Friday, June 15, 2012

Bedford Park - Developers Behaving Badly, Destroying Community Garden

The documentation is unreadable as presented above, but if you click on the images, they should be legible. Basically, back in 1994, the Brooklyn Ecumenical Council (BEC) dedicated a pair of lots on Bedford as a community garden and park, to be jointly used and paid for by residents and owners of the surrounding buildings. Fast forward 18 years, and a developer who's acquired some adjacent land believes he has rights to the space, and has already shredded the trees, shrubs, and bushes that had adorned the lot for the past two decades. Needless to say, the residents are fighting back, and they're hoping to mount a legal and political challenge to this land grab, starting with a meeting on Wednesday, June 27, 2012 at 6:30pm in the Day Care Center on the first floor of 1448 Bedford Avenue. If you're someone who has legal expertise to offer, or if you'd just like to be involved in the preservation of green community spaces in our rapidly-changing neighborhood, get in touch via the phone numbers on the first page above.


  1. Deeds record property to the nearest inch. So, either the developer has the rights that come with a deed or doesn't.

    If other people have claims or rights to the property, that should have come up in the title search.

    How many times has this property changed hands since the original developer (a non-profit) went out of business? If these properties were legally bound together, it should have been caught each time.... Mistakes happen, but this may be a case of the rights of the non-profit's debtors trumping those of the residents who remained when the nonprofit went defunct.

    If my scenario is correct, the most recent buyers aren't acting badly at all ...they are simply developing a vacant lot that was once part of a non-profit.

    Had the non-profit not gone belly up, I hope it would have built affordable homes on the site once it was able to get enough money. ...but that clearly did not happen.

  2. I still think telling a community group you're going to talk with them and then ripping all the trees and shrubs out later that week is pretty bad behavior. They may own the lot (though I'm unclear on exactly how this agreement attaches, or doesnt, to property transfers, and clearly there's some dispute), and if so, their desire to develop is understandable, but running roughshod over a community space without fair warning is still bad behavior - it's just not illegal.

    Also, if there is some confusion or dispute, it certainly wouldn't be the first time a develop has made a unilateral move before a legal matter has been settled to create facts on the ground that demoralize the opposition.

  3. Your version of how rights should be able to be used seems subjective, and seems to subvert the authority of the court system.

    No one has an obligation to wait until everyone agrees with what they are about to do. When you have a right, you don't have to wait until ANYONE agrees with you about what you are about to do.

    At present, the developer has the rights if s/he has the deed. There is a process for verifying that those rights were properly given, and it does not involve casually meetIng with people who don't want you to use your rights.

  4. Ah, then perhaps I should clarify, because your statement elides my two points, when I was trying to distinguish them.

    Point 1: At present, there is a dispute regarding which parties have rights to the lot. This is a question for the courts to decide, and to my mind, the right thing to do would be to wait until the legal matter has been resolved before making severe alterations to the lot. Developers both private and public (Robert Moses was the master of this) often do not wait for legal settlements, but rather launch into demolitions and other such drastic maneuvers because they have calculated that even if the court finds for their opponents, the destruction they've already wreaked will put them in a better position to bargain with/demoralize/pay off their opposition and continue with their plans.

    This point rests on the premise that the legal questions in this case have not been resolved, and the assertion that taking action to destroy a community garden when your right do so is not clear, is wrong (and part of a deliberate and insidious strategy to use might to make right - as you can see, I don't trust developers to take their time with the letter of the law, primarily because they have no incentive to). This is a legal point.

    Point 2: This point proceeds from a different premise - perhaps, as MikeF suggests, the developer has a clear and inalienable right to the lot. In that case, as Mike correctly points out, they have the right to do whatever they want (within the existing guidelines laid out by the city and state, etc). However, the fact that a behavior is legal does not make it moral or social (and this last is what I'm concerned with). I would be entirely within my rights to turn this blog into a slanted attack on some group I decided was evil and was destroying America (the web is full of such nonsense), but this would be, to my mind, anti-social (and, depending on how egregiously I distorted and omitted facts, perhaps immoral). The developer may well have every right to replace the garden with condos, but that doesn't mean that telling a group you'll meet with them to discuss the issue and then shredding the garden before that meeting is moral or social (this is what I meant when I wrote "running roughshod over a community space is still bad behavior - it's just not illegal.").

    Now, why this second point? Because public opinion, public responses, and the political action they generate matter, even in the world of supply-and-demand capitalism. A recent local example was the whole "Pro-Cro" controversy: there was no way the bill to punish realtors for re-branding neighborhoods was ever going to become law, and yet, in the context of heightened community debate around these questions, several realtors, most notably bigwig firm Corcoran, redrew their maps so as not to be accused of this behavior.

    With respect to this particular space, it may well be that the developer has a clear right to the space, and in that case, no action short of buying it from them is likely going to stop them from building on it. Fair enough - the same thing, as you'll recall, happened to the Crow Hill Community Garden a few months ago, and it was handled reasonably by all sides. But the fact that developers have the RIGHT to do what they like doesn't mean that communities shouldn't organize to encourage these developers to engage with them, and to react publicly when they break promises (yes, even non-binding ones). This isn't legal behavior - it's social behavior. And developers respond to it - why do you think Bruce Ratner was out building a playground in the rain a month ago?

  5. Communities certainly have the right to try to pressure developers into things. As you are likely aware, I encourage it.

