Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ugly circulars, be gone! The magic of micro-activism

One of the larger of the small-time annoyances associated with living in a lovely neighborhood with block after block of gorgeous limestones, brownstones, and free-standing one families is the infuriating collection of advertising circulars that are deposited on people's front stoops several times a week. These circulars are: a) ugly b) wasteful c) redundant (with a sign on every block announcing that the entire neighborhood is zoned for one family houses only you'd think someone would have figured out that there's no need for three or four dropoffs per residence).

They're also now d) illegal -- at least if you decide to do something about them. In March, city councilman Simcha Felder proposed a bill that would make it unlawful to distribute "any unsolicited printed materials" at residences that post notices saying they don't want them. Last month, the bill was passed without much fanfare; now, companies/restaurants/etc that violate the new law can be fined anywhere from $250 to $1,000.

In a neighborhood like PLG, posting written notices isn't always feasible...which doesn't mean you can't get rid of all that unwanted paper waste. Each circular has a phone number listed on it (the ones that come in the white plastic bags have the number printed on the bags themselves; the Newsday distributed ones list a customer service number). If you call that number and tell them you no longer want to receive their bundled advertisements, they won't deliver them to you anymore.

Really. I should know -- it's been three weeks since I've come home to find a packet of these things stuck into my gate. So take five minutes, make a few calls, and save yourself a whole heap of mess...and do a small bit towards lessening the city's paper waste.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The continuing saga of the old PPLG HQ

As our much more conscientious blog-mates over at Across the Park recently pointed out, a developer's plan to turn the former PPLG HQ over at 185 Ocean Ave into an eight-story apartment building has been turned least for now. The city's Department of Building's nixed every single application -- for a new building, construction, plumbing, etc. (although we'd bet that this is one of those all or nothing deals).

Poking around online turned up some more info: the submitted plans included seven residential floors, six of which would have three units; the top floor would be divided into two penthouses. The proposed structure was slated to be 80-feet tall and total 23,000 square feet, which, by my calculations, means the floors with three apartments would have about 850-sq ft units (assuming they were all slotted to be the same size), and the penthouses would be a healthy 1700 sq feet.* (I'm allowing for stairwells, etc, here). Just as interesting is the fact that the plans included a floor of commercial space, although it was hard (for me) to tell if that was meant to be for a retail business, office space, or a "community facility" -- which is what is listed on one of the applications filed with the DoB.

All this seems standard enough -- plans get turned down all the time, and there's no way to tell what caused these ones to be rejected. What's more interesting is the fact that less than a week after the city told him to stand down, the building was cited -- twice, actually -- for illegal excavation without a permit and demolition without approved plans. It goes without saying that we're not fully versed in the arcana of building in New York...but that does seem interesting.

* On one of the documents there's an indication that the structure would actually be nine stories, which would obviously change all these calculations.

Menus, get yer menus here...

I've been about as bad a blogger as one can be...but I do respond in a pinch. I know there've been calls for the old school PPLG food and drink here it is. I'll put it up in the sidebar as well. And hopefully will be back with a somewhat more active presence soon...

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Times ignores its own clips in favor of cheerleading for the local real estate market

Real Estate sections in daily newspapers come perilously close to being advertorials: there's usually a series of listings masquerading as actual editorial content combined with some warm and fuzzy articles about how nice it is to live in such and such a area...all surrounded by paid listings, real estate agency ads, and the like. This is true in the Times's Real Estate section as much as anywhere else, although the Times does do a better job of putting lipstick on this pig than most.

Don't get me wrong; I like my real estate porn as much as the next guy. I'm not, however, much of a fan of disinformation, which is what you oftentimes end up getting come Sunday. I've noticed this most often in the Times's weekly "Residential Sales Around the Region" feature, a full-page blowout that lists sales from Manhattan to Connecticut and New Jersey and includes a couple of lines of info per property sold, including listing price, sale price, and time on market. This page does as much to spark interest in local properties as anything else in the paper -- imagine you're looking for a place to live only to find out that everything on the market is selling within a couple of months, and for close to asking.

Unfortunately, the information contained therein is often, how I say this? Oh yeah: completely false. Take this week's run down: there's a posted sale of 60 De Koven Court, a 100-year old Victorian in Midwood, Brooklyn, for $1.275 million. The property, according to the Times, was listed at $1.35 million and had been on the market for 13 weeks, which would mean it went on the market sometime in late April (the actual closing date is listed as being July 20) and sold for about 94% of asking.

