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.

Monday, October 6, 2014

This Is War?

At the bottom of this post, if you haven't received it already, is the latest screed from Alicia Boyd, the self-annointed poobah of a ragtag group called MTOPP. If you've been following the saga you'll know that she has created an enormously antagoinist force hellbent on keeping this community from interacting with the City in one of the few ways that we can really have any hope of influence - through ULURP, the Universal Land Use Review Procedure, that allows communities a modest voice in telling the City how it wants to grow. Note the word "grow," because the City is growing, by leaps and bounds. That growth happens largely whether we want it to or not. Landowners do what they will and sell at what they can, and when they can't, they seek variances, and if those variances are in sync with a Mayor seeking to house both rich and poor, variances are usually granted. People and Community Boards can voice their opinion; but we've seen time and again that there are plenty of more powerful voices than "we the people." So be it. This City was here when we got here, by birth or by immigration, and it will be here when we leave, by death or emigration. Love it or leave it, or love AND leave it. Or stay and loathe it. The City don't care.

Two years ago, the Q and others started noting that big D development was finally setting its sights on the east to southeastern side of Prospect Park. Some of us thought it'd have arrived here earlier, and it would have too were it not for a near meltdown of the world's economy. The forward march happened nonetheless, primarily along lines of public transportation, with or without zoning changes or resolutions or anything other than money following money. Word of a giant tower looming over Prospect Park finally galvanized some support for zoning changes that would reign in height to within reason. A "text change" maybe, but City Planning said no to that. A sliver of Flatbush and Ocean downzoned perhaps? Too costly they said, especially given the fact that it would result in fewer rather than more net new units. This brought on a further conversation about how best to mitigate the effects of big D development on rents and on the character of an extraordinary place on the American map called Lefferts Gardens. Would we start to resemble other parts of Brooklyn, so made-over, not always for the better? Would huge numbers of folks be secondarily displaced by so much frantic building and buying and renting? And yes, for a proud largely African and Caribbean American neighborhood, there was the sense that once again blacks would be sent to the back of the bus. The lucky could sell and move "back" down South. The unlucky, maybe a trip north to Poughkeepsie, my favorite stand-in name for Upstate hardscrabble towns. It was this last bit, the sense of being "colonized" by forces from without, that hit hardest and hurt most to many of our neighbors. First Harlem. Then Ft. Greene and Clinton Hill and Crown Heights and (seriously?) Bed-Stuy. Soon East New York, and Brownsville. Not that anyone was saying explicitly that diversity was bad. A few more whites, some amenities, maybe a bit less crime. But they saw how it'd happened elsewhere, and that sweet spot called "diversity" quickly dwindled to the majority becoming the minority. Predictable? Maybe. But sad, and historically familiar, just the same.

Some, MTOPP in particular, would take this situation and turn it into something it is not. It is NOT a major rift in the way we as a community see ourselves and the world. Most smart, sane people recognize that we can do a lot but only so much. That the greatest need right now is for tenant organizers to educate people on their rights; the power of standing together is real when it comes to existing law. Also, policy wonks can curb developer abuses like "poor doors" and onerous application and lottery processes. And zoning. And planning. And study, the kind that tells you what's here and what could happen and why one way is better or worse than another.

The process, is to do a study in concert with the community, so the City can know the temperature of a place before upsetting equilibrium. During that process, back-and-forth needs to happen. Various voices need to be heard - not just one. But there are those who want to shut down the process before it starts. They've made pronouncements about what's REALLY going on, and spread misinformation in order to further their agenda. They even call their efforts "propaganda." Their methods include bullying and obstruction and name-calling. It's a royal bummer, dude.

The Community Board? Well, let's get real. It has very little real authority over anything. Really. It's a place to gauge sentiment, and it's made up of up to 50 people from the 100,000 or so in the district, people who can be kinda counted on to gauge what people think on an issue and render an opinion. At CB9, I know quite a few of them. They're good people. Smart. Honest. Volunteers. They want to do the right thing. They represent a wide variety of backgrounds. The majority are people of color. Quite a few are Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic Jews. There's a few regular old whites. No one seems particularly rich or lavished in patronage. Do some work, show up, be a mensch, you might get a slot.

Let me tell you what I know about them. No one I've met wants outsized development in the neighborhood. They generally understand that the City grows and that as it does there will be changes. But the consensus I've observed is that folks want to be sure that we do everything in our power to make sure that people don't get displaced, that new apartments are built for those on the lower side of the income scale to replace the many units that have disappeared from rent stabilization or become too pricey, and that we respect the rich history of the neighborhood and do our best to maintain the low-rise nature of most of the area, lest we lose the neighborhood-ness that we love so much to the canyons that define much of Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn.

