June 3, 2006 / Brooklyn news / Development / Around Brooklyn

Council goes to bat for ‘RR’

The Brooklyn Paper
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A handful of Brooklyn City Council members doesn’t want the Underground Railroad to get railroaded.

The group is demanding that the city delay for 90 days its plan to tear down a row of houses that may have been a way station for fugitive slaves.

“What we don’t want the city to do is … to say, ‘Boom, the houses are condemned,’ ” said City Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights), who called for the 90-day hold along with colleagues Bill DeBlasio (D-Park Slope), Al Vann (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant), Letitia James (D-Prospect Heights) and Charles Barron (D-Canarsie).

“It’s clear that there is at least significant reason to think the houses may have some historical significance and we need to make sure there is some public review,” Yassky said.

The current city plan calls the Duffield Street houses — which historians and preservationists believe were part of the fabled Underground Railroad — to be torn down in favor of a parking lot to serve a new hotel planned near the Fulton Mall.

The city has been studying the houses to determine if they should be preserved — but residents have charged that the firm doing the analysis is intent on proving that there is no historical value to the homes.

As a result, resident Joy Chatel called the latest council move “wonderful,” a marked reversal from an earlier attack she leveled at Yassky, whom she claimed wasn’t doing enough to protect the historic houses.

“Now people are really working with us,” she said, “not just trying to prove that we are wrong, so they can get on with their job,”

The council move is the latest effort to save the Duffield houses.

In a letter to the city’s consultants in March, a member of the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission, Christopher Moore, said that destroying them would “continue the city’s legacy” of not protecting black history.

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