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.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Please Sign Petition For Zoning Study To Begin


In the past few weeks and months the forces of hate and ignorance have gained strength to conspire against a sane, methodical and collaborative reexamination of our neighborhood's zoning and plans for future development. While other neighborhoods like Crown Heights West have unanimously supported efforts to rezone and rethink, we've become mired in misinformation and a spiteful campaign to paint a Planning Study as not in our best interests.

I've gone to lengths to describe that these attacks are the misguided efforts of a few - people whose biggest agenda is to keep Empire Boulevard from being developed for residential. We have learned from the City that is possible to rezone Empire Boulevard from C8-2 to mixed use residential and to put caps on height. We've also learned that the City would like to force any such development to create an inviting streetscape with ground floor commercial. Imagine, instead of fast food and storage facilities, shopping, affordable housing, a grand boulevard? It's in the cards, if we play those cards right.

CB9 is completely at a loss as how to contain MTOPP and its campaign of fear and intimidation. It was suggested that a petition might give City Planning the much needed counterbalance, and so here I am, asking that you sign on to the following. I hope you will! And remember, this is the beginning of a process. Your voice will be instrumental throughout to ensure everyone's viewpoint, and the considerations of your particular part of the neighborhood, are heard.


This is what it says:

We, the undersigned, implore Community Board 9 and the NYC Department of City Planning to immediately begin a Planning Study of Community District 9, specifically the western portion of CB9's boundaries. The current zoning map dates to 1961. While other parts of NYC have been contextually zoned and updated to reflect a modern reality, we continue to live with decisions that were made for our neighborhood more than 50 years ago.

During the course of discussions between community and City, we have certain expectations and requests:

A) That all efforts be made to maximize the requirements of developers to build permanent affordable housing

B) That all efforts are made to keep new buildings within specific height limits and ensure contextual and aesthetically pleasing blocks

C) That plans be made to make best use of commercial corridors like Nostrand Avenue, Rogers Avenue, Bedford Avenue and Flatbush Avenue, and to consider the effects of allowing mixed-use construction on underutilized corridors like Empire Boulevard. Any changes, however, must conform to points A) and B) above, and reflect the needs of diverse community.

We recognize that the City has placed ambitious goals to address the affordable housing crisis. We share the goal of creating housing for a wide range of incomes. But we ask that our current high density be considered, and that growth be modest and fair. We are an extraordinarily diverse community that wishes to remain that way. As the City grows, we expect we will grow too. But we believe such growth should be smart, contextual, and take into account needs for schools, public transportation, roads, parking and other infrastructure.

We would prefer to undergo this process collaboratively, rather than have outside forces develop our neighborhood FOR us. We've seen the future - in certain buildings, like 626 Flatbush and another 23-story tower on Nostrand to our south, plus dozens of new "as of right" projects throughout Central Brooklyn. We'd like to temper the urge of developers to build without an understanding of the consequences to our historic and tight-knit community.

We look forward to working with you.
The current zoning map of the area, created in 1961, is below.


Kimplicated said...

Thanks for making this!

Anonymous said...

Tim -- with all due respect, we cannot sign this. While we agree in principal, we think you are missing a subtle but crucial point: if you allow City Planning to drive the process, they will pave us over and turn our neighborhood into another luxurified Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Downtown Brooklyn, etc. The City Planning process doesn't work -- you can offer all the input you want, but they won't listen. They have a plan (influenced by developers), and they are determined to implement it.

We are not against development, per se; we are for smart, contextual growth,

Wouldn't it be better to walk away from City Planning to maintain some influence on the process, and insist on a COMMUNITY-led contextualized rezoning?

You seem to be a thoughtful person, concerned about the neighborhood. Please consider this carefully.


Clarkson FlatBed said...

In a perfect world...yes, that would be nice.

That's not the offer on the table, nor is it the process. I understand your position, and I hope, if we get to the study, you'll be there to make sure we get the best possible deal.