In other words, we're pretty much in super-majority agreement with most of you. So why, then, all the vile accusations and email campaigns and shouting down of fellow citizens at community meetings? Why the vitriol, and accusations of racism and Uncle Tom-ism and conspiracy and collusion with developers, and words like "war" and "lies" and mean-spirited assassinations of character?

Only someone truly unhinged would turn a difference of opinion on how to achieve the above goals into war, and characterize the act of zoning as an act of violence on the neighborhood. Right now, because the Community Board itself is not standing up to the absurd notion that it has somehow acted with malice towards the community itself, it, CB9, has shown itself to be exactly what it is - a fairly representative group of neighborhood residents intent on helping, but hardly the sort of organized constitutional body capable of countering a full-on negative war of words. Right now, it's even more disorganized than ever, with new leadership and tons of new members. Even if most of us were appointed by this Borough President or the last, most of us were not close friends with either of them. We put in applications, we were deemed "worthy enough" and asked to take an oath to be honest and not vote when having conflicts of interest. I know of no developers on the Board. I know of know convicted pedophiles for that matter. I know of no psychopaths or even reality television actors. All members have but one brain and most have two arms and two legs and various lengths of hair on the head, face and elsewhere. In other words, they appear to be humans.

Last Spring, sensing the urgency to act, we sought counsel from the neighborhood, and did what is required. We sent a letter (okay, resolution if you must. It was a letter, okay?) to City Planning asking that it consider beginning a study of the neighborhood giving this that and the other concerns that had been raised at the listening sessions. The district manager, being a good writer and knowing all the people this letter was intended to reach, created the letter. We voted to approve and send it. Should it have gone back to committee? In hindsight, probably. Had we done so, it most likely would have sailed through, since nothing in it seemed odious or damning. The language was left vague on purpose. And probably should have left out any specific notions of where to place additional housing - AFFORDABLE HOUSING mind you - though it was plain to anyone that you can't build in the historic district and that Empire Boulevard is hardly the Champs Elysee, so new housing would go there, on Flatbush, on the other avenues, and on lots along the streets. This seemed like a reasonable place to start, Planning agreed, and we met a few times in small groups to start the consideration of what part of the district to look at first.

That's it. That's what happened. And now all this.

Yours truly has been doing his best to stop the juggernaut of misinformation and convince all involved to be the adults and counter the ridiculous accusations and now lawsuits that are only making it harder to talk to one another and to the City about what we need and want in this community. I guess that's the point. Keep us from talking, make us look foolish, make us turn on each other. It's heartbreaking, really.

Meanwhile, the Whirling Dervish of Sterling Street has scared everybody silly. I'm doing my best to stand up to her self-serving divisiveness, but I can only do so much. This has become a fight against gentrification. And if you ask this observer, it's VERY much about NIMBYism of the folks owning townhomes on Sterling. It's a lovely block. No one is talking about bringing bulldozers to destroy it. But we DO want to talk. They're deadset on not letting us. And as I write this, they're creating a parallel document to the one that CB9 created. Fine. We should look at it. But we shouldn't be taken hostage if we disagree. Let the Board calmly look at the issues. There are LOTS more community meetings to come. Nothing has been decided, and nothing is set in stone.

But if we do nothing, I've learned exactly what will happen. Haphazard development. Backdoor deals. Developers buying up multiple lots, using loopholes, paying for small zoning studies, building whatever they want. We won't have a chance to tell the City about our needs for height restrictions and affordable housing.

In essence, we get nothing.

In the below email from Alicia, the latest but surely not the last, you'll see the degree to which she's intent on inflaming passions. Fine. But then she goes on to basically do the study for City Planning. Most of what she writes here is pure conjecture, and I have it on authority, her conjecture is actually fabrication. Fine again. If we want to let a raving lunatic decide whether or not we're going to get ANY affordable housing, and whether we're going to get to work with the City to determine our future, then follow her lead. Having systematically alienated and horrified every potential ally that this neighborhood has, she now thinks she can dictate to City Planning how to do its study. In a recent email to me she said that she "will be the first woman of color to ever win the total downzoning of a neighborhood." Given that Planning won't even look at rezoning a whole neighborhood without considering where it can build new housing, I find that a pretty far-fetched goal. More likely, she'll succeed in wearing us all out, to the point where we all give up and just let the buildings grow where they may and at whatever height. Because they're coming. And now that MTOPP has officially pissed off everyone who could possibly help us mitigate the worst, I can guarantee you they won't be asking our advice.

