05 December 2009

DeBlasio and Hannah Senesh Seek to Seize City-Owned Courtyard

I don't know about you, but I am never surprised by anything our former City Councilmen/Public Advocate elect Bill DeBlasio does anymore. I wouldn't trust him to water my plants.

Word is now spreading like wildfire through the South Brooklyn blogs that DeBlasio and lobbyist Kenneth Fisher have long been in cahoots with Smith Street's Hannah Senesh Community Day School to acquire, in a sweetheart deal, a lot adjoining the school, on the corner of Smith and 1st Place. Fisher was paid $7,500 by Senesh to lobby the City on Senesh's behalf. Hannah Senesh wishes to big a two-story expansion there. Senesh referred to the land in question as a "parking lot."

Only one probrem. As the blog Pardon Me for Asking succinctly puts it: "It's Not A Parking Lot, It's A Publicly Owned Court Yard."

It's true. Read on:

The "parking area" is actually city owned and protected by a 150-year-old law, which states that the unique wide gardens of the neighborhood's Place blocks can not be built on or used for parking.

That doesn't seem to be a problem if you have out-going Councilman De Blasio on your side.

Without first discussing it with the community, De Blasio will introducing a change in the Administrative Code at the City Council on December 9th. The change would amend the old law by excluding the corner of Smith Street and First Place.
Hannah Senesh will then negotiate with the city to buy the publicly owned land for a token sum ( $1 has been suggested) and build a two story extension.

That, dear Carroll Gardeners, would be a precedent that will have huge repercussions. Where there is one exemption to the law, there easily could be two, or three.

I certainly expect Bill de Blasio to attend the Monday meeting at Hannah Senesh. He owes this community a clear explanation for this blatant abuse of power.

And I hope that Councilman-elect Brad Landers can attend as well. According to Tom Gray of De Blasio's office, Brad has been "in the loop" . After all, the land purchase from the city will happen during his term.

This backroom deal has understandably angered many in Carroll Gardens. It remains to be seen if a 'brief' meeting will suffice.

For those who are interested, below is the text of the old Brooklyn law restricting the use of the Carroll Gardens courtyards from the blog Carroll Gardens Brooklyn History

"The NYC Administrative Codes that protect the courtyards are:
Code §19-132 Restrictions on First Place, Second Place, Third Place and Fourth Place in the borough of Brooklyn. The buildings to be erected upon the lots fronting upon First place, Second place, Third place and Fourth place in the borough of Brooklyn, shall be built on a line thirty-three feet five inches and a quarter of an inch back from the sides or lines of such places as they are now established by the map of the city, and the intervening space of land shall be used for courtyards only.

Code§19-136(b) Obstructions: It shall be unlawful for any person, directly or indirectly, to use any portion of a sidewalk or courtyard, established by law, between the building line and the curb line for the parking, storage, display or sale of motor vehicles."

The lobbying began way back on Jan. 1, 2008, so DeBlasio and Lander knew all about it as they were campaigning for office on their reputations as being great defenders of Carroll Gardens.

Hannah Senesh is a good school run by good people. I know folks whose kids attend it. But, as PMFA points out, there are more important things that a school's expansion. This would indeed be a dangerous precedent. Obviously DeBlasio, Lander, Senesh and Friedman know this, or they wouldn't have kept the matter under wraps for so long.

Since DeBlasio will never admit wrongdoing, I petition Hannah Senesh to show their commitment to the community and step back from this bad, selfish and arrogant idea.

Read more in the NY Post.


JAK BURKE said...

Good work.

Bluejay said...

"...there are more important things than a school's expansion."

Well, sure, but in this particular case, does the courtyard really trump the school's needs? I'm not familiar with Hannah Senesh's situation; is the expansion critically needed in order to serve their kids better? And if they shouldn't be allowed to build on the courtyard, what other options do you think they could explore?

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Bluejay: If Hannah Senesh needs more space to serve its students properly, I think the school should explore ALL options—Every viable space in the area; not just the one next door, which doesn't belong to a property owner, but to the City and its People. And when they find the space that's right for them, I think Senesh should BUY it at MARKET VALUE. Just like everybody else. People pay a ton of money to send their kids to Senesh. The school has the money needed to buy property.

The needs of no one person or private entity trump the welfare of an entire community.

Bluejay said...

Good points and I agree, especially that the school should buy space at market value. I suppose the $1 can be seen as token generosity towards a school, but from what you say it seems clear that THIS school doesn't need the City's charity.

I clicked through to the Post article and found the points made by the first commenter interesting. While none of his arguments can really defeat the principle that a private entity shouldn't trump community rights, it does seem to be a shame (if his facts are right) that the courtyard is currently just a gated parking lot; it seems like the school would at least make an attempt to make it more culturally valuable to the neighborhood, if its theater idea gets realized.

Do you know the history of that space, and if the community has ever lobbied to make better use of it?

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Yes, it is a shame the lot is not put to better use. No doubt it's function as a parking lot furnished in Senesh a sense of ownership. But what use the lot is put to should be dictated by the needs and desires of the community. And if the community wishes to just leave it be, that's their prerogative. Neglect doesn't give the City the right to sell it to a school or a business or a developer for a song. I know many courtyards in Carroll Gardens that aren't kept us as well as they should be—should the City sell those courtyards to private parties for $1?

Bluejay said...

No, it shouldn't, and you're right.

Bluejay said...

...And by the way, songs ARE about a dollar on iTunes these days, so the expression "selling it for a song" is pretty much accurate. :-)