Friday, November 6, 2015

PPEN-PLGNA Community Study

PPEN and the Prospects Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association (PLGNA) presented their plan for a neighborhood study at PLGNA’s fall general meeting on Monday, November 2, 2015. The plan was generally well received but the presentation elicited comments and questions, indicating a need for further clarification that we aim to provide below.

PPEN has been working with PLGNA on the development of the study for the past year, with almost weekly meetings of its steering committee and invited advisors and participants. In response to recent development projects like 626 Flatbush Avenue tower and heated discussions in Community Board 9 about whether or not to support a call for the Department of City Planning to develop a zoning proposal, two community groups have undertaken their own studies. There are two ways that our study differs from these other studies: it is not a zoning study and it analyzes the entire area that the Department of City Planning has been asked to rezone. Thus, our study will complement rather than duplicate the studies being undertaken by other community groups.

The purpose of the PLGNA/PPEN study is to collect information in order to obtain an accurate, fine-grained understanding of the characteristics of our neighborhood through the collection of both public-access information and interviews with community members. Furthermore, the study will look at the effects of rezoning on displacement and gentrification in other neighborhoods to assess the probable impact upon our own. This type of study has never been done before and has the potential to be applied throughout the city.

We have sought funding from diverse sources, including elected officials, who have the ability to fund projects in their districts they feel are valuable. Limited funding was made available. At no time did elected officials attempt to influence the nature of the study; neither will they have any say in the preparation of the final report. The amount of funding by our elected officials is a matter of public record. We anticipate that about a third of our funding will come from competitive, private and non-governmental grants.

We look forward to working with the entire community to collect and compile data that can help protect those most vulnerable to the forces of gentrification in Prospect Lefferts Gardens and South Crown Heights while preserving these neighborhoods’ economically and racially diverse character and improving the quality of life for all of their residents.

Video of PPEN Townhall on Towers Near Prospect Park, April 7, 2014

Friday, September 26, 2014

A statement from Brenda Edwards, founding member of Prospect Park East Network (PPEN) in Prospect Lefferts Gardens

Prospect Park East Network is a group of residents from PLG. We came together out of the need to protect our community from the effects of the luxury development that has penetrated our neighborhood.

The most glaring of these projects has been the development of the 23 story luxury tower at 626 Flatbush Avenue, being built by Hudson companies. We are very much aware of the racial, economic and class overtones and undertones of such a building and have never sought to hide this. In fact, these ideas have always been at the forefront of our mantra.

We are unwilling to allow any misguided accusations to lead us from our primary purpose which is to band together as one in an effort to maintain the beauty, diversity and uniqueness of our community.

We cannot afford to be confused or distracted by those who have defined us based on their own fears and limitations. To do this would be to play right into the hands of those who do not have our best interest. As we destroy each other with unfounded accusations, we weaken our strength as a community. The developers and the powers that be look forward to such a blundering mistake. It allows them to strategize even further for their own benefit as we fight each other.

It is real simple: there is a 23 story luxury tower going up before our very eyes. By the very definition of the term "luxury" in the grand scheme of today's developers, most of us in this community will be excluded from the grand opening in the "community center" and most of us will be excluded from any schools that may be provided by Hudson companies. 

And how many of us will qualify for  the 250 apartments of which only 50 are slated as affordable units (and of course the "affordable" is questionable).

Again, Prospect Park East Network  is a group of sincerely concerned residents who do not wish to exclude any of the members of our community who are willing to work along with us to provide the best living conditions for all. In the words of the late great Ruby Dee "we are in this thing together".


Tuesday, July 15, 2014


On June 18, 2014, New York State Supreme Court Justice Peter Moulton handed a gift to Goliath and a really tough blow to David. On that day, Judge Moulton lifted a temporary restraining order he had issued only weeks before which barred Hudson Companies from pouring concrete at 626 Flatbush Avenue. The judge also denied a request by the PLG community to enjoin Hudson from construction activities at the project site until a full administrative review of the case could be had. In essence, the court ruled in Prospect Park East Network vs. New York State Homes, the Hudson tower is “as of right,” so necessarily there can be no significant adverse environmental harms, or if there are any, they can only be slight.

