About four dozen Downtown residents, historians and preservationists roundly slammed a city plan to seize 22 lots by eminent domain to make room for a park and underground parking lot — and they focused their anger on an ironically named city official.
Jack Hammer, director of Brooklyn planning for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, had the unenviable job on Tuesday of introducing the city’s plan to condemn houses that many believe were stops on the Underground Railroad and hand them over to developers.
The goal of the hearing was to collect public comment — and there was plenty of it.
“This is shameful and embarrassing,” said Linda Eskenas of the Four Boroughs Neighborhood Preservation Alliance. “This travesty must be stopped. It undermines our basic rights, stealing our property and historic homes.”
Hammer spent most of the hearing with his head in his hands.
Each of the 50-plus speakers seemed more resolutely against the plan than the prior speaker. And many took shots at a controversial $500,000 study that rejected the claim that houses on Duffield and Gold streets were part of the fabled fugitive slave route.
“[The consulting firm] AKRF provided political cover for demolition of a historic site,” said Christabel Gough of the Society for Architecture of the City.
Construction worker Jim Davis called the hearing a joke because “city underlings” had no power.
“Construction always wins,” he said. “Developers will spend more to force you out … than to buy you out.”
Davis said the only power to stop the land grab is in the hand of the governor.
On Wednesday, Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene) said AKRF never checked with the New York State Historic Preservation Office about the properties’ possible abolitionist ties.
AKRF apparently asked only if the office had files about the houses — it does not — but never asked for an opinion.
“This is a major omission on the part of the city and their consultants,” said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council. “The government agency [that] is tasked to make this exact determination was not even consulted. That seems negligent.”
Seizing the houses under eminent domain isn’t just an argument about our nation’s history. At the hearing, Aviva Jakuvowitz said it would cost her high-tech company, Track Data Corp., more than $100,000 to relocate the 20-year-old business and its 100 employees.
“We came to this neighborhood when there were crack vials on the floor,” Jakuvowitz said. “Finally the neighborhood has changed, and now the city wants to take our building.”
Public comment is still being taken through May 30, and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development must take action within 90 days.