Skip to main content

"A Walk Around the Footprint" and one holdout no more

There's a poignant aspect to the 18-minute film, A Walk Around the Footprint, a snapshot of people and places in the shadow of eminent domain and Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project. When the film was shot six months ago, Vince Bruns was a holdout, one of the last loft residents in the handsomely-renovated former Spalding factory at 6th Avenue and Pacific Street. "I love the space. I'd be perfectly happy to die here," Bruns told filmmaker George Lerner, whose film was shown Friday night at the Park Slope Food Coop.

But Bruns had to be experiencing some pressure. A 6/30/05 New York Times article about the aftermath of the Supreme Court's Kelo eminent domain decision described Bruns as a holdout, noting that a sign in his window proclaimed: "I love my home and my neighborhood. I intend to stay here." But Bruns "acknowledged he might someday be forced to sell."

Indeed, though Bruns remains in his loft , he's agreed to leave by the end of September. He's bought an apartment in nearby Boerum Hill. And he took the sign down three months ago.

A lesser gag

Unlike most of the other residential owners who sold to Forest City Ratner, Bruns, a self-described longtime ACLU supporter, negotiated a less onerous set of restrictions. He doesn't need the developer's approval to talk about the project or the buyout, and he can participate in rallies and forums--just not as a "prominent speaker." So his low-key role on a panel after the film Friday night would seem to qualify. He had to agree not to donate money to the project opposition--but he did write a check to Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) before he signed that agreement.

So why'd he leave? "I had a big investment in my space," Bruns said later, "and I felt we were getting close enough to condemnation." He added, "I think they treated me fairly. The only unfairness is that they had an unfair weapon, in the way that eminent domain is perverted."

He said that his property had been appraised for more than double the price he paid in 2002, and that Forest City Ratner paid more than that appraisal, but not the 50 percent premium that has been proposed in some legislation regarding eminent domain.

A sense of place

Filmmaker Lerner said his model was the Barry Lewis/David Hartman "A Walk Around..." series for PBS, and he was not trying to make a film about the project, in all its details and contentious arguments. The film contains no interviews with project supporters. But the implication was clear: there are successful elements of a mixed-use neighborhood within the footprint, though they have been winnowed by time, and there are buildings that have historic value.

(Indeed, the neighborhood has quieted down; as Peter Krashes, who lives on Dean Street across from the proposed project footprint, told WNYC radio last December, "a lot of the property has the appearance of being more dormant. That’s one of the things that people miss when they walk here they don’t understand that what was a pretty active area has been emptied.")

And, as the rendering of the western segment of Gehry's plan shows, what might replace it would be very, very different--a change hinted at but not shown explicitly in the film, which was shot before the latest project renderings were released. (Graphic from New York Times)

The eminent domain battle

Bruns's decision leaves Daniel Goldstein of DDDB, the last condo owner from three owner-occupied condo or coop buildings in the footprint. However, several others--including commercial owners, residential renters, and owners of smaller residential buildings--remain subject to eminent domain. About 70 people, mostly tenants, still live in the footprint, which would be 22 acres, including an 8.3-acre railyard. (That number does not include the population in a homeless shelter, which had been estimated to constitute more than half of the 800+ residents in the footprint.)

Goldstein Friday expressed appreciation that Bruns held out for so long, but it seemed apparent that Bruns, who runs a fish business, had not been ready to join Goldstein--a graphic designer-turned-full-time-activist--as an eminent domain plaintiff. Some among the remaining residents in the footprint were afraid to be in the film, Goldstein said, but several potential plaintiffs remain.

Goldstein told the audience there would be an eminent domain lawsuit. "[Forest City Ratner's] Jim Stuckey called my attorney," Goldstein recounted. "He said, 'Will Goldstein take an offer. He can keep fighting us, but will he agree not to be an eminent domain plaintiff?' I think they're worried."

"There are a lot of 'done deals' that have been undone," he said in response to a questioner who offered that common observation. "He can't build the project without my apartment. He can't build the project without fixing traffic [problems]. He can't built the project if the condo market crashes."