Both of these pieces of information are wrong. For one thing, by the time it sold, the house was actually listed at $1.310 million, as the website of Mary Kay Gallagher, the property's broker, shows. What's more, that 13 weeks on the market is about 200 percent, as a quick perusal of the Times's own archives will show you: the paper featured that exact same house in its "On the Market" feature on November 12 (which, for those keeping score, is approximately 38 weeks ago) for $1.6 million* (which, for those of you still keeping track, means it only sold for about 80 percent of its initial asking price). (Quick digression: "On the Market" is shockingly advertorial-esque: the paper's list of "pros" and "cons" often is little more than an encapsulated summary of the actual listing itself and rarely includes relevant information. In the De Koven property, for example, pros include "leaded glass windows," a "back staircase," and its location on a a cul-de-sac, all of which were also listed as "special features" on the Mary Kay's site.** The Times does not mention that that cul-de-sac is the result of the house being about 100 feet away from an exposed subway line that is audible from everywhere in the house; needless to say, another missing item from the "cons" list was "The house is ridiculously overpriced." Instead, the only negative is "Midwood Park is a 30- to 40-minute subway ride to downtown Manhattan," which is pretty much the same as saying, "This house is located where we say it's located.")

Since it first went on the market -- when its owners moved out of the country -- 60 DeKoven's price has been dropped at least four times. I went to one of the Open Houses in December, when, if I remember correctly, its listed price was down to $1.395 million, having already been dropped once before. The house is truly a nice one, and plenty of people aren't going to be bothered a whit by the nearby subway. From the little I know about property values in that neighborhood, $1.3 million is also about right for a sprawling three-story with nice detail, front and back yards, and a two-car garage...and if it had been listed at $1.3 last October when it first went on the market, I'm sure it actually would have sold within a month or so. But it wasn't, and it didn't. Although that's not with the Times would have you believe.

* In fact, the house was actually on the market for at least two-and-a-half weeks before the Times's initial item, as this post in Brownstoner shows. The hoi polloi that populate the Brownstoner comments section also realized almost immediately how overpriced the property was, quickly concluding that it was actually worth about...$1.3 million.

** Another note: none of this is a knock in any way on MKG, who is, in fact, our all-time favorite broker ever. In fact, it makes us sad that she doesn't work in PLG -- every neighborhood could use a cheerleader as charismatic, energetic, and appealing as she is.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

July, we hardly knew ye

Look, it was a long month. My back hurts. My efforts to get through the summer without AC are getting stymied. Anyway, I know the quickest route to injury is to dive in and try to do everything at once, so I'm going to start out slow. To wit: there's an interesting piece posted on NY1's website about the remaining real estate bargains in the city:

“'We are seeing people migrating to places like Prospect Heights and Crown Heights; Lefferts Gardens is really hot right now; Sunset Park is getting much more popular. You can really get a lot more bang for your buck,' says McLean."

Wow, great news! And who is this McLean, you might ask? That would be Corcoran broker Tracey McLean who, for what it's worth, has listings in both Crown Heights and Prospect Heights.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Reaching out to the should be a lot easier to do from now on

Several people have posted comments about ways in which the PLG community can reach out to members of the 71st Precinct (and specifically to the family of PO Russel Timoshenko, who remains on life support at the Kings County Hospital Center). There are several community members in touch with Officer Martinos, the 71st's community liaison; as soon as there's information about a fund set up, I'll post that info.

In the meantime, everyone can do little things -- like tell cops patrolling the streets that their work is appreciated and how much their presence means to us. I've made it a habit of talking to cops whenever I see them (and almost all of the time it's not due to my being in some sort of trouble). It can seem surprising at first how much the guys on foot patrol respond to this...but on reflection it makes perfect sense. Cops are used to having people treat them as bad news; as an added bonus, during the summer they're stuck wearing multiple layers of clothing (and oftentimes bulletproof vests) in tropical heat. A little positive human interaction can go a long way.

If you do decide to chat up some of the boys in blue, you shouldn't have a hard time finding them: last night at midnight, I could 11 cops on Flatbush between Empire and Maple, which works out to approximately one cop per .002 miles. The heightened level of traffic stops, particularly in the Lincoln-Lefferts-Washington-Flatbush triangle, has also been hard to miss.

This could very well be an example of the NYPD's "Compstat on Steroids program, where 1,000 rookie officers have been teamed up with 200 vets and struck out on foot patrols in particularly sticky areas, some of which can be as small as a specific building. The sudden influx is fairly obviously a response to last Sunday's shooting; it'll be interesting to see how long it stays operative for.

