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The greening of blighted Dean Street

What a difference a year makes on Dean Street just east of Sixth Avenue, a curious 100-foot segment in the Atlantic Yards footprint. In the photo at right, from the Blight Study conducted last summer by the Empire State Development Corporation (via consultant AKRF), 493 Dean Street, at center, looks like it needs a paint job, and 491 Dean Street, at left, lacks window boxes.

Actually, 493 Dean was not considered blighted but its neighbors were. While 491 Dean was observed to have no structural damage and fulfilled more than 60% of the allowable development rights--the state's somewhat arbitrary (as argued in court) cutoff--it was considered blighted because it was vacant at the time. It's not vacant any more, however, and its owner is among the 13 plaintiffs challenging the state's pursuit of eminent domain.

In the photos at left taken yesterday, the day of the Brownstone Brooklyn Garden District Walk, the buildings look more sprightly, with flowers at 491 Dean and a new paint job next door. (I'm told the flower boxes were there last year, just not when the Blight Study photo was taken.) The two-story 495 Dean, at far right and owned by the same plaintiff who owns 493 Dean, is considered blighted because it doesn't fulfill 60% of allowable development rights.

But it shares the same backyard garden, which yesterday was the site of not merely some pleasant plantings but a display of renderings--somewhat rough compared to slightly less dramatic renderings produced by Atlantic Yards architect Frank Gehry--that show the jarring juxtaposition planned, the 272-foot Building 15 planned for that corner. The project would not simply ensure that buildings on the block fulfill the allowable Floor Area Ratio; it would override zoning to vastly exceed them.

Actually, several of the properties on this rectangle of land are not deemed blighted, but needed for the assemblage of a large, contiguous site, which is permitted under evolving eminent domain law. But why does developer Forest City Ratner need this plot, 100 feet wide? Arguably, it's less for an additional tower than for a plot of land that will supply parking and staging for the arena being built across the street.

Backyard views

Below, some views from the backyards of the three Dean Street buildings.

The tour map yesterday offered a plaintive question: "Why should such sweet gardens have to appear in court for the right to stay in this peaceable place...?" (The answer from project backers likely would be that extremely dense development should go near transit hubs; the justification for the project, and the state's process behind it, indeed will be resolved in court.)

Future buildings, flower power

Patti Hagan of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition, as much a gardener as activist, set up the banner below, and helped organize the participation of these gardens. Hagan also helped write Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's (DDDB) response to the Blight Study. (DDDB yesterday had a table down the block, outside Freddy's Bar and Backroom.)

Below, Post-It notes on renderings displayed yesterday identify the location of the Dean Street buildings.