I would also like to think, idealistically, that there is "one community" that could speak to these issues. That could "lead" in these matters. I've learned a lot, and one of the big lessons is that there are many competing constituencies, and a lot of frayed nerves. And a serious dearth of strong leaders. There are many voices, too many to count. But in my heart I don't believe it's us against them, David against Goliath. This is OUR government. We put them particular this Borough President and this Mayor, were given the gig by neighborhoods such as ours, a very diverse coalition as a matter of fact. Laurie Cumbo. Jesse Hamilton. That guy who's name is the home of the University of Oregon. To constantly fight the power like it's someone else, rather than teach AND learn - that's not the real battle. I believe the real battle is within ourselves, and among ourselves, and it will last way longer than a rezoning. It's about respect for each other, for the past, and an understanding of how we got here.

I'm glad you wrote what you wrote and that you refuse to put your name to things you don't believe. And I love that you did so, and said so respectfully. Now if we could only get a certain Sterling Street resident to do the same!

Oh, and the petition isn't legally binding. But City Planning is watching, and I hope we can provide some balance to what has been a very one-sided conversation.

Alex said...

ASP - think again. Here is what everyone needs to realize.

The development is here. More is coming, whether DCP does a study or not. What we can get out of the study is appropriate height limitations and equal distribution of the risk of new construction adjacent to thoroughfares.

It's deeply frustrating to me to see this issue get muddled with other concerns. Our area could be Greenpoint-ified without DCP involvement, along with all of the negative side effects. What we need are parameters, DCP is the only way to get them.

Alex said...

ASP and Tim - I want this conversation to just focus on the few relevant facts. Tim, I heart you but you too have gone off track. This is where everyone's focus needs to be in response to this question:

"Wouldn't it be better to walk away from City Planning to maintain some influence on the process, and insist on a COMMUNITY-led contextualized rezoning?"

No. DCP is the only road to zoning changes. It's the official process and we cannot change that.

To paraphrase for anyone on the fence: This is not a question of whether we allow development or not. Development is happening whether we like it or not, and DCP involvement is the only way for us to achieve reasonable and equitable parameters and for the scale and height of new buildings. A DCP study will not destroy the character of our neighborhood, but unmitigated development will (or at least can).

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Alex: I don't agree with ASP624/Anon. I just respect the opinion as opposed. I'm trying to be gracious - it's this new thing I'm giving a whirl.

I don't believe for a minute that the community can lead anything, not a Planning Study, not a Parcheesi Tournament. (I'd win.) But we can collaborate, and that's what we're being allowed to do by initiating the application. ANYone can ask for a study and application. That we did, and Planning said "yes," means we get to help shape it. That's why I'm for it.

I don't I'LL get everything I want, but maybe we'll ALL get enough that it's better than the hot mess we're stuck with now.

Ceelledee said...

I think all 3 of you are right-- in part.

1. If I understand asp624 correctly, she is referring to a "community-led" rezoning process by way of creating a 197a community-based development plan pursuant to the rules and procedures of the NYC Charter.

2. I believe Tim is rejecting the 197a process as an immediate strategy, citing an essential need for clear, strong community leadership and a well-developed history and practice of respectful collaboration between all community constituencies in order for the 197a planning process to work.

3. Finally, and if I may, I believe Alex is saying that both Tim and asp are getting lost in the weeds of their arguments because, at the end of the day, it is always the DCP that ultimately drives and/or decides any community rezoning process in NYC.

If my summary is correct, I'm willing to adopt the "truths" of all 3 positions but have signed the petition Tim has posted without reservation. In doing so, I agree that, in an ideal world, we should be addressing community improvement and development by way of a comprehensive 197a plan. However, the 197a process is extremely lengthy -- much more so than the substantially simpler (yet still complex) process of rezoning only a portion of the district. Moreover, a 197a plan not only requires a practical level of community cohesion to bring it to fruition but also, as Alex notes, it ultimately requires the approval and sign off the DCP and various electeds for execution. As such, it is not a pure "community-based" plan and it most certainly is not a magic bullet for our current zoning conundrum. Nothing is. Yet, as we dicker and further divide among ouselves over whether to adopt one strategy or another, our community is being bought and sold out from under our noses by outrageously irresponsihle developers and criminally abusive landlord cartels. The time for realistic decision-making is of the essence.