In particular, I wonder whether she's even thought through the fact that the CB is just advisory when she says things like:

What we are asking at this point is for this resolution to be withdrawn and a new one created. One that has tighter controls to ensure we are not taken advantage of.

Tighter controls? The resolution has "controls?" All the resolution does is to start the process of the study. We don't control. We advise. There is no "ensuring" to be done. Either we work with and advise, or we scream and yell and go home empty handed.

The choice is clear to me. I hope you'll stand up for sanity, if called upon. Or at the very least, take pity on those of us trying to do right by the neighborhood in an atmosphere of utter madness.

From your new community leader, the only one with the guts and wherewithal to lead, the one and only Alicia Boyd:

Many came into a battle
and didn’t even realize there was a war!
But now that you know,
it behooves you to truly know the facts
Before irrevocable damage is done to our community.
then after some business, she launches into the full pitch:
Now for more specific stuff. 
MTOPP wasn’t opposed to the entire resolution,
we were opposed to two sentences in that resolution
that would have acted like a Trojan Horse
and undermine everything that we did not want to happen –

Paragraph 4) Increase residential and retail density along transit and commercial corridors
- Allow contextual mixed-use developments along commercial corridors including Empire Boulevard.

First, from the minutes of the meeting it clearly denotes Pearl Miles,
an office manager, as the sole author of this document. 
So the question is asked, who ever uses words like corridors,
contextual developments, residential density?
These are highly specific words that planning people are familiar
with but surely not the layman,
which implies she was helped or may not even be the author?

Second, let’s see what it really means. 
Well along transit and commercial corridors
in this context means major streets
that have transit access and commercial zoning.
This would mean, Washington Ave, Bedford Ave, Flatbush Ave.
And remember it said including Empire Blvd,
which means more than just Empire Blvd. 

Yes Empire Boulevard is the only one that is commercial
but all the other corridors have transit access,
so it includes those as well!

Third, what is going to happen on these corridors,
you are going to increase residential density. 
This means adding more people into the community,  
because residential means  residences - apartments, condo, coops etc…
which equals people.
Where? On corridors that have transit access and commercial zoning.

Fourth, it goes even further
and says it will do contextual development. 
Some of these corridors already have residential development,
so if you are going to add, it will have to be up, right? 
But how far up,  it will be contextual. 
That means City Planning will look around
and say what is high in this community
and let’s build to that height, being within context!

Fifth, let’s look at our community
and see what are the highest buildings
that are near our transit and commercial  corridors.
On Flatbush Ave you now will have a 23 story building (626 Flatbush)
On Washington Ave there is the Tivoli Towers which is 24? stories.
On Empire Blvd there is Ebberts fields that are 25 stories.

Thus these two simple lines,
that Tim Thomas said was so innocent
and nothing for us to complain about
Could give the power to City Planning to build 20 -25 story buildings
all along Washington Ave, Flatbush Ave and Empire Boulevard! 
What is deemed the most expensive and valuable property,
because of its proximity to the Park and Garden.

Is this what we want?

There was no restriction to this resolution,
there was nothing that said not Flatbush, not Washington Ave,
all it said was including Empire Boulevard,
and why because if they didn’t pinpoint
an area they wanted to develop
that sentence would not have went pass the few players involved. 
But it just added Empire it did not exclude Flatbush. 
All the players had,
that were pushing for this resolution,
was City Planning’sword
that they will be “negotiating” with Community Board 9
as the study was going on.

City Planning said this resolution was one of the best resolutions
they have ever gotten from a Community Board
because it was so broad! 
Why because there was so many possibilities
for developers to make money
and do as they please as they negotiate with the community,
who by that time would be just advisory!

Yes let’s look at that one.
Borough President Eric Adams and Community Board 9
would act purely as advisory. 
The Borough President does not have any power
to create “policy” which is law!
Rezoning is law! He has no veto power
and would be in the same position as the community.

The only power that he now has is through the Community Board itself. 
By appointing people and then asking they support his position!

Thus Eric Adams has no power to negotiate
or even promise to protect this community,
once this resolution would have been in the hands of City Planning. 
Watch the documentary!
And you will see how City planning behaves
with the community at this level.

What we are asking at this point is for this resolution
to be withdrawn and a new one created.
One that has tighter controls
 to ensure we are not taken advantage of.