    For the sake of the developer, I hope that s/he has been assured by competent counsel that the offering plan does not affect their ability to build.

    Likewise, I hope that s/he has accurately determined any threats to them from the community to be negligible.

    As you allude, few people compromise and appease unless they have to. If the community gets organized, they might (under threat of a lawsuit) be able to force such things from the developer, or at least force a meeting.

    Until then, I can't say I fault the developer for cancelling a meeting with a group of people who feel their garden was destroyed illegally or (oh so loaded and subjective...) "unjustly".

    In this instance the developer likely perceives the community is acting like the police: Desperately hoping s/he will screw up so they can charge him with something.

    As you likely believe: Only a fool talks to the police when they don't have to, and (even then) never without a lawyer present.

    To make a long story short:

    There are lots of people in the world to have "social behavior" with; I try not to be hurt when people feel no need to be social with me.

    I often encourage others not to be hurt when someone clearly has no need to be social with them.

  6. P.S. A good title insurance policy would likely protect the new owners against the claims of the condo owners. At best, they may get a financial settlement from the insurer (not the developer) years down the road, and the building is long complete.

  7. This all makes sense, but where I think where we're talking past each other is on the question of what actually happened. I don't think the developer cancelled a meeting - I think they claimed they were willing to talk (in order, perhaps, to forestall more drastic or antagonistic community action) and then acted unilaterally in spite of it. Hence the phrase "bad behavior."

    1. What you see as bad behavior may have been the result of a decision that stemed from sound legal advice.

      Off to court they go?

  8. BTW, Do you assign a prejorative value to the word "unilateral"?

    Do you feel we always have to involve others in our decision making, even if it is simply to let them express their view?

    I find such a stance to be unrealistic, and am glad others can ignore me when I have no legal standing, or constructive things to say. I can only imagine how hellish the world would be if we each had to meet with everyone who thought they had been wronged.

    I'm glad we have systems that prevent myself and others this fate.

  9. Mike fuck , just shit a fuck up

  10. ditto the above

  11. Opposite the above. Keep ignoring the ineloquent haters, Mike.

  12. I just want to note that, based on my reading of the posted documents, what is at stake was apparently not intended to be a public community garden or park but rather open space for the exclusive use of the condominium residents. That does not negate the dispute but may impact the interest taken by the general readership of this blog.

  13. After much research and review I have arrived at the following conclusion. The property was mortgaged a while ago and there was an agreement with the City recorded in the city register's office which specifically said that the community space is subordinated to the mortgage and therefore if the mortgage gets foreclosed on then the rights to the community space become wiped out. This in fact did happen. The mortgage was foreclosed on and now the developer received a deed which gives him all rights to the property. Unfortunately, the new developer does not have to use any part of his property now as community space since that was wiped out by the foreclosure.

  14. yup, that's what source told me as well.

    I paraphrased it in my first post above as "the rights of the debtors trumped those the remaining residents", because I wasn't certain.

    If we are getting good info, it looks like the tenants should not spend any on an attorney, and should instead accept that they no longer have a garden.

  15. If this is true (and that is what I've heard as well as of today), 'tis a shame, then, but there was nothing to be done. To return to a minor point, I used the term "bad behavior" because the developer TOLD the community they would meet with them about the garden and then razed the garden BEFORE doing so, rendering any meeting about it moot. This is not a plea for everyone to reach consensus about everything, or to suggest that unilateral action is always a bad thing. It's merely to suggest that saying you will do one thing and then doing another is bad behavior. The developer didn't have to say ANYTHING to the tenants, or it could have just said "sorry, we have the rights, construction starts Monday." This would have been sad but true, perfectly legal, and not bad behavior at all. It might have raised some slight headaches if the tenants were committed somehow delay the process through civil disobedience or some legal means of tying up the process, though these both seem highly unlikely (no legal ground to stand on, and not quite the sort of thing people lie in front of bulldozers for).

    I raised this issue, and referred to it as bad behavior, because I think it's instructive. Even when they had every right to do something, these developers felt the need to minimize a potential response by lying to some people. Is it illegal? Is it the end of the world, or even all that surprising? Of course not (as one comment notes, it was a small private space for a few affordable units). But it is obnoxious, and in my experience, developers are often obnoxious. When they are, even if it's a minor incidence of obnoxiousness, it's worth calling them out. Think of it as a "zero tolerance" policy for the big guns.

  16. You know in soccer when shift your weight one way to make your opponent believe you are going THAT way around them, but instead go the other way?

    That's how the game is won, right?

    Soccer is a lot like real life.

  17. You know in soccer when your teammate sends a cross to your back foot and you somehow manage to knock it in with spectacular spinning shot off your heel? It's not really a very good metaphor for development, but it looks awesome:

  18. I just remember playing in AYSO, at age 8. Some kid faked me out and then scored a goal.

    I cried because I thought he was a cheater. Then, I learned how to do it.

  19. Textbook example of a narcissist. Human relations come down to game- playing. Sad.

  20. TONIGHT Regarding this issue:

    Community Meeting and Candlelight Vigil (for the trees they killed)
    Wednesday, June 27, 2012
    6:00 pm
    1448 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11216

    Meeting: Inside Daycare Center - corner of Bedford Ave. & Park Pl.
    Candlelight Vigil: Following the meeting at the Bedford Park, adjacent to the center