Given all the above, I believe our best strategy is to go forward now with a DCP-directed rezoning study that has consistent and informed community input. Further, as members of the community who are committed to the collective best and not individual agendas, we commit ourselves to simultaneously work on developing respectful community dialogue,the airing of principled differences and the development of the kind of community cohesion which will ultimately enable us to one day take up the much more complicated and comprehensive work of a 197a
"community-led" development process.

For those who want to know more about the 197a planning process, you can check it out at this link:

Alex said...

Agreed. But my tolerance for people conflating a DCP study with other issues, though, is something I've grown less and less tolerant of over time!

Alex said...

Well, I'm guessing that ASP is the person behind the asinine alternate petition requesting a "community led" study instead of a DCP study.

I hope that at this point CB9 is educated enough to ignore this idea. I also hope that the supporters come to the conclusion that they can do their own research in parallel with a DCP study with the aim of influencing the proposal that finally makes its way to City Council.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

I can tell a Harvard grad a mile off! :)

Her things about Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Downtown Brooklyn are typical scare tactics. Remember, those areas were already experiencing massive gentrification before rezoning. In a nutshell, Wburg and Greenpoint were about opening the riverfront to residential. It hardly "LED" to gentrification. There were also tons of blocks that were downzoned, and there's been a tempering affect on most blocks.

D'town Brooklyn is a story I know thoroughly, as I work in a building that was part of the process. It was ugly at times, but the whole point was to create NYC's third business hub. When you do that, you remake a part of town. The question is whether you agree with that goal or not.

But it could not be more different that what we're experiencing. Ours is closer to recent rezonings in places like Ozone Park.

diak said...

Talk about your one step forward (Mr CF's petition) and five steps back (this counter-petition).
My head hurts...

cheryl on parkside ave said... true.. Not just a headache, but a migraine for me!!!!

Ceelleede, great to see your back up. Thanks for your explanation of the 197a process and is also doing my own research.

Kimplicated said...

These are the kind of comments that I've really missed seeing in the last year or so--people respectfully disagreeing with each other without demonizing anyone. When it's at its best, this blog is a wonderful convening place for passionate, respectful conversations. When it turns into a shouting match, it's much sadder.

So I'm delighted to see that it's regaining its balance and not being polarized by the presence of polarizing forces that pervade this debate.

Anonymous said...

A pox on both your houses. While I have serious reservations about MTOP, I am skeptical about this position. Just talk to the odious realtor types, they all support the rezoning.

PLG is fast becoming a place for really rich people, and the rest of us. That whole thing about this being "our government," since "we put them there" misses the point. We live in a post-Citizens United world. Government only works in the interests of regular people when it has absolutely no other choice.


Clarkson FlatBed said...

By the "our government" I meant to distance my petition from MTOPP. If it came across as overly-optimistic about the current administration, that was an error on my part.

You're someone for whom doing nothing is probably the best option. So be it.

But let me put this thought in your head. Who designed the current zoning that's been in place since 1961? Back then, an eight person group of men called The Board of Estimate made ALL the decisions. No Community Boards. No community input.

We're actually luck as hell to have a say in the process. Because if we DIDN'T, I assure you that Empire Blvd would be a done deal. And it wouldn't be 10-12 stories either.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Oh, and the "anonymous" is probably NOT Suki but rather Alan Berger, who owns a house on Lincoln Road. He's started a rival petition, which includes a fanciful idea for a rezoning that's community led. Essentially the community would have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to do a study which, if MTOPP's position is an indication of what they'd be after, would be rejected immediately. Sounds nice, but it's pure fantasy.

Alan - you gotta sign your name to these things!

cheryl on parkside ave said...

