"Irresponsible" and "out of control" were just a few ways neighbors described the 23-story residential tower planned for 626 Flatbush Avenue, between Fenimore and Hawthorne Streets just a block from Prospect Park. Last night during a standing-room only town hall meeting organized by the Prospect Park East Network, residents of Prospect Lefferts Gardens expressed their deep disapproval of the development, which was first announced by developer Hudson Companies last summer. A number of city officials and politicians, including Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, were there to hear their concernsand boy, did they get an earful.
Alicia Bond, a resident who moved to the neighborhood after getting priced out of Boerum Hill, fell in love with Prospect Lefferts Gardens because there were "no tall buildings." Prospect Park was also a huge draw because she feels when you're there you can really "believe for a second you're not in the city." Her voice rose as she vowed to fight the development every step of the way, even going as far as saying if the fight led her to jail, she'd go "because that's my park, that's our park."
That sense of possessiveness was shared by many attendees at the meeting, who talked about feeling at home in the racially diverse neighborhood and wanting development to be contextual with all the other low-rise buildings. The problem is, as Prospect Park East is currently zoned, developers can build as high as they want without seeking community approval.
Not so on the west side of the neighborhood where zoning limits building heights—which is driving all the development east. The site of Hudson Companies' planned project is currently occupied by medical offices and a parking lot. The tower would rise on the parking lot, which abuts the below-grade subway tracks that run between Ocean and Flatbush Avenues. The buildings along Ocean that face Prospect Park are six-stories tall, so 626 Flatbush would more than double their height. To halt the development, Prospect Park East Network (PPEN) has filed a lawsuit challenging the developer's right to build on environmental grounds. They also point out that since the developers are using nearly $72 million in state bonds to fund the project, they should be accountable to the community.
In the short-term, PPEN is seeking a moratorium on construction until they can get a rezoning to limit building height to eight or nine stories. Residents and Community Board 9 have been asking for a rezoning since 2008, but according to PPEN, the Department of City Planning (which reviews zoning applications), told them they had many other zoning requests to consider and they had to wait.
In the meantime, residents are fighting to keep their neighborhood from turning into a mini-Manhattan, where one former Manhattanite said all the high-rise buildings made him feel like a "caged animal." In Prospect Lefferts Gardens, he continued, the "sky is dynamic and a part of the life we live here." Huge buildings would alter the skyline and the park irrevocably.
But park views were not the only concern; affordable rent was another huge issue. Rising rents follow the wave of gentrification rolling through many parts of the city, especially Brooklyn, and residents spoke ominously about being priced out of the community. "As rents rise people become homeless," said one woman. Proposed rents for Hudson Companies' 23-story tower (in which 80 percent of the apartments would have market rate rents and 20 percent affordable) would be $1,875 for a studio, $2,200 for a one-bedroom apartment, and $2,800 for a two-bedroom apartment. Attendees chuckled loudly at the notion that these prices would be affordable. To give some perspective, an industrious renter can find a studio in Prospect Lefferts Gardens for $1,175, or a one-bedroom for $1,500.
The clock is ticking, as Curbed reported last month, there are at least six other developments in the pipeline. These buildings are "as of right" so there will be no stopping them once they go up. But 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. "[We're] not interested in affordable housing in 80-story buildings," said Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams.