Gloom and Loom at BBG

Gloom and Loom at BBG
Artist's rendering of proposed development along eastern perimeter of BBG

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Eric Adams' Workaround

Eric Adams has a problem. Eric Adams is supposed to deliver Empire Boulevard near Prospect Park (Views, Views, VIEWS!) to the real estate interests. Eric Adams used to represent this part of Crown Heights as State Senator, so his backers had confidence he knew the players. But they and Adams, as well as the Mayor and so many other elected officials across the city, underestimated the opposition that would arise in New Yorkers to the whoring of their hometown.

Adams' attempt to get a request for a re-zoning through the Community Board has been nothing but a train wreck, chiefly as the result of the super-loud, brave and creative Alicia Boyd and her Movement To Protect The People, of which I am an active but informal member. The Board is entirely, now infamously, corrupt (search "CB9" at youtube), and though the Board's resolution to City Planning was "passed" in May, 2015, its legality is entirely in question and the subject of a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the developers are salivating; markets like these don't last forever! Huge properties lie along the blighted boulevard, which is one of the few commercial stretches remaining in the city, reason enough to preserve its zoning as is. One developer has shored up hole at the corner of Empire and Bedford deep enough to support a 12-story building, not the storage facility the sign says is coming; construction has stopped while the developer awaits the green light.

What the Department of City Planning requires, and what Adams has yet to deliver, is something DCP can use to justify their rezoning without concern that it will be called back, as might the Board resolution. Specifically, Adams needs a "community-based" study of the neighborhood that contains no more than raw information about its current state. No need for the study to draw conclusions, even, or suggest/demand specific changes to the zoning codes; DCP will do its own analysis, of course, and history shows that their conclusions and decisions will be in as much contempt of the wishes of current residents as the development community requires.

Adams' workaround has now come in the form of a new study under the auspices of PLEGNA and PPEN, basically, homeowners in the Prospect Lefferts Gardens area, most of which enjoys landmark protection. Not coincidentally, the parameters of the proposed study area are precisely those of the questioned Board resolution and include the disputed stretch of Empire Boulevard.

Why, you ask? Because at the announcement of their study weeks ago, leaders of both groups reported that they had received funding from Diana Richardson ($8,000), Laurie Cumbo ($2000), Mathieu Eugene ($5000), and from Eric Adams' One Brooklyn (slush) fund ($1500). Some of these monies were said to be reimbursable, meaning that they would be paid after the money had been spent and accounted for.

Informed of the use to which their money was being put, Richardson has reportedly withdrawn her pledge. At a meeting last week, Councilman Eugene was reportedly very disturbed to have learned that PLEGNA and PPEN are planning to act as pass-throughs, paying the money directly to the two for-profit organizations they have enlisted to develop their "snapshot" of the neighborhood. He is rightly disturbed, for Council rules forbid funding recipients, as non-profits, from passing that funding entirely to for-profit entities, and Eugene has pledged that he will not reimburse either organization if the money is paid to for-profit companies.

It seems that PLEGNA and PPEN will have to raise the money their own money to pay for their study, and I wonder if they will try and how they could possibly succeed. They certainly have done nothing to enlist the support of neighborhood groups including my own, SLSNA, the Sullivan-Ludlam-Stoddard Neighborhood Association, whose members' and residents' quality of life is deeply threatened by what could happen on Empire Boulevard. Indeed, many neighborhood groups who have been fighting gentrification are furious about the sudden appearance of the enemy in a new disguise. Indeed, I wonder how residents of Crown Heights south of Empire, including members of PPEN and PLEGNA, would feel if the less well-heeled residents of north of the boulevard decided to conduct a study of their neighborhood without their consent or collaboration?

We'll find out.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Reasonable question

I'm an architecture school dropout, I've been looking at buildings all my life – the rare NYer who looks UP on the street. But now I feel bad about it because my interest is routinely misinterpreted and regarded with suspicion, understandably. People of color are not accustomed to seeing white people look at their houses with approval, much less longing. The other day, my partner, artist/architect Tim Seggerman, was walking in Ft. Greene and paused to consider some aspect of a 19th century building. Seeing him, a teenager leaning on the fence asked, disdainfully, "You wanna buy the school?"

Like I said, reasonable question.