Clear language that includes height restrictions,
specific areas to be studied etc…
No increase in residential,
we are already the densest populated area in Brooklyn!
A resolution that comes from the community
and is based upon what the community truly wants

Not a free pass for developers to come here
and change the entire character of our neighborhood
Off of the suffering of the home owners
and tenants in our community.

Finally, City Planning
and others have said but it is only a study.
No, because what you study is what you will get!
City Planning will spend thousands of dollars,
and years of creating it
They will find that up zoning
(which was requested by Community Board 9,
in that resolution paragraph 4,
which they will site!)
is a great idea and the “study” will prove that
and they will pass it
And that will be that!

How do we know this
well out of the 140 studies that City Planning has done
140 were counted into law!

NO Residential On Empire Blvd!
Preserve Our Affordable Community!
Down Zone Empire Blvd!
(718) 703-3086


Voice of Anacaona said...

This is SOOO frustrating. Can't we encourage conversations with other community boards who are currently going through significant development?

Look at Seward Park Renewal Project, nearly 50 years later and work is about to happen. (There are tons of lessons learned there.) Nothing is perfect, but there can be progress. ULURP can be a great tool for communities. CB9 needs to engage the Municipal Arts Society and encourage people to attend their free training on community development. Heck, they should also invite Center for Urban Pedagogy - their ULURP toolkit is pretty cool.

Maybe pretending like Ms. Boyd doesn't exist might be a good tool to dismantling the power she has on keeping good people away from becoming involved.

roxv said...

i thought this was pretty interesting

Anonymous said...

Q, I am going to nitpick about something in Alicia's email. If you are going to mention figures, at least make sure the figures are correct:

"On Flatbush Ave you now will have a 23 story building (626 Flatbush)
On Washington Ave there is the Tivoli Towers which is 24? stories.
On Empire Blvd there is Ebberts fields that are 25 stories."

Tivoli Towers has over 30 floors. (33 according to I Love Franklin Avenue.) Three of the seven buildings at Ebbets Field have 25 stories; the remaining four have 23 floors. I'm surprised she didn't throw in Patio Gardens for comparison, although that complex tops out at only 16 stories.

P.S. Ebbets Field starts one block north of Empire. I guess she figures, "Close enough."

P.P.S. Tivoli is close to Washington, but the cross streets are Franklin Avenue and the Franklin Avenue Shuttle tracks (per the DOB). If she really wanted to rail against development along a "transit corridor" she should have mentioned Franklin Avenue instead.

diak said...

Mr CF, Thanks for taking the extra time to put this all down in pixels. But my question is, if one wants to "stand up for sanity," what do you suggest we actually do?
Write a letter? Sign a petition? Go to a meeting? Scream louder than they do? (oh please, no...)

Also, its much easier to be against something (or in this case everything) than to be in favor of something that doesn't yet exist. I have some vague ideas of what might make for a much-improved Empire Blvd. but at this point all I can say definitively that I'm in favor of is a study, planning and proposals.

Anonymous said...

Diak - Some people got together and formed MTOPP and some others got together to form PPEN. Maybe someone can form a group for "everybody else".

MikeF said...

This isn't complicated. Everyone who does not agree with MTOPP and their tactics simply sits together. No spaces between us.

No green tshirts.

We occupy a certain section of the auditorium: The front or the back, the left or the right.

We don't make noise or respond to MTOPP.

MTOPP becomes a group "over there" that is loud and noisy.

Alex said...

Mike is right. Best thing to do is show up.

no_slappz said...

It's over. Boyd's theatrics are mere entertainment doing nothing to alter plans that have already been sketched out by developers.

The precedent for tall buildings was set 50 years ago by Ebbets Field Apartments. The new building at 626 is more of the same.

Empire is ready and ripe, and its development won't be slowed by people who have no skin in the game. The battle, if there is one, is between the owners of the blocks of property now up for development.

When the Brooklyn Bridge was built, there was lots of opposition and lots of backroom wheeling and dealing. You can read David McCullough's book for details.

That was true for the lead-up to the construction of the Verrazano Bridge, the World Trade Center, the Empire State Building and Barclays Arena.

People are transient, buildings and other structures are permanent. At some point Boyd will sell her house and leave. It's always that way.

Alex said...

Maybe something like this is in our future:

jessica said...

no_slappz these blocks are NOT really up for development, at least as currently zoned. What you can currently develop on Empire are gas stations, stables, light manufacturing, dry cleaners and crematoriums. In other words, stuff that I certainly wouldn't want in my back yard. This is what is so darn ridiculous about Boyd's position, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, there is a movement however to have Empire rezoned. If it were to be rezoned, then it's likely someone is going to build apartment buildings there.

