The Bushwick community is fighting back against a proposed high-rise development planned for the former site of a beloved community garden, with eagle-eyed neighbors discovering part of the plan is in fact illegal.
The corner of Broadway and Linden St. — once a community garden opening into a lush green space known as The Secret Garden — is set to be turned into a development with a 20-story building complex and a parking lot for 114 cars, according to public filings.
The development is “as of right,” which means no community input is legally required.
However, since news of the 20-story plans spread through Bushwick, residents looking to fight the development have uncovered a deed restriction on the site that could stall construction.
The deed restriction — which goes back to when the city owned the land — states that an area the developer currently has earmarked for a parking lot is in fact legally required to be an “open space.”
At a Community Board 4 meeting on the issue last Thursday, Councilmember Antonio Reynoso’s Legislative and Land Use Director Asher Freeman said his office had a meeting with NYC’s Department of Buildings (DOB) and Economic Development Corporation (EDC), and both agencies agreed a carpark would be an “inappropriate use of the space” and a “violation.”
He said the EDC had sent a letter to the Manhattan-based developer Ekstein Development last Wednesday, advising them their plans were not legal. They were yet to hear back.
“These folks tend to hide behind a huge legal team and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re conferring with lawyers on how they want to respond,” Freeman said. “But I was made pretty clear about the state of play: If the developer is not responsive, we fully expect the city to take it to court and litigate this.”
Ekstein was invited to respond to the community at the meeting on Thursday, but did not reply to invitations sent by the board or Reynoso’s office, and did not send a spokesperson.
The deed restriction should send them back to the drawing board, if they are to proceed legally. Freeman said the development was required to have a certain amount of parking because of its size. This restriction will either force it to replan the parking for underground — at great expense — or to rethink the size of the high-rise itself.
Ekstein Development did not respond to the BK Reader‘s request for comment.
The discovery was a win for community members who felt let-down by the fact Bushwick’s current zoning even allows for a building of this size. The community worked on a Bushwick Community Plan for six years that would have rezoned the neighborhood and slowed gentrification.
However the plan was thrown out by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, which called it a “downzoning.”
Community Board 4 Chairperson Robert Camacho said the deed restriction gave them the “upper hand.” “Nobody can tell us it’s too late, it’s never too late. We gonna make sure we get what we deserve. And we need to put pressure on the next mayor for the community plan.”
Representatives for the EDC, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, NY State Senator Julia Salazar and NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer also attended the meeting.
A tower on the Secret Garden
Ekstein Development has filed plans for a 205-foot building on Broadway and Linden Street, housing 106 residential units, commercial space and a community facility.
Its proposed Z-shaped development stretches into the leafy area between the rows of mostly three-story brownstones of Linden and Grove Streets, formerly known as The Secret Garden at Linden-Bushwick Community Garden.
In its current plans, that area — which is in fact protected by the deed — would be turned into an attended parking lot for 114 cars with stackers, and an open space for residents of the 20-story building, filings show.
For more than 30 years, the site was a community hub, founded by late community leader Avellar G. Hansley in 1981 and renamed in her honor in 2014.
Hansley was remembered at the Community Board 4 meeting Thursday, with her daughter Kristal Hansley attending, and vowing to fight the development.
The younger Hansley is the first Black woman to launch a national community solar company.
“I will be bringing the heat and a lot of green organizations to this fight,” she said. “We’re not going down like this. It shows that the developer isn’t here. It shows how much they really care.”
The meeting also raised questions about how developments are able to go ahead without community notification. Freeman said there was not requirement for the DOB to notify communities of plans being filed, but he would be interested to hear if people want that changed.
Linden Street resident Alan Gamboa was one of the eagle-eyed residents who first brought the development to the attention of the community, after finding the developer’s plans filed on the DOB website.
He vowed to fight the development in whatever way the community has available, from the deed restriction, to zoning, to protests at the site and at the Ekstein Development offices in Manhattan.