Building more residential housing will allow me to keep more of them.

Note: I am not a zoning expert. R7B with C1-5 sounds good to me after reading a bit and talking to my wife (who is an expert), but I reserve the right to change my opinion once I understand this a bit better.

Alex said...

MTOPP is entirely incoherent and it's a shame that they won't enter into a productive dialogue. I can barely follow what they've written on their page because the logic is so shoddy. The recording is Jesse Hamilton speculating about what might happen and it reveals little to nothing about Eric Adams' true intentions. The idea that property values will fall due to new buildings is false - forget Park Slope and Windsor Terrace for a minute and look at Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, etc. Plenty of new buildings rose in the last 10 years and home prices are astronomical. I think that when drawing comparisons with other neighborhoods it's an error to be so focused on prospect park (unless you're talking about actual impact on the park).

Clarkson FlatBed said...

I spoke with City Planning for an hour yesterday. I think it's time that someone other than Alicia lead on this issue. We need a plan, an informed plan, that balances needs. Just like every other mature neighborhood in NYC. And we don't need a bunch of bashing and name-calling and race-baiting. Like I say, we're the grown-ups now. We should start acting like it. This is important stuff; to be hijacked by loudmouth nonsense is a disgrace and a waste of time to the professionals who are actually trying to HELP us develop a vision for our neighborhood.

diak said...

Can you share with us the content of your conversation with Planning?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

short answer: yes. too much to relate right now, but basically they're pretty unhappy with the way they, and their process, have been portrayed by a certain eccentric attention-seeker. And they have plenty of evidence to offer that no one has been "sold down the river" in any of these community led rezonings. Remember, we asked for one. And for eff's sake we deserve one, one that takes into account smart planning objectives for a safer, more vibrant, and yes, affordable neighborhood. Doing nothing, in their and my opinion, is a huge disservice to the neighborhood. I got in some barbs, but it's important to remember that the people doing this are also residents - members of the community if you will - and also have every interest in seeing that this is done right?

Is there a hidden agenda? Probably not. As much as some would like to suggest it, Empire Blvd is not the only thing on the minds of elected officials. Offer a good plan, and I suspect they'd take it. It's up to us to do so, and not let grandstanders get in the way of a healthy dialogue.

jessica said...

I agree with you Tim, but at any meeting I've been to, there's just been no stopping the completely counterproductive loudmouth nonsense.

As Daniel's aforementioned zoning "expert" (not entirely accurate) I want to work on this but I am beyond frustrated.

no_slappz said...

As Jessica said: any meeting I've been to, there's just been no stopping the completely counterproductive loudmouth nonsense.

And no reduction in nonsense is likely anytime soon.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Jessica, that's precisely what Ms. AB wants. For us all to pack up and go home. There's no reason to fear a fight, if it means the betterment of the neighborhood.

mdicus99 said...

A few things:

What do we want this neighborhood to look like? Is anyone here particularly pleased with Empire Boulevard? I like Slurpees as much as the next guy, but this is such a well situated thoroughfare for something substantially better. It is close to the Park, two subway lines, BBG, Brooklyn Museum. Who uses these resources? People do.

Can't build residential on Empire: It is currently zoned C-8, which is the highest current commercial zoning and allows for the storage facilities, car dealerhips and other commercial uses that are car focused. These are not particularly community focused uses. Unless we want to change it to manufacturing, some for of residential seems like a good place to start thinking.

Zoning is not a Conspiracy: The ULURP process is very deliberate and transparent. Once there is a proposal the approval process is very deliberate (Community Board, Borough President, Council and the Mayor) and no material changes can be made to the proposal while it is being considered for approval. It is strictly a do you support this proposal or not, council votes for it up or down. Major changes are not allowed. Unless I'm mistaken, a draft zoning proposal has not even been presented. The proposal is still being shaped and I'm excited to participate in this process. It is a very soft piece of clay at this point. When those opportunities present themselves, show up and participate.

Don't Let the Hype Scare You: Let's let the community speak for itself. MTOPP is but one voice and not the voice of the community.

Be Patient and Participate: This process is just beginning and the time for the community to participate is coming. Come to planning sessions, hearings and other opportunities to shape this possible rezoning. This is a terrific opportunity to shape the long term future of neighborhood with a progressive Mayor and City Council. With MTOPP being a leading voice to this point, perhaps another group is born that includes a broader perspective that can use the opportunity to make this neighborhood even better than it already is.

Thank You Q: For being such a great resource for this community. You do an amazing job!

Alex said...

Unfortunately, MTOPP is bullying everyone else out of the process. I hope that they end up with a 30 story storage facility behind their houses.

Bob Marvin said...


Just hyperbole I hope. I have a few friends on Sterling I who definitely are not crazy and don't deserve such a fate.