Lefferts Place is only three blocks long, running parallel to Fulton Street and Atlantic Ave. and bounded by on the east and St. James Place on the west. My block is the middle block – a tree-lined street with brownstones and compatible apartment buildings. I’ve lived here since 1972. Three of my children were born here and this is the only home any of them know. Every so often something happens on my block that brings neighboring residents out of their homes to block association meetings or that garner attention from the media. Developers and land use issues really gets the attention of home owners and folk quickly takes sides – for and against.
Most recently it was when CNR Health Care Network’s ten year old proposal to build assisted living housing resurfaced as a six story 71 unit building for seniors. During the 10 years of being in court with the lot’s owner, the area was rezoned, thus the need for community support to obtain a variance. In July CNR presented the project to 30 residents at a meeting convened by Mr. Roach, president of Lefferts Place Civic Association (LPCA). Residents voiced concerns about the density of the building that would be nestled between 70 Lefferts Pl, a yellow Civil War era Italianate villa-style mansion, the survivor of the last threat by a developer that the community succeeded in having landmarked in 2006 and a two-story frame house. The promotional drawing portrayed by CNR as 86 Lefferts Pl was a six story building nestled between another six story building and a four story building. There was also concerns about parking which didn’t get definitive answers. In this session I learned that there had been no needs assessment by Community Board Two, that CNR was unwilling to modify their plans to adhere to the rezoning and that we were being asked to support a project which was out of context with the existing housing and we had no way of knowing the ultimate effect of their being granted a variance. Touring their buildings in the Bronx, I got the message loud and clear. All the buildings were the same – a cluster of six story brick building – absolutely no incongruence here. I was now absolutely clear that I was on the side of protecting the trees, the sunlight and the air on Lefferts Place. I was not against housing for seniors and would have appreciated CNR caring about senior housing to the extent that they would have modified their plans to conform with zoning.
On August 5 at a LPCA meeting, attended by 40 residents from the three blocks, the vote was unanimously against supporting the project. LPCA is holding its first election in four years, two years overdue. The organization is in dire need of restructuring. The challenge now is to convince all residents – homeowners and tenants alike – that they make a difference, to keep them involved at whatever level that works for them. There’s many needed projects, among them investigating ways of utilizing and maintaining the mansion and engaging in creative dialogue about possible uses of the lot at 86 Lefferts Place. Hopefully, residents will not get caught up in differences but will vote for competent and committed leadership, capable of building team and creating ways for each and every resident to contribute to their community and most of all training future leaders. After all developers have their vision – money. It’s up to us to create a vision of having our neighborhoods work for everyone with no one left out.