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JCPenney is prepping for opening day, August 29, in Gateway Center, the mall in East New York where Walmart had once hoped to locate. The store, JCPenney’s first in Brooklyn, will have a few “Brooklyn-centric touches, including murals of borough landmarks,” said a story in The New York Daily News.

JCPenney will be anchoring Phase II of the big, surburgan-style mall, developed by Related Companies. It joins Target, Home Depot, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Best Buy, Red Lobster and Olive Garden, among other retailers. (more…)

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Mayor de Blasio’s plans to redevelop East New York — a test case for his affordable housing plans for all of New York City — are fatally flawed, according to a report from Newsday. De Blasio wants to rezone the area to encourage mixed-use high-rise development with 50 percent market rate, 30 percent middle income and 20 percent low income apartments and retail on the bottom level. But income levels and rents in the area now are too low to attract developers, middle class residents or retailers, according to developers and others quoted in the story. (more…)

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Once again, East New York is in the news as the ground zero for Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan. If we read this article in Crain’s correctly, the formula seems to be: Rezone Atlantic Avenue from Euclid Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue. Inject public and private dollars into developing office, retail and manufacturing space around the Broadway Junction transit hub. This, the thinking goes, will spur development of 50-30-20 high-rise housing in East New York, which will help assuage the city’s affordability problem. (more…)

Howard House Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Howard’s Woods was a farm tract established by William Howard, the eldest of seven brothers who came to the Flatbush area in the late 1600s from England. They settled on land that was part of the “New Lots” opened up to Flatbush settlers looking for more room. As time went by, new neighbors came to the area; a pretty remote spot near the Jamaica Bay. Around 1700, William Howard turned his large Dutch style farm house into an inn and tavern.

He was near a crossroads where the Jamaica Plank Road that led to Long Island was met by other local roads, including what would become Atlantic Avenue, the perfect place for a tavern. His customers were farmers, merchants and others making their way back and forth to Brooklyn and Long Island. He called his inn Howard House.

Howard House soon became a way station for stage coaches, and a tourist destination for those heading further out on Long Island, or to Manhattan via Brooklyn, and William Howard was a busy man. In the old tradition of English pubs and inns, he always kept a key on a hook outside so that anyone could enter after all were asleep and take shelter. Howard knew his customers were honest and would settle up later. On August 27th, 1776, Howard House was visited by a man who used that key and came into the inn at two in the morning.

The American colonies were flexing their muscles toward independence from England. The Declaration of Independence had been signed, and war was in the air. General George Washington and the Continental Army was in Brooklyn, in the Gowanus and Brooklyn Heights area, and even out in New Lots, people were wondering what would happen next. Many people, like William Howard, were English themselves, but had committed themselves to the cause of American liberty.

So when the British gentleman who entered the inn at two in the morning woke William Howard and his son up, they had no idea what was going on. Even though it was in the middle of summer, the man had a coat on, and a cap on his head. He was accompanied by several other men, and they called for a round of drinks for themselves. After downing their ale, the leader of the group announced to Howard and his teenage son that they were his prisoners. He was Lord William Howe, the commander of the British forces. The tavern soon found itself surrounded by red-coated British troops who came out of the woods in huge numbers. (more…)

hoop house

If you’re involved with a community garden or happen to have a sizable backyard, you might want to learn how to build a hoophouse, a simple, low-cost type of greenhouse. Citizens Committee for New York City is hosting a hands-on workshop next weekend in East New York that will lead participants through the basics of building one.

Hoophouses can be made of wood, metal or plastic and will help extend the growing season of plants by protecting them year round. The workshop takes place Saturday, June 28, from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm at an as-yet-undisclosed location in East New York. To RSVP and find out more, head over to Citizens Committee and download the flyer.

Photo via Little House on the Urban Prairie

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As the city contemplates rezoning in East New York and elsewhere, City Planning has released a study that recommends increasing density along major thoroughfares there while keeping residential side streets as they are — not unlike the rezonings along 4th Avenue or in Crown Heights.

The report bills itself as a study of how to increase safety, jobs and affordable housing in East New York, rather than being a guide to upzoning. The report notes that “the area’s existing rowhouses and small apartment buildings, located on the residential side streets between the neighborhood’s retail corridors, have been a source of stability” for the neighborhood. The report recommends “contextual zoning” to retain and promote these buildings and to “ensure that new infill development complements the existing built residential character.”

