March 2013, the New York Daily News identified Bedford-Stuyvesant as one of the fastest-growing neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
The article cited over 20,000 new migrations in over a decade. This includes a 634% increase in middle class white residents. Alongside the population boost is the real estate revitalization. New and rehabbed retail and condo conversions, coupled with commercial developments are gaining traction.
Despite the economic development and the burgeoning property values, all is not right in the community.
Monday January 6, 2014 revealed an antiquated platform named Community Board 3. I sat as a spectator bearing witness to this old dynamic. The driving force of Bed Stuy’s transformation– developers, entrepreneurs and small business people– run headlong into bureaucrats who seem to think their job is to handout comeuppances.
They announced two public hearings as the next agenda item. I was both excited and concerned. Were the presenters prepared? Would these people stand a chance, considering the logic of those they will stand before? As I listened to Board members request shorter business hours to accommodate church goers on Sunday morning and residents accusing “those people” of “taking our houses,” I silently relented. These people didn’t have a chance. They were so behind the times, the furniture might as well have been covered in plastic!
1st Presentation-PUBLIC HEARING
- Bar slated to open on Broadway in Bedford Stuyvesant
- Attorney, Investor, Artist, Bartender in attendance
- Artist and Bartender have no business experience
- Investor has another restaurant and is the father of the Artist
- No ties to the community
LETTER OF SUPPORT APPROVED
2nd Presentation-PUBLIC HEARING
- Existing Restaurant of two years located on Lewis Ave
- Wife/Husband-OWNERS are both present
- Wife and Mother OWN a Day Care in Bedford Stuyvesant
- Wife/Husband-OWNERS 10 year residents of Bedford Stuyvesant
- Owners have a fire on October 6, 2013
- Liquor License renewal due on November 30, 2013
- Owners completed construction work on damage in building and acquired $5000 for the renewal after the November 30, 2013 deadline
- Business documents burned in a fire
- Waiver to submit a 30 day notice requested
The Economic Development Committee voted against granting the second presenters– existing business owners– a waiver, because the owners did not request a letter of support, when attempting to acquire the first liquor license DESPITE the Board being on break. The second rationale issued was that two months was sufficient enough time for the owners to rebuild, obtain new documents and acquire the funds for renewal.
How do you come to such a conclusion?
There are some fundamentals that would make the public hearing process more functional and supportive to businesses, who are essentially responsible for job creation.
1. Introduce the Community Board 3’s platform and procedures as a fixed agenda item
2. Distribute the criteria for “letters of support” from the Board.
3. Inquiries slated for public hearings should be rehearsed and be directly related to business operations and community impact. Board members don’t make the poor judgment of asking the business owners to distribute a copy of their business plan again!
The Board’s decision and inputs should be more objective. Whim-based decision making is just not conducive to building a vital and progressive business community. Community Board Members might consider human relations training and be relegated to their deliberate positions. Role ambiguity appears to be an issue.
It is uncivil to encourage snide comments or “gotcha” questioning techniques. Business owners are partners and neighbors and should be treated as pillars of the community. The process should not feel as if you are standing before an inquisition forum.
Community Board 3 should strive to foster a vibrant community. Some of the line of questioning demands the hiring of local contractors. However, the Board doesn’t necessarily provide a mechanism for encouraging community members to patronize those same businesses.
The bottom-line is that Community Board 3 unnecessarily creates hardships for businesses. Locally owned businesses are critical to a community’s lifeblood. As business owners, we enhance the neighborhood’s quality of life. We promote and invest in the community. A thriving business cluster raises property values. We serve our fellow residents.
The Community Board 3 should view business development and business relationships as part of its core tenants. Establishing rules for 30-day advance notices when the Board is not in session needs serious consideration. How can a Board vote on a letter of support when no one is home? More business owner representation within the Economic Development Committee would greatly enhance the relationship between the business community and the Board.
Bed Stuy and the surrounding neighborhoods are in a state of rapid change. Many life-long residents are leaving as property values rise. Sadly its the old gentrification cycle. A community loses something important when its history moves on. The Community Board 3 can play a constructive role in preserving the community’s culture by enhancing the climate for local small business.
Business Owner / Neighbor/ Community Supporter
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of BK Reader.