In our view, this means that no matter how much irreversible and public environmental harm this 23-story luxury rental tower is likely to impose, none of it is substantial enough to outweigh the rights of David Kramer (Hudson Principal) and Hudson Companies to receive and use $72 million in taxpayer monies in order to position their massive architectural finger in the midst of a predominantly low-rise, low-income community which borders Prospect Park. Why? Because, in practical terms, the court adopted Hudson’s arguments that the community has no rights under New York State environmental laws that a state financing agency and a wealthy, private developer must respect if the developer says that under New York City zoning laws his project is, “as of right.”

We believe that the court’s decision is flawed in many respects. At its core, the ruling now places City zoning laws and State environmental laws onto a legal collision course that was never intended by the drafters of either statutory scheme. On the one hand, the purpose of the City’s zoning laws is to regulate building size, use, and area density throughout the five boroughs. Thus, when a proposed development project is not in accord with currently existing zoning codes, a developer must seek special permissions from the City in order to proceed with a lawful build. However, if the proposed plans don’t invoke the need for a variance or other zoning exemption, that project is then deemed to be one that is “as of right.” In such cases, if the project is wholly privately financed, the developer is typically free to proceed without risk of significant legal challenges.

On the other hand, the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) applies to state government agencies (NYC agencies are subject to NYC environmental rules) and is triggered whenever such entities exercise discretion in approving or funding a private or public development project. The purpose of the SEQRA laws is to determine whether or not the proposed project would have any significant adverse environmental impacts upon the community in which the action is to take place and, if such exist, the state agency must determine ways to avoid or reduce those harmful impacts. It is important to note that SEQRA defines the environment broadly to include social and economic factors. SEQRA says the “[e]nvironment means the physical conditions that will be affected by a proposed action, including land, air, water, minerals, flora, fauna, noise, resources of agricultural, archeological, historic or aesthetic significance, existing patterns of population concentration, distribution or growth, existing community or neighborhood character, and human health.” NYCRR Sec. 617.2(1)

There has never been a dispute that the 626 project is to be built “as of right” under the City zoning laws. However, because Hudson has also asked the New York State Housing Financing Agency (“HFA”) to award them taxpayer dollars sufficient to pick up nearly three quarters of the financing costs of their project, SEQRA now comes into play. PPEN and others argue that the so-called environmental assessment mandated by SEQRA and conducted by HFA in this case was cursory and incomplete, such that the agency’s decision to award Hudson public funds rose to the level of being arbitrary and capricious and constituted an abuse of the agency’s discretionary process. More specifically, PPEN and others argue that HFA failed to take a hard look at the potential adverse impact of the 626 project on the socio-economic character of PLG’s existing neighborhood populations, on the architectural and historic character of this low-rise community and on the aesthetics and environment of Prospect Park. In response, HFA says they looked at these factors but forgot to make an adequate record of this. Indeed, they failed to give a reasoned explanation as to why those adverse impacts were insignificant. Hudson meanwhile argued that no matter the sufficiency of the agency’s environmental review, it was irrelevant nonetheless because the project would be proceeding “as of right” in any event.

Judge Moulton has sided with the defendants. However, at the same time, his ruling now places into controversy a significant question of law which has never previously been decided. That is: When a private developer seeks the award of public funds for a private construction project and asserts that the project will be built “as of right” under the City’s zoning laws, is the state funding agency still required to (1) investigate and analyze that project’s potential for adverse environmental impacts upon the community in which it is to be built and (2) to offer a reasoned and substantiated explanation of the results of its environmental impact review before it releases those public monies to the developer? Or, (cutting to the chase): Is it legally permissible for the New York State Housing Finance Agency to simply rubber stamp a public financing process for a private development project because the developer says his project is being developed “as of right” under NYC’s zoning laws? PPEN and others think not. Thus, on July 7, 2014, PPEN (Prospect Park East Network, PLGNA (Prospect Lefferts Garden Neighborhood Association), FTC (Flatbush Tenants’ Coalition), FDC (Flatbush Development Corporation), and several individual PLG homeowners and tenants filed an appeal from Judge Moulton’s ruling denying a preliminary injunction, and the litigation now continues in the next highest court – the Appellate Division. (Judge Mouton reserved ruling on the underlying Article 78 Petition for another day.)

