The Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council

A decade in Prospect Heights
Posted: December 31, 2019 - 6:25pm

As we look forward toward the future of our community in the coming year, it’s a good time to reflect upon the significant changes that have come to Prospect Heights over the last decade. It was this decade that saw the dynamic, scale and quality of life in the northwest part of our neighborhood shaken by the completion of Barclays Center, and the construction of the first four residential buildings at the Atlantic Yards project. It was also the first decade during which nearly 850 historic buildings in Prospect Heights were protected by New York City landmark district designated near the end of 2009. And of course the years since 2010 have been marked by the continued gentrification of the neighborhood.

Here is a look back at these and other events that shaped the last decade in Prospect Heights.


According to data from the American Community Survey (ACS), as the decade opened, the population of Prospect Heights stood at 24,023. Of this number, 12,132 were white (50%), and 8,025 (33%) were black. The median income was $42,662.

The Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC) and community advocates organized under the BrooklynSpeaks coalition went to court to challenge Empire State Development’s approval of a change to the Atlantic Yards plan that extended the time allowed developer Forest City Ratner to complete the project from 10 years to 25 years with no environmental review. Attorneys for ESD argued at oral argument in January that there was no change to the project timetable, and the master development agreement—which had not yet been released to the public—contained terms that would ensure the project would be completed “on time.” Judge Marcy Friedman ruled in favor of ESD and the developer, but when the development agreement became public, it clearly showed a 25-year timetable had been agreed upon. The plaintiffs moved for reconsideration, and in November, Judge Friedman ordered ESD to submit findings justifying its use of 10-year build out for its environmental analysis.

Meanwhile, the Barclays Center arena broke ground in May. Although previous demolition of buildings in the project footprint had been disruptive to the surrounding community, impacts from construction of the arena proved to be much worse.


In April, PHNDC, the Park Slope Civic Council, and the Boerum Hill Association launched Atlantic Yards Watch, a web site for local residents to use to report environmental impacts from the Atlantic Yards project. Many hundreds of such reports, many including photos documenting failure of ESD to enforce environmental commitments, were received.

In a major victory for community advocates and local residents, Judge Friedman ruled in July that ESD had violated New York State environmental law by failing to evaluate the impacts of extending the construction deadline at Atlantic Yards, and ordered the agency to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement. ESD and Forest City Ratner filed an appeal in September.


In April, an appeals court issued a unanimous decision upholding the lower court's order for a supplemental environmental review of impacts from Atlantic Yards’ extended completion deadline. ESD and Forest City Ratner filed another appeal with the New York State Court of Appeals, but were denied in June.

Barclays Center opened in September.


In 2013, PHNDC filed an amicus brief in support of the City of New York’s appeal of a decision by a lower court that would have allowed a historic house at 97 St. Marks Avenue to install at garage at its ground floor level, destroying the historic façade and removing a historic iron rail at the sidewalk for access. The case was decided in favor of the City, and the building was preserved.

PHNDC applied for a Neighborhood Slow Zone in Prospect Heights, and in October, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced it would receive one.


PHNDC partnered with the New York League of Conservation Voters, Transportation Alternatives, the Tri-State Transortation Campaign and Council Member Laurie Cumbo to call on DOT to improve safety on Atlantic Avenue. In March, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced that Atlantic Avenue would be among the first New York City streets to be designated an “arterial slow zone.”

PHNDC and its BrooklynSpeaks partners planned to again file suit against ESD and then-Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner, this time for delaying completion of the project’s planned 2,250 units of affordable housing until 2035. ESD and the developer settled with the organizers in June, agreeing to complete all affordable housing by 2025. Forest City Ratner then sold a 70% interest in the project to Greenland USA, a Shanghai-based developer controlled by the government of China. The joint venture Greenland Forest City Partners rebranded the project “Pacific Park.”

In October, DOT installed bike corrals on Vanderbilt Avenue in front of Milk Bar, Branded Saloon and Bar Chuko, which had requested the corrals. PHNDC had conducted a survey of over 400 local residents, which found 96% approved of the installation, leading to its approval by Brooklyn Community Board 8.

On a sad note, in November, Prospect Heights lost one of its most beloved residents when Gus Vlahavas, long-time owner of Tom’s Restaurant on Washington Avenue, passed away.


Overuse of Prospect Heights streets for locations in film and television productions led Community Board 8 to request a six-month moratorium on new location permits. The request was granted by the Mayor’s office in January.

In May, the Department of Education announced its plan to site a new public school in a building to be constructed at the Atlantic Yards project, located at the northeast corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue. In July, PHNDC, Community Board 8, Community Education Council 13, a coalition of parent-teacher organizations, and local elected officials called on DOE to designate the new school a dedicated middle school for all students in District 13 under a campaign entitled, M.S. OneBrooklyn.

Later that summer, PHNDC began its collaboration with urbanist studio Buscada on Intersection | Prospect Heights, a public art and community engagement project exploring gentrification in Prospect Heights. Hundreds of local residents participated in storytelling sessions, tours, oral histories and surveys that helped us to understand how the community responded to change over the previous fifteen years.

In October, a network of 40 bioswales began to be installed in Prospect Heights to control stormwater runoff into the sewer system. (Maintenance and upkeep of the “rain gardens” has proven to be somewhat of a challenge in the years since.)


The year began with a surprise as then-schools chancellor Carmen Farina told a Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce audience in January that the DOE facility planned for the Atlantic Yards project would be a middle school as called for by the M.S. OneBrooklyn coalition.

In March, PHNDC announced that it had successfully applied to add more than 600 Prospect Heights buildings to the National Register of Historic Places, making their owners eligible for State and Federal tax credits to assist in repair and rehabilitation.

