Bushwick residents who raised alarms about a towering high-rise at 1333 Broadway are now cautiously optimistic that a lush grove of trees on the site—once known as the “Secret Garden” — might not be razed to make way for a parking lot.
The hope comes after an enterprising Bushwick local unearthed a clause in the developers’ deed that requires them to keep the tree-filled area as “open space.”
Bushwick residents then informed the city, which moved to advise developers Ekstein Development its plans were illegal in their current form. Since then, there’s been no activity on the site.
“Most people in our situation don’t have this ace up their sleeve,” Linden St. resident Alan Gamboa said Wednesday.
“If we hadn’t brought it to the city’s attention there might be construction right now, and the trees would be gone.”
BK Reader first reported on the proposed development in January, when Ekstein Development had plans for a 20-story building complex and a parking lot for 114 cars.
At the time, longtime Bushwick residents were fighting to have their say on the development, which they only knew about due to an eagle-eyed neighbor scanning the Department of Buildings website during quarantine down-time.
The community voiced concerns about the size of the building, which dwarfed its neighbors, the apparent lack of truly affordable housing and the fact the Secret Garden would be turned into a car park.
As the development is “as of right,” the developer had no legal requirement to listen to the community’s fears.
However, in February, a gumptious neighbor stumbled on a little-known restriction in the land’s deed that stopped the development in its tracks.
The deed restriction — which goes back to when the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) owned the land — states that the green, tree-filled area the developer currently has earmarked for a parking lot is in fact legally required to be an “open space.”
The NYC EDC is a nonprofit that works with City Hall to drive economic growth in the city. After Bushwick residents brought the clause to the EDC’s attention, it sent a letter to Ekstein Development advising them their plans were not legal.
On Wednesday, a NYCEDC spokesperson told BK Reader it was committed to enforcing the deed restriction that requires the developer of 1333 Broadway to maintain a portion of its property as open space for the ready access of the neighboring homes.
“The neighbors are beneficiaries of the deed restriction and continue to enjoy it today. NYCEDC will not permit developers to ignore deed restrictions in the pursuit of development,” the spokesperson said. “In response to NYCEDC’s concerns about its development plans, 1333 Broadway has represented to NYCEDC that it is revising its plans to preserve the open space.”
Ekstein Development did not respond to request for comment.
The New York City Legal Department (NYCLD) is also involved in the case on behalf of the NYCEDC, Gamboa said. He had given an affidavit to the department in June, as a neighbor to the property.
“Ekstein will argue [the site] is a dumping ground of no use to the community,” he said. “But I bought a birding book, I saw dozens of species of birds [in the wooded area], when I heard it could be cut down for a parking lot I felt sick, I couldn’t sleep, it’s crucial to my psychological enjoyment of this area.”
Gamboa said it was possible the developer would come back with a plan that the community still does not like, but they hope the trees will get to stay, or at least they would have been bought some more time.
“The specific term in the deed is it has to be an ‘open space,’ so I believe if they wanted to they could napalm the whole site and cut every tree to the ground, but they couldn’t have anything there.
“That would be purely for spite, most likely, and would not win them any friends.”
Brooklyn Community Board 4 District Manager Celestina León said at this stage, the community had to wait on Ekstein’s next moves.
In the ideal situation, Ekstein would advise the board of its revised plans, she said. Either way, when it submits its new plans, the plans would be flagged for review and the Community Board would know about it.
León added that, while it was still too early to say the community’s opposition efforts were a complete success, it was certainly a “smaller community success that normally doesn’t get a lot of recognition.”
“I really think that all of the residents sounding the alarm on this definitely deserve some congratulations for basically holding a developer accountable for what they’re doing in communities,” she said.
A rich history
Ekstein Development‘s original plans proposed a Z-shaped development stretching 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.
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.
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.
Ekstein has also faced criticism for neglecting the lot, which has become a stinky trash dumping ground, a public bathroom and, in April, the site of a makeshift tent for houseless individuals.
“It had escalated to a public safety concern as they were using kerosene tanks in there,” León said.
Most recently, non-city workers had been seen painting over graffiti on the exterior walls of the property. Garbage continues to be a persistent issue on the site.
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