MikeF said...

What people don't realize is that developers are doing what has legally been allowed for quite sometime. The only difference is now the financial numbers makes sense. has covered the phenomena in CB8 since 2006. Now it is CB9's turn.

Full disclosure: I am whynot_31

Anonymous said...

By the way, slappz, it may be useful to point out that once upon a time Ebbets Field Apartments participated in the Mithcell-Lama program. It's highly unlikely that any high-rise (or an apartment building of any size for that matter) that will be built in this area in the foreseeable future will be under Mitchell-Lama.

no_slappz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
no_slappz said...

disco princess, your belief that new high-rise apartment buildings built in PLG will NOT join the Mitchell Lama program is undoubtedly correct.

Unless the city were to increase the incentive for developers to seek Mitchell Lama financing, there's no obvious reason they'd choose to take the current deal.

Is this reality a troubling one? Isn't it better when the government isn't skewing things in ways that inevitably lead to corruption of the initial plan?

All that aside, when it comes to the MTOPPers, their future was foretold by Tom Wolfe in the prologue of "The Bonfire of the Vanities."

Mutt on Fire:

Anonymous said...

Re: Is this reality a troubling one? Isn't it better when the government isn't skewing things in ways that inevitably lead to corruption of the initial plan?

You won't catch me saying that Michtell Lama wasn't a good idea. Sorry.

MikeF said...

The only large affordable housing development that I am aware of coming to western Crown Heights is the building that will be built on the back of the armory.

Christopher1974 said...

Love the suggestion from Voice of Anacoana. There are so many great organizations helping communities envision their future and plan to lessen the impacts of rapid growth.

This idea that if we don't let residential on Empire would keep affordable housing makes zero sense for anyone with a passing understanding of economics. The developers will come and they will have no guidance from the community. They will rezone the street on a piece by piece basis to benefit their development interests. Anyone who is watching what is happening in North Crown Heights understands this.

Also there's that little supply and demand problem. We have more demand than supply. That will only put more pressure on the existing housing.

no_slappz said...

disco princess, Mitchell Lama seems to have worked reasonably well. It was a pretty good program for its time, which began about 50 years ago.

Are new projects receiving financing from the program? Doesn't seem so. However, as we know, projects are exiting the program. They've passed the 20-year expiration date for getting out and going to market rate.

The best properties -- those on the water or across the street from major parks -- should go to the highest bidders and developed for those occupants willing to pay top-dollar for rent or for unit purchases. That's how you generate more tax revenue to fund more projects for less affluent residents a few streets away from the choicest real estate.

no_slappz said...

The Great Bridge -- the epic story of building the Brooklyn Bridge

In Brooklyn, where interest was the keenest, it was said the bridge would make Brooklyn important, that it would make Brooklyn prosper. Property values would soar. Roebling, the alchemist, would turn vacant lots and corn patches into pure gold. Everybody would benefit.

Brooklyn was already expanding like a boomtown, and the bridge was going to double the pace, the way steam ferries had. Merchants could expect untold numbers of new customers as disaffected New Yorkers flocked across the river to make Brooklyn their home.

Bob Marvin said...

"Brooklyn was already expanding like a boomtown, and the bridge was going to double the pace"

It didn't quite work out that way N/S. The bridge facilitated the merger of Brooklyn with New York–the "Great Mistake" of 1898 which resulted in Brooklyn's decline for 100 years. Of course if Brooklyn hadn't become a backwater we wouldn't have many brownstones and other historic buildings, so, in the VERY long run it wasn't a bad thing.

no_slappz said...

disco princess, the first sentence of the article you referenced laid out the problem: Thanks to Albany, luxury developers may dodge property taxes in exchange for building — or at least funding — some affordable housing.

On one hand, the law may lead to more "affordable housing", which was my assertion. However, the funding comes from government intrusion into the market, which always opens the door to trouble.

Meanwhile, the existence of the property-tax exemption is at least partially offset by the NY City income tax, which generates revenue, in part, to replace lost property taxes. Thus, something essentially simple is made complex by government and regulatory creep.

In economics the term is "rent-seeking" -- the pursuit of financial advantage through favorable government regulation. Rent-seeking leads to "regulatory capture", which is what you get when the industry and its regulation become so complex and convoluted that government regulators need guidance from consultants and experts. Where are the consultants and experts found? In the industry government is regulating. Well, we know where that can lead.

Meanwhile, when it comes to housing, there's one certainty -- restricting supply in the face of high demand NEVER leads to increasing affordability.