Other local reports appear to show that this effort could be aimed at a significantly larger swath -- perhaps even going all the way to Grand Army Plaza. Two nights ago there was a significant drug bust down in Prospect Heights (GMAP) that has resulted in plenty of local chatter.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

PPLG and Monday morning's shootings

I know: I've been shirking my duties. (And, to all you lefferts listserve members: I feel the love. Oh yes I do.) A combination of the heat, a now failed effort to get through the summer without AC, some travel, and huge piles of backed-up work have all conspired to create a quasi perfect storm of non-blogging conditions.

But it'd be hard to continue to stake any claims to being a community blogger and not post about yesterday morning's brutal shooting of two cops at the corner of Lefferts and Rogers Avenues (GMAP) Some of the coverage has, predictably, been focused on what this means for the neighborhood/the neighborhood's identity/the local real estate scene, etc. All of those are issues worth discussing, but before we do that, let's all remember that the most important facet of this story is that two men have been shot and one of them may or may not make it. I'm sure readers have had all sorts of experiences with the local police,* some of which have been less than positive. That shouldn't keep anyone from recognizing that cops -- especially New York City cops -- have a dangerous, often thankless job that pays poorly and has crappy hours. Slogans and mottos so often ring false, but the police's duty, in a very literal sense, is to protect and serve. They perform a function (along with garbage collectors, transit workers, and teachers, among others) that lets the rest of us go about our daily lives in relative peace and comfort. The fact that two cops humping the overnight shift got ambushed at a traffic stop is something we should all stop and think about, just as we should all think about the sacrifices American troops are performing in Iraq and Afghanistan regardless of our individual feelings about the war effort. (I'm opposed to it, for what it's worth.)

As far as our neighborhood goes, one of the things Monday's shootings has done is highlight the inchoate nature of PLG itself. Traditionally, PLG is thought to stretch from New York to Ocean Avenues and from Empire Blvd to Clarkson Ave. Lefferts Manor is a significantly smaller rectangle within that (from Lincoln Rd to Fenimore St and from Rogers Ave to Flatbush); the boundaries of the historic district, meanwhile, looks like they were drawn by a drunken city planner. (Suffice to say that if the shooting took place on either of the northern corners of the Lefferts-Rogers intersection it'd be within the historic district; if it was on either of the southern corners, it wouldn't be. To get a sense of just how odd that is, consider that the majority of the historic district is to the south. Here's a map of all these sundry boundaries.) This incident forced me to think about my conception of PLG, which I've long thought of as the manor with its southern border stretched down to Clarkson. It's also served as one more reminder of how stark the shift can be block to block (or even house to house) in all of New York City. The area around Chelsea's Maritime Hotel, on 16th St and 9th Ave, is a perfect example of this: the Maritime, on the east side of 9th, is run through with models and other assorted glitterati; across the street, on the west side of 9th, is an extremely large housing project. The public housing that rests between the Boerum Hill and Cobble Hill is another place where extreme gentrification sits next to a community that's been more or less ignored by the city's exploding wealth.

These boundaries are more fluid in PLG. In an odd way, this points to one of the things I like most about the neighborhood: the ways in which it is more integrated -- and not just racially -- than many other parts of the city that have witnessed an influx of new residents and a surge in million-dollar plus properties. In one of the Times stories, a local resident is quoted as saying, "It’s block by block around here. The next block over can be a different world." That's unquestionably true. (Turning on to Midwood from Flatbush often feels as if you stepped from a busy city to a pindrop-quiet suburb.) What's crucial for the entire neighborhood is to work to effect change throughout the area, and not just in the Manor (or the historic district, or whatever).

Finally, in regards to everyone favorite topic, I don't think this incident will effect real estate in any significant way. The area around the Rogers/Lefferts intersection hasn't seen the exponential increases of other parts of PLG, and the blocks that have $900,000 limestones will continue to find plenty of interest. (Think of other neighborhoods, from Fort Greene/Clinton Hill to the Lower East Side, where rising prices preceded a wholesale drop in crime.) What this means for the area on the border of PLG and Crown Heights is a whole other question, and one that's worth watching, for any number of reasons.

* One thing worth noting: whenever anyone gets pulled over, you'd do well to keep both of your hands on the steering wheel until the cop gets up to your window. Today's Times story begins, "Few actions police officers take are as routine — or as potentially deadly — as stopping a car. The hands of those in the stopped vehicle are hidden, and they can come out shooting, surprising an officer who only sought to check a minor infraction." Those aren't just words; I've spoken with policemen who've told me they get nervous every time they make a stop, whether they're in Westchester or East New York.