The Bushwick community is fighting to have its say on a new high-rise development planned for the former site of a beloved community garden.
The corner of Broadway and Linden St. -- once 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 plot of land has sat vacant since 2017.
Community input is not legally required on the project, but longtime-Bushwick residents say they hope the developer hears them out, as it moves to build on land that was central to the community's wellbeing for more than three decades.
As of today, the developer has been invited to address community concerns at a Community Board 4 special meeting next Thursday Feb. 4. For more on the meeting scroll to the end.
Longtime Linden St. resident Alan Gamboa said he only found out about the 20-story development after noticing surveyors measuring behind his house in early 2020. He checked on the Department of Buildings website and found the development plans, which were later approved.
"I was pretty dumbfounded by the prospect," he said. "I knew a building was coming, but I was thinking something more in tune with the neighborhood, there's not much that is more than maybe eight floors around here."
Ekstein Development has filed plans for a 205-foot building on Broadway and Linden housing 106 residential units, commercial space and a community facility. It is also working on a $90 million luxury rental development at 1389 Broadway.
Its proposed Z-shaped development also stretches into a leafy area between the rows of mostly three-story brownstones of Linden and Grove Streets, which is where Gamboa saw surveyors.
This area will be turned into an attended parking lot for 114 cars with stackers, and an open space for residents of the 20-story building, plans show.
The building will have a rooftop terrace, laundry room, bike storage and an exercise room, according to plans. The ground floor will have retail space, the second story will have offices and a community space. The rest is apartments.
The planned development is much higher than anything else in the area. The scale of the project is seen in architect drawings that show how the building dwarfs the nearby overground Gates Avenue subway station.
The community has voiced concerns about the size of the building, the apparent lack of truly affordable housing and the fact the area between the row houses will be disturbed.
The rare green space in Bushwick was bursting with life -- with rare birds, towering trees and even the odd snake to be found, locals said.
"I'd like to see the trees in the back area preserved as much as possible, and the parking spaces reduced or eliminated completely," Gamboa said.
New York State Senator Julia Salazar's office also said it was deeply concerned the developers' plan for 1333 Broadway indicated an apparent absence of deeply affordable housing.
"Our community has been in the grips of an affordable housing crisis and has been hit hard by years of gentrification and displacement; currently we are reeling from the COVID pandemic," the office told BK Reader.
It said it hopes to establish "contact and positive relations" with the developers in order to communicate with them the urgency of working together to advance affordable housing and quality of life for our most vulnerable and marginalized families.
Developer Erik Ekstein has not responded to questions at the time of publishing.
Another Bushwick resident, Gina Santonas, said the story pointed out how important it was for the community to be involved and engaged well before projects get a green light. "I would mind less if it was at least low-income housing units," she said. "This city is dying under half-empty condo buildings."
The Secret Garden
The Secret Garden was founded by late community leader Avellar G. Hansley in 1981, and ran for 36 years as a place where people would gather to barbecue, watch live music and chat. It once boasted the largest veggie patch in Bushwick.
Photographer Daryl-Ann Saunders documented the garden and photographed Hansley in 2014 as part of her Pioneers of Bushwick series.
She was at The Secret Garden in August 2014 as 88-year-old Hansley's service to Bushwick was commemorated by local leaders including Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, and the garden renamed in her honor.
In 2017 the site was sold to developers for $8.75 million and bulldozed. Since then, the corner has fallen into disrepair, with neighbors saying the developers simply put up a large plywood fence and proceeded to neglect the lot for three years.
In 2019 it was sold again for $16.7 million to Ekstein Development Group, records show.
On Monday Jan. 25, the Department of Sanitation was at the site with a bulldozer, clearing some of the trash that locals said was becoming a health hazard.
Lifelong Bushwick resident Jonathan Paulino, 37, was working nearby Monday, and said he always used to walk past The Secret Garden on his way home from school. "I always remember the garden because, to me, it was like, I'm almost home."
He said he would like more housing for more people who need it, but he wished they kept the garden maintained, for the kids of today. "There's not a lot of parks like that around here, for the kids to see a little grass and nature, that would have been nice for them."
The bigger picture
Brooklyn Community Board 4 District Manager Celestina León said the 20-story high-rise was ultimately a result of the collapsed negotiations around Bushwick rezoning.
In Jan. 2020, Deputy Mayor Vicki Been shelved plans to rezone Bushwick and declined to consider the proposed Bushwick Community Plan, calling it a "downzoning." The plan was created by local residents and politicians, and would have limited developments along Broadway to 11 stories.
"Residents and stakeholders are forced to live with the reality of the current zoning due to what essentially became a difference in visions for the neighborhood's future," León said.
She encouraged interested neighbors to learn about the plan and get involved with the community board where they could.
She said concerned neighbors could also contact their council member, and contact ecological preservation groups about trying to protect the "naturally occurring bird sanctuary in the space behind the row houses."
For now, Community Board 4's Housing and Land Use Committee has scheduled a special committee meeting next Thursday, February 4th at 6pm to invite the developer of 1333 Broadway to provide more information about the project and address concerns.
"Their participation is not required as this is an as-of-right development, although the committee will still meet to hold space for the community to voice their concerns and discuss a response," León said.
New York Senator Julia Salazar, Councilmember Antonio Reynoso and Assemblywoman Maritza Davila are expected to attend. Interested Bushwick residents can join the Community Board 4 mailing list for more info.