By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Residents of Prospect Lefferts Gardens and surrounding neighborhoods have filed a lawsuit against New York state and a high-end private real estate development company to block the construction of a proposed 23-story luxury high-rise building. Citing environmental concerns and a desire to respect and preserve the context of existing architecture, the suit requests a halt to the development process.
Hudson Companies Incorporated obtained approval from the New York State Housing Finance Agency to develop a residential tower in Brooklyn’s Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhood — a mixed-income area with a number of low-rise residential buildings.
Six residents and a number of community groups, including Prospect Park East Network (PPEN), Flatbush Tenant Coalition, the Flatbush Development Corporation (FDC), and the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association (PLGNA), joined together to bring forth allegations that Hudson received over $72 million in public funds without obtaining a requisite environmental impact analysis.
Because of the impact that development can have on a community’s biological resources as well as its aesthetics and economic environment, an environmental impact study is generally required prior to the approval of development projects.
The petitioners in this suit assert that such a study was not completed. “The NYS Housing Finance Agency failed to take a hard look at the impact this tower will have on the neighborhood’s residents and businesses,” said Rachel Hannaford, senior staff attorney at Legal Services NYC-South Brooklyn.
The plaintiffs assert that the proposed high-rise building will dramatically affect Prospect Park, as it would be almost 50 percent taller than any other building on or near the perimeter of the park. Believing that the high-rise will “cast shadows, impacting flora and fauna,” the parties contend that the building’s height over the trees of Prospect Park will “violate[s] the design intentions of Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, who carefully designed Prospect Park to be a rural retreat from the sights, sounds and stresses of urban life.”
Attorney David Basset, of the Manhattan firm WilmerHale and co-counsel in the suit, echoed Hannaford’s statement. He noted that “[the plaintiffs] contend that the Housing Finance Agency’s determination that the construction of a 23-story tower in the midst of their low-rise neighborhood on the edge of Prospect Park would have no significant environmental impact was improper and arbitrary, and in violation of New York State law.”
State Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Park Slope/Prospect Lefferts Gardens/Flatbush) stated that “[g]iven the drastic change the proposed 23-story mixed use tower will cause to the skyline of this historic portion of Flatbush Avenue, as viewed from Prospect Park and from Prospect Lefferts Garden, I think it is important that there be some extended public discussion of the project's appropriateness before demolition and construction begin on the site."
Hudson, however, dismisses the plaintiff’s claim of environmental concerns, calling the lawsuit merely a “not in my backyard” challenge. In an interview with Crain’s New York Business, David Kramer, a principal at Hudson Companies, stated that the Prospect Lefferts Gardens’ suit is an “NIMBY lawsuit in the guise of an environmental challenge.”
Residents are also claiming that the presence of a luxury building will dramatically change the economic landscape of their neighborhood.
"[T]he Flatbush Tenant Coalition is very concerned about the scale and affordability of this proposed development,” coalition member Redoneva Andrews said in a released statement. “Without more affordable housing for low-income families, the development will change the neighborhood. It will drive up rents and the cost of everything else in the area, and drive out low-income tenants and small store owners.”
The parties rallied last Thursday on Flatbush Avenue to announce the filing of the suit. “Prospect Lefferts Gardens is a real community, with both diversity and cohesion,” said Quest Eric Bohman Fanning, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood. “Our community is unique and vibrant; we don't need to become Manhattan.”