In PLG and elsewhere, the fight against hyper-gentrification and its corporate driven government-backed weapons of irresponsible and reckless development is, indeed, a battle of David vs. Goliath proportions. In fact, it’s important to note that this private developer, David Kramer, Principal of Hudson Companies, is particularly well-connected. Among other things, Mayor De Blasio appointed a member of Kramer’s staff to the Rent Guidelines Board, one of only two private landlord representatives on the Board. This is quite an achievement in NYC where there are a lot of powerful real estate developers to choose from.

So, while our local fight is considerably smaller in scope, reference to the recent community vs. mega-developer battle which took place over the Atlantic Yards project is unavoidable. As well-known urban planning expert Tom Angotti has noted:

“Like Alice in Wonderland in her looking-glass world, the planning for Atlantic Yards was all backwards. In planning without the mirrors, government creates a plan for the area, looks at the potential environmental impacts of the plan, decides what to do and then either takes action by itself or puts the plan out to private developers to bid on. In Atlantic Yards and increasingly in other megaprojects throughout the neoliberal city, the reverse is happening: the private developer does the plan, persuades government officials to back it and then announces a done deal. This ideology of the fait accompli becomes a key instrument for moving through all stages of the planning and public approval process. It poses a serious challenge to community organizers because even those who find the project to be unacceptable are led to believe that nothing can be done to change or stop it.” New York For Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate (MIT Press, 2008 @ p.216)

Yet we do not despair and neither should those who love and appreciate the low-rise, diverse and family friendly character of our neighborhood as well as the green refuge of our communal backyard that is Prospect Park. In fact, the petitioners-appellants in Prospect Park East Network vs. New York State HOMES, believe much can be done to change the 626 Flatbush project. Thus, we do not accept it as a done-deal for David Kramer, without any rights whatsoever for the taxpaying citizens of our community who are ultimately helping to fund it and who will forever suffer the adverse environmental impacts of this unsolicited towering invasion if it is allowed to proceed unaltered. Nor do we surrender to Hudson’s “done deal” claim -- even as the trial court has issued its erroneous ruling and even as the construction work drones on at the 626 construction site. If anything, as we continue to win supporters on the ground, while our appeal to a higher court goes forward, we are reminded that there was one day even Goliath was forced to succumb to a lousy slingshot.

And so the fight continues.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Community Rally

Monday, June 9, 2014

PPEN Rallies at City Hall for Temporary Moratorium on High Rise Construction

On Friday, June 6, we held a rally at City Hall calling for a temporary moratorium on high-rise construction along the east side of Prospect Park. Speakers at the rally included: City Council Member Mathieu Eugene; Community Board 9 member Diana Richardson; Desmond Romeo, president of the Flatbush Avenue Merchants Association; representatives of Brooklyn neighborhood organizations, and local residents. The rally was organized by the Prospect Park East Network and cosponsored by the Flatbush Tenants Coalition, Lefferts Manor Association, and the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association.

The first speaker at the rally was Leah Margulies, a plaintiff in the on-going lawsuit against Hudson Companies, which argues that the developer did not conduct the required impact studies. She addressed her remarks to Mayor de Blasio, saying, “Last week we got a temporary restraining order—but it is very short-lived. So, Mr. Mayor, we need you…to put your weight behind this limited moratorium and, at the same time, pressure David Kramer of Hudson to lower the height and add truly affordable apartments for low-income families.”

Click here for the full text of her speech

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Coverage of April 7th Town Hall Meeting

Photo credit:

In Brownstoner today, Cate Corcoran reports on last night's town hall meeting with Borough President Eric Adams:

"An overflow crowd estimated at more than 400 people packed a town hall meeting about high-rise development in Prospect Lefferts Gardens last night. Borough President Eric Adams, who lives in the area, State Senator Kevin Parker, Council Member Mathieu Eugene and Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna listened to comments and questions from the audience following a presentation by the Prospect Park East Network, which convened the meeting. ..."

As does Curbed, which notes:
"... A number of city officials and politicians, including Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, were there to hear their concerns—and boy, did they get an earful."

This article goes on to emphasize:
 "residents and elected officials did stress they aren't against development or affordable housing, they simply aren't willing to accept just any type of building in exchange for a handful of affordable units."

The Q at Parkside has this to say:
"But if you still think it's just about a tall building, [...]. The tower is a symbol, a stand-in for all that's happening all around us"

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Eric Adams to host town hall meeting Monday, April 7

(A prayer vigil will be held preceding this meeting)
(Click here to download PDF)