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Bushwick Community Meeting Shuts Down Early, As Tensions Erupt Over a 20-Story Luxury Development

After a rat appearance, and raised voices fighting to hear over the J train, a meeting between developers of a luxury tower and worried Bushwick residents abruptly was ended
Developers Erik Ekstein and Kevin Tolbert at the meeting Dec. 14. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.

A Bushwick community meeting between high rise developers and local residents was cut short Tuesday night after tensions erupted and conversations spiraled into a yelling match.

Ekstein Development called the meeting, which took place at the Hotel RL, after striking a hard-fought deal with the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) that allows the developers to move forward with constructing a 20-story tower at 1333 Broadway.

"[The EDC] asked that we consult with the community," Ekstein Development founder Erik Ekstein told Bushwick residents as the meeting began, in an upfront acknowledgement that it wasn't his idea. Scroll to the end of the article for what we know now about the development.

Prior to last night, the developers had not met or consulted with the community over their plans to build a 205-ft tower housing 106 residential units and five floors of retail space, including offices for the developers, a music studio the developers own and medical offices.

About 50 community members â€" many longstanding Bushwick residents of color â€" attended the meeting. As Ekstein and architect Leonard Fusco were showing the plans, a rat ran between them.

"Welcome to our world!" one resident quipped.

Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader

Conversations had to pause often while the J train ran noisily overhead. Finally, the meeting became so heated, both parties decided to end it, with Community Board 4 leader Robert Camacho offering a strong and final message: "Take it back. We don't want it and we don't need it."

The meeting

The development is “as of right,” which means no community input is legally required.

Now that the plans have been fully approved by the city, E&T Skyline & Construction is set to begin building in the next two months, with plans to complete it within the next 30 months .

Despite this, Bushwick residents said the developers should have been "good neighbors" and advised them about their plans which, as the developers themselves pointed out, have been years in the making.

Erik Ekstein, President and CEO at Ekstein Development Group. Photo: Jessy Edwards for the BK Reader

Dr. Deborah Hicks, who has lived on Linden Street since 1957, told Ekstein she was concerned about the overall aesthetics of the building and would like the tower lowered. "You're creating a monstrosity," the 68-year-old said. "It's disingenuous in terms of architectural respect to the character of Bushwick."

To this, Ekstein responded that the City of New York's zoning had permitted them to go that high. Disabled veteran Michael McMahon said he was concerned about access to affordable housing in Bushwick. He also challenged the developers on the fact they will not be using union labor exclusively, calling the construction "substandard."

Others raised the fact that the company hadn't bothered to clean up in the two years they'd owned the property, creating a major rat problem.

The planned development. Image: Leonard Fusco / DOB public filings screenshot

The developers will be clearing a large area in between Linden and Grove Streets to make room for an underground parking lot that will be covered by an open recreation area when finished. They showed the community the plans Tuesday, and said those whose houses back onto it would also be able to use the area.

However, Camacho took the opportunity to warn neighbors against letting the developers use their property or signing any agreement, pointing to previous Brooklyn horror stories.

"Once you make a deal with the devil, no one is going to help you," he said. To Ekstein, he promised he would make life difficult for builders. "I'mma make sure the Building Department is in your building every day. Mark my words," he said.

The meeting eventually descended into yelling after E&T Skyline & Construction Partner Kevin Tolbert â€" who arrived late â€" told residents that building high above the J train was "better living" because it eliminated train noise.

Previously, he had reminded locals that "we don't need permission to develop a property."

That was the last straw for 65-year-old Connie Williams, whose mom worked two jobs for decades in order to keep them in their Linden Street home.

"You don't understand!" she said. "Maybe you never had someone who worked and died for what they give their children."

"It's not better living," Camacho added. "Brother, you need to downgrade, because people are losing their livelihoods in the hood because of franchises like you."

Minutes later, the developers ended the meeting.

"It just seemed to be getting extremely aggressive and we're just trying to show people what is happening," Ekstein told BK Reader afterwards.

"We weren't expecting this, now we understand their concerns we're going to talk internally about what to do about them." However, he said, the building design is not going to change. The only wriggle-room would be around certain aspects of the open space.

Tensions building

The building seen alongide the Gates Ave. station. Image: Leonard Fusco / DOB public filings screenshot

BK Reader first reported on the proposed development in January, when neighbors stumbled on Ekstein Development's plans for a 20-story building complex at the corner of Broadway and Linden Street, with a parking lot for 114 cars.

Locals at the time said they were "dumbfounded" by the plans, which towered over the J train.

The initial plans also proposed razing a large, lush green area behind the Linden Street row houses and turning it into a parking lot. The area used to be a beloved community garden.

In September, an eagle-eyed local resident uncovered the deed for the land and found a clause that said the lush green area had to be kept as "open space."

Bushwick residents took the information to the EDC â€" the former owners of the lands â€" which said residents were correct. The EDC ordered Ekstein Development to revise its plans.

On Tuesday, Ekstein showed the Bushwick residents its new plans to create an underground parking lot beneath the area that must remain open. Ekstein said the EDC had approved these plans. Once completed, the area will still be "open" and residents whose properties back onto the area will have access to it.

The tree-filled area between Grove and Linden will be redeveloped into an "open area" with a barbecue and underground parking lot. Photo: Devon McMindes

What We Know

Tuesdays meeting revealed some key information for Bushwick residents.

Timeline: Ekstein said his company plans to begin construction on the tower in the next two months (February/March 2022). Construction on the underground parking lot will begin in six to eight months (June-August 2022).

Total construction time on the development is estimated at 30 months, Ekstein said. That indicates an estimated completion date of around August 2024.

Construction risks: Ekstein said his company would not be laying piles for the building, so residents did not need to worry about earth tremors or having the foundations of their own properties damaged.

He said the company does not exclusively use union labor. But reiterated that "each house" would be protected from damage, and added that his company has $15 million of insurance.

The "Open Area:" The green area between Linden and Grove will be cleared, with only the "nicer" trees will be left. The area will be excavated to build an underground, 1-level parking lot with stackers for 115 parking spots.

The plan for the "open area." Image: E&T Development

The parking spots will only be used by residents of 1333 Broadway, who will be charged $250 per month for the privilege.

On top of the parking lot an "open space" will be developed with trees, paving, planters and a pavilion with a built-in barbecue. Residents whose properties back onto the "open area" will be allowed to access the area, too.

The plan for the "open area." Image: E&T Development

Ekstein will build a new, 4-foot fence for each of the residents whose properties back onto the open space, however if they want to keep their existing fence, they can do so.

Ekstein said his company is open to consulting with residents about how the open space will be kept secure, perhaps only operating "dusk to dawn."

Parking: Ekstein said his company would not be using parking in the area during construction, instead parking at a building they own a block away.

Affordable housing: The building will contain 30% affordable housing at 130 percent Area Median Income, Ekstein said. It will have 13 three bedroom apartments, 14 two bedroom apartments, 43 one bedrooms and 36 studios. The space will be rented at about $50 per square foot, Ekstein said.

Company name and contact: Officially, the company developing the project is 1333 Broadway LL, which is owned by E&T Development / E&T Skyline Construction LLC.

Ekstein introduced Bill Morris to neighbors as their "community liaison," however speaking to BK Reader afterwards, Morris said he was actually the E&T Skyline Construction LLC Project Manager.

Morris said he did not want to see a copy of the BK Reader article and gave an office number, but would not provide an email address.

Jessy Edwards

About the Author: Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is an award-winning news and feature reporter whose work can be seen in such publications as NBC New York, Rolling Stone, the BBC, CNBC and more.
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