Why post a request to sign the petition to the Flatbush Family Network. This is a PLG issue. We should be handling it here and not In East Flatbush.

cheryl on parkside ave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
IKB said...

Tim, From whom have you gotten assurances that the 70' height restrictions you are requesting will apply to all of proposed study area, including the main throughfares? How can we be assured that once the process is in motion the pressure to create greater density residential areas will not alter our community's strong call for "context" in zoning? Will Washington Avenure, currently an R8A, be downzoned? Will R2 and R5 areas be upzoned? How are we to feel confident that City Planning will honor our request?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

CB14 is the "heart" of Flatbush. Ditmas Park, PPS, parts of Midwood etc. They have similar issues, but if this is to be "community led" as Alan describes it, I can hardly see adding those neighborhoods to the petitions going around.

If we supposedly are going to have to deal with 43,000 more people (an absurd statistic that's making the rounds - as if a lot of those wouldn't be coming ANYway) particularly on Empire (again, not the only place), it's really a stretch to call center Flatbush "the community."

I'm sad about it because it's indicative of the cutthroat attitude. I started a petition as a "soft" way to get the other side's voice out there. It's not an attack on MTOPP's position; And Alan's petition is pure fantasy anyway - it can't be accomplished. We've been told as much.

I'm quite certain now I'm going to walk into a room and have Alan and Suki waiving their petitions around as proof of support for their "cause."

Clarkson FlatBed said...

IKB: First of all, because I've been in constant contact with Planning, on and off the record, for months. Second, I've followed other rezonings, which I'm beginning to think no one else has read. They seem to think that gentrification happened after these rezonings, like the Greenpoint/Williamsburg waterfront. Nope. They were the result of people killing themselves and their bank accounts to live there (gentrification) and the City wanting to reclaim the waterfront. Dozens of blocks were DOWNZONED. Everyone, please do your homework! These were tradeoffs, not blowoffs. The CB voted for it! And despite what some might think, the CB is made up of your neighbors. Smart, decent people, who are reflective of the people who live here. They will decide what's in the best interest of the neighborhood, because they give a shit.

Second R8A WAS the 90s. It won't be touched. It was an effort by the Botanic Garden to protect views from the garden, especially from all the warehouse spaces over there and fear from what happened with Tivoli Towers.

Third. We can get tons of downzoning if we allow new residential and a slight increae in density WITH height limits. I didn't say 70' would apply everywhere. It doesn't even make sense on Empire, where we have the opportunity to build a ton of affordable units and insist on ground floor commercial - a real walkable boulevard. People seem to have swept that off the table with the ridiculous "affordable to whom?" TO THE WORKING POOR, that's who! Look at the income limits for the lotteries in Central Brooklyn (not Barclays). A family of four less than $50,000.

And another thing. Come to the meetings. Be part of the process. It only starts with the request.

And no I don't have anything in writing. It doesn't work that way.

BUT if you do nothing, I lay the blame for the crap we're going to get, poorly planned, with no affordable and curb cuts and god knows what, in the laps of the do nothing crowd.

For god's sake everyone's a City Planner now. Oy vey.

Bob Marvin said...

RE: up-zoning the the R2 portions of our neighborhood [i.e Lefferts Manor], that wouldn't really work because:

1. The entire area is part of the PLG historic district, so buildings can't easily be significantly altered or replaced

2. The entire R2 area is covered by a single family restrictive covenant that pre-dates the zoning by over 60 years

Up-zoning the R2 portion of Crown Heights would be a different matter, since that area isn't in an historic district and up-zoning is desired by a large part of the Chassidic community there, who want to accommodate their large families, but that isn't on the table right now.

babs said...

And the blocks of Sterling St and Lefferts Ave between Bedford and Nostrand are also part of the PLG Historic District, so I'm not too worried about changes there. I also think the R2 portion of south Crown Heights will take care of itself - recent sales there on Union and President Sts., as well as on New York Avenue, have primarily been to people from outside the community and who would not have interest in upzoning.

Shante Paradigm said...

I'm learning a great deal. Thanks, Tim.