Meanwhile, the report recommends new, mixed-income housing and mixed-use development “along key transit corridors,” especially Atlantic Avenue. Vacant, derelict and under-used sites there are ripe for development, according to the report:

Provide opportunities for thousands of new housing units as well as for jobs on vacant or underutilized sites along key transit corridors in East New York. Atlantic Avenue offers the greatest potential for higher-density, mixed-use development with several large strategic sites. New housing and neighborhood stores could also be supported by the existing transit lines along Pitkin Avenue and Fulton Street. A wide range of resources, including housing subsidies and zoning mechanisms, could ensure that this new housing would be affordable to households at a range of income levels.

The City Planning Department also wants to bring jobs and higher-density housing to Broadway Junction. It hopes to increase safety on the streets for pedestrians with better sidewalks, traffic lights and other improvements. NY YIMBY was the first to cover the report; it recommended more density than City Planning calls for.

Do you think a rezoning and more density is the key to improving the quality of life in East New York?

Image by City Planning

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The New York Times spoke to a few people in the areas most likely to be affected by Mayor de Blasio’s plan to upzone Brooklyn to construct more affordable housing. The gist of it is that people welcome new buildings if they are truly affordable, create jobs and are a reasonable height — four stories, not 40.

New housing should not overwhelm the neighborhood’s character, one resident, Tommy Smiling, said as he stood outside a bodega on Pitkin Avenue. In swiftly gentrifying parts of Brooklyn like Clinton Hill, where Mr. Smiling’s son lives, “it’s all brownstones, and then you have this skyscraper,” he said. “I’m not into that. Four stories? O.K., that’s not bad.”

Pardon Me for Asking Blogger Katia Kelly believes the plan is a giveaway to developers under the guise of affordable housing. “It’s, ‘The developers want to build — let’s tack on a couple of apartments here that are affordable,’” she said. Most interviewed said construction must be accompanied by appropriate increases in transportation, schools and sewers. The de Blasio plan allows for that, according to the Times.

For our part, we are concerned the plan could Manhattanize the outer boroughs without making a dent in affordability. Rezonings could produce a ton of ultra-expensive high-rise housing that will vastly increase housing costs in ungentrified areas such as along Atlantic Avenue and Broadway from Barclays Center and the BQE into East New York. (Above, Broadway Junction, where Broadway, Fulton and Atlantic intersect on the borders of Bushwick, Ocean Hill, Brownsville and East New York.) With no set proportion of affordable units, there could be opportunities for abuse and corruption. There’s also a practicality issue: How will the city have time to review every as-of-right development?

What’s your opinion?

With Caution, a Poor Corner of Brooklyn Welcomes an Affordable Housing Plan [NY Times]

233 NY Ave, St. Johns, Grace Bap. KL, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Grace Baptist Church, formerly St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church
Address: 233 New Jersey Avenue
Cross Streets: Liberty and Glenmore avenues
Neighborhood: East New York
Year Built: 1897-98
Architectural Style: English Gothic
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: Not all of the Germans who came to Brooklyn in the middle of the 1800s lived in Bushwick or Williamsburg. Many ended up following Bushwick Avenue into East New York, and settling there. A trip to Evergreen Cemetery to look at all of the elaborate headstones and mausoleums with Germanic names gives an indication of how many Germans, many quite prominent, lived in the area, well into the 20th century.

The new residents of East New York and Cypress Hills build on land bought from the original Dutch families who had farms here since the late 1600s. Houses were built, and businesses began moving over him from the more crowded areas of town, such as Williamsburg. Cultural institutions were also important as were houses of worship. In 1847, the St. Johannes Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche was founded for members of this community.

This part of Brooklyn was settled from people from Hanover, Schleswig-Holstein, and Mecklenberg. Today, this area is called Lower Saxony, and borders the North Sea in northwestern Germany. The congregation bought three plots of land for $100, on New Jersey Avenue, near Liberty Avenue. There were 39 families in the area at the time, necessitating the building of a small wood-framed church, which cost them $1,800. (more…)

91 Pennsylvania Ave, ENYSB, KL, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former East New York Savings Bank, now M&T Bank
Address: 91 Pennsylvania Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Atlantic Avenue
Neighborhood: East New York
Year Built: 1889-1890
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Richard Upjohn, Jr.
Other work by architect: St. George Episcopal Church, Bedford Stuyvesant; St. Paul’s Church, Cobble Hill, State Capital Building in Hartford, Conn.; First National Bank, Salt Lake City, and much more
Landmarked: No

The story: The part of town we know now as East New York was the 26th Ward in the late 19th century. Considering the 1st Ward consisted of the piers and streets of Brooklyn Heights, this was a far-flung territory, and more proof that the city of Brooklyn was indeed huge, and one of the first rate cities of the United States. The people who settled in the 26th Ward were a determined bunch. East New York had once been New Lots, and New Lots had been an offshoot of Flatbush. Both were settled, beginning in the late 1600s, by the Dutch who established farms on the land, both large and small.