Added Scott Turner, who appeared with Goldstein in the movie, "When it started in December 03, I'd say we had a ten percent chance. I'd say it's even money now." He took pains to say that project opponents were not against jobs and housing, and that there could be construction on the railyards--a smaller-scale project--without encroaching on the existing neighborhood.

Renters under pressure

Also in the film was 87-year-old Victoria (Mary) Harmon, who said she had no desire to leave the apartment she's rented for 62 years. "I'm too old to go looking for places."

David Sheets, an eight-year resident, talked about how he and other long-term renters had helped stabilize and restore the neighborhood. Now, he said in the film, his building is showing water damage. Given the specter of eminent domain, "There's no incentive for anyone to pay any money into repairing it... It's a self-fulfilling prophecy." And that will help the state declare that the area is blighted, a prerequisite to invoke eminent domain.

Sheets added that the lack of focus on renters, many of whom are minorities and also uncomfortable with publicity, "feeds into the perception" that "it's just a handful of white yuppies" opposing the project.

"If Freddy's goes, Brooklyn goes"

The film also included scenes in Freddy's, the prohibition-era bar at the corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue that hosts everything from punk to jazz to knitting nights. "You take away all this, you're going to kill Brooklyn," Turner declared on film. Kill the borough?, he was asked afterward. "Every neighborhood has a bar like Freddy's," he responded.

"It's symbolic," Goldstein continued. "Change can be good. Change can be bad. I don't think anyone wants to see that kind of change." Some do, of course, and attitudes toward change depend not only on issues like scale and place, but also on larger political and economic forces.


Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming + FAQ (post-dated pinned post)

This graphic, posted in February 2018, is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. Note the unbuilt B1 and the proposed--but not yet approved--shift in bulk to the unbuilt Site 5.

The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change. The project is already well behind that tentative timetable.

How many people are expected?

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has a projected 6,430 apartments housing 2.1 persons per unit (as per Chapter 4 of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement), which would mean 13,503 new residents, with 1,890 among them in low-income affordable rentals, and 2,835 in moderate- and middle-income affordable rentals.

That leaves 8,778 people in market-rate rentals and condos, though let's call it 8,358 after subtracting 420 who may live in 200 promised below-market condos. So that's 5,145 in below-market units, though many of them won…

The passing of David Sheets, Dean Street renter, former Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality

David Sheets, longtime Dean Street renter, Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality, died 1/17/18 in HCA Greenview Hospital in Bowling Green, KY. He was 56.

There are obituary notices in the Bowling Green Daily News and the Wichita Eagle, which state:
He was born in Wichita, KS where he attended public Schools and Wichita State University. He lived for many years in Brooklyn, NY, and was employed as a legal assistant. David's hobby was cartography and had an avid interest in Mass Transit Systems of the world. David was predeceased by his father, Kenneth E. Sheets. He is survived by his mother, Wilma Smith, step-brother, Billy Ray Smith and his wife, Jane all of Bowling Green; step-sister, Ellen Smith Alexander and her husband, Jerry of Bella Vista, AR; several cousins and step-nieces and step-nephews also survive. Memorial Services will be on Monday, January 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm with visitation from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday at Johnson-Vaughn-Phe…

Some skepticism on Belmont hockey deal: lease value seems far below Aqueduct racino; unclear (but large?) cost for LIRR service

As I wrote for The Bridge 12/20/1, The Islanders Say Bye to Brooklyn, But Where Next?, the press conference announcing a new arena at Belmont Park for the New York Islanders was "long on pomp... but short on specifics."

Notably, a lease valued at $40 million "upfront to lease up to 43 acres over 49 years... seems like a good deal on rent for the state-controlled property." Also, the Long Island Rail Road will expand service to Belmont.

That indicates public support for an arena widely described as "privately financed," but how much? We don't know yet, but some more details--or at least questions--have emerged.

An Aqueduct comparable?

Well, we don't know what the other bid was, and there aren't exactly parcels that large offering direct comparables.

But consider: Genting New York LLC in September 2010 was granted a franchise to operate a video lottery terminal under a 30 year lease on 67 acres at Aqueduct Park (as noted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo).


Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…