In May, more than twelve years after the Atlantic Yards project was announced, its first affordable apartments were offered through the New York City affordable housing lottery system, located in the building at 461 Dean Street.

Marking a major change in its structure, in September PHNDC announced that membership in the organization would now be open to all individuals with an interest in Prospect Heights. (More than 80 members have since registered.)

A new restaurant, Olmsted, opened on Vanderbilt Avenue, and quickly developed a following that helped to build Prospect Heights’ growing reputation as a destination neighborhood for dining.


Among the new ideas generated by an expanding PHNDC membership was the need for a disaster recovery plan for Prospect Heights. In August, members of PHNDC’s newly-formed Emergency Preparedness Committee teamed up with youth volunteers to survey business owners with the goal of building an emergency resource guide for the neighborhood.

Recognizing that tenants of rent stabilized housing are under increasing pressure in Prospect Heights, PHNDC launched “Know Your Rights, Keep Your Apartment,” a campaign to provide information, resources and assistance to residents.

In October, PHNDC and the Cultural Row Block Association on Eastern Parkway began an effort to preserve the multifamily buildings in the southeast part of Prospect Heights through designation as a New York City historic district. The campaign kicked off with a public meeting on the history of the area at Brooklyn Public Library, and later became known as the Prospect Heights Apartment House District.

In November, the New York Times reported that the middle income “affordable” apartments in the Pacific Park building at 535 Carlton Avenue were so expensive, they couldn’t be leased through the City’s housing lottery, and 80 remained vacant. The high rent charged for the majority of “affordable” apartments at Pacific Park continues to be a concern among community members.

By the end of 2017 (the last year in which ACS data are available), the population of Prospect Heights had decreased by 3% to 23,367. Of this group, 57% were white (an increase of 10% from the beginning of 2010), and 25% were black (a decrease of 27%). Median income rose to $52,717, an increase of 24%.


In January, the Historic Districts Council named the Prospect Heights Apartment House District one of its “Six to Celebrate” initiatives. HDC’s technical and financial support helped drive other activities through the year, including the creation of a web site and video about the effort, and two walking tours.

In June, BRIC TV covered the story of preservation of southeast Prospect Heights. By August, the campaign to preserve the Prospect Heights Apartment House District had attracted over 1,000 supporters.


In February, PS9’s parent-teacher organization voted to rename itself in honor of Sarah Smith Garnet. On April 4, the Department of Education approved the change. At the time when slavery was legal, Garnet became the first African American woman principal in New York. She also co-founded the first African American women's suffrage club. which met locally at 405 Carlton Avenue. On July 1, PS9 became known as the Sarah Smith Garnet School.

In the spring, historic street lights and signals began to be installed on Vanderbilt Avenue, the result of a 2016 grant to PHNDC from Borough President Eric Adams.

In May, newly-renovated Stroud Playground at Park Place and Classon Avenue opened to the public.

The New York State legislature passed landmark rent reform laws in June that increase protections for tenants of rent stabilized apartments, helping to alleviate some housing pressure in neighborhoods experiencing rapid gentrification, like Prospect Heights.

PHNDC hosted the first-ever Prospect Heights Together Day on June 22. Over 200 people attended, and enjoyed inflatable rides, a ride-a-bike clinic, live music, and information on housing, historic preservation and emergency preparedness presented by PHNDC and its community partners.

The Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project also moved back into the foreground this year as concerns about the developer’s ability to meet the 2025 affordable housing deadline were raised. In August, elected officials and BrooklynSpeaks organizations held a press conference after ESD and Greenland Forest City Partners announced an intention to transfer two development sites on Dean Street to TF Cornerstone, and approve an additional 96,000 square feet of development rights for a field house and fitness center to be run by Chelsea Piers, with no public review. GFCP later issued a statement to the New York Post announcing construction would begin in 2020 for a platform over the LIRR rail yards that would support three of the project’s remaining six buildings, but no specific start date or contractor was cited.

A plan by DOT to create “residential loading zones” by taking away parking places on Bergen Street was shelved after vociferous community protest.

In October, StreetEasy reported that the median sales price for homes in Prospect Heights had exceeded both Brooklyn Heights and Williamsburg in 2019.

New restaurant Oxalis on Washington Avenue was awarded a Michelin star, further adding to the growing number of noted dining options in Prospect Heights.

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden began a campaign intended to prevent a proposed development project at 960 Franklin Avenue from blocking sunlight to its conservatories, known as Fight for Sunlight. BBG representatives briefed PHNDC members at the October general meeting.

Responding to a neighborhood-wide rodent epidemic, PHNDC in December began a campaign providing education and resources to property owners interested in combating rat infestation known as #RatFreeProspectHeights.

As Prospect Heights celebrated the tenth anniversary of its historic district, PHNDC’s Landmarks Committee had reviewed more than 70 applications for alterations to buildings in the district during its first ten years after designation, and had provided testimony to the Landmarks Preservation Commission on the majority of them.

Looking ahead

We don’t know what changes the next ten years in Prospect Heights will bring. Will the Pacific Park developers complete all 2,250 units of affordable housing by 2025? How will the fitness center and field house to be opened on Dean Street impact the neighborhood? Will the new middle school open in time for the 2023 school year? Will the City act to preserve the multifamily buildings in the Prospect Heights Apartment House District?

Most importantly, what will these and other changes mean for our community members? Will rising housing cost continue to force residents from Prospect Heights? Or will the median rent of Atlantic Yards affordable apartments decrease to mitigate displacement?

One thing our experience of the last decade tells us, though, is that by working together, we can help to influence the future of Prospect Heights to create the best outcomes for all of its community. We look forward to continuing those efforts will all of you in the years to come.

Happy new year from the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council!