After the Civil War, and moving towards the end of the century, one by one, the Dutch farmsteads were bought out by land developers. The names of the new streets cut across the old fields and meadows were a list of many of these large landowning farmers; Lott, Rapelye, Schenck, Remsen, Stoothoff, Vanderveer, Wyckoff, and others. By the 1870s, large groups of Germans from Bushwick began to settle here, and open businesses and build homes.

One of the largest landowners in the latter half of the century was a man named Edward F. Linton. He and a group of prominent East New Yorkers worked diligently to bring city services to this, the furthest outpost in Brooklyn. He was a tireless promoter of the area, and almost singlehandedly got the city to pave the streets and sidewalks, lay sewer lines, put in streetlights and bring mass transit to the area. His story was told in a series of Walkabouts called “The Landlord of East New York,” beginning here.

The earliest community leaders in ENY really wanted their own bank. Just about every neighborhood had at least one community bank, founded by wealthy local merchants and businessmen, and supported by much of the rest of the community. A bank meant that your community was putting down roots for the long haul. It also meant you didn’t have to get on a train, trolley, or carriage to another neighborhood to do your banking. (more…)

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A Brooklyn landlord has actually been jailed — for criminal contempt related to failing to maintain his buildings. He was also fined $382,000, The New York Daily News reported. What is so striking about this case is that, according to the Daily News, landlord Kris Gounden didn’t merely fail to fix problems — he actually tried to prevent the city from repairing and fueling the boiler in his building at 864 Elton Street in East New York. He padlocked the basement door and parked his car over the oil cap so the tank couldn’t be filled.

Garbage was also piled up in the driveway and, best of all, sparks shot out of a light switch with exposed wires. Tenants went without heat or hot water “for weeks at a time,” said the story.

Brooklyn Slumlord, Who Blocks Boiler From Being Repaired, Slapped With Jail [NY Daily News]
Photo by Kate Leonova for PropertyShark

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The two-family in East New York priced at $599,999 that was yesterday’s HOTD, above, also inspired The New York Daily News to take a look at East New York and whether it could be Brooklyn’s next “home buying frontier,” as the Brooklyn section teaser headline put it. “Spacious, affordable” properties there such as the one at 504 Georgia Avenue could lure buyers priced out of rapidly appreciating neighborhoods such as Crown Heights, Bed Stuy and Bushwick. “However, crime in the area remains a concern,” the story continued.

Listing agent Louis Belisario of Fillmore told the Daily News the area is good for investors because of its relative affordability and skyrocketing rents. “Rates are very low and rents here are going through the roof. It’s a great house because if you bought it, your rental income would cover most of your mortgage,” he said.

As other reports have shown, the area has seen an influx of renters priced out from other areas of Brooklyn. Violent crime in the area decreased last year, but “robbery, grand larceny and general assault” were all up.

Councilwoman Inez Barron (married to former Councilman Charles Barron) said keeping East New York affordable for current residents is a priority. She also noted the waves of newcomers moving in and said the area “has the greatest retention and growth of people moving into the community. We’re getting a grip on crime. Crime is going down.”

Commenters have previously said the area’s large number of public housing projects makes it an unlikely candidate for gentrification. What’s your opinion?

East New York: The Next Home Buying Frontier? [NY Daily News]

This freestanding brick two-family in East New York consists of two spacious floor-through apartments with some nice early 20th century details. The mechanicals are updated as are the kitchens and baths. The top floor apartment has four bedrooms and plenty of closets; the ground floor apartment is a three-bedroom with access to the basement.

The building is about 3,000 square feet and 23 feet wide on a 30 by 100 lot. It looks close enough to the elevated track that noise could be an issue, but it’s also convenient to the 1, 2, 3, and L trains. At $599,000, do you think it would be a good investment property?

504 Georgia Avenue [Fillmore] GMAP