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Many Skeptical of New Owners of Flatbush Gardens

Representatives of Flatbush Gardens got more of a hot seat than a warm welcome when they introduced themselves recently to members of Community Board 17. While their goal may have been to reassure members of the community that Flatbush Gardens’ new owners, Renaissance Equity Holdings, would be working to stabilize and improve the 59-building, 2,496-unit complex, the representatives attending CB 17’s January meeting heard loud and clear about ongoing problems at the development, and attempted to respond to them. They also responded to concerns that Renaissance Equities would do what previous owners had done, and flip the property when it becomes profitable to do so. The board meeting was held at Meyer Levin Intermediate School, I.S. 285, 5909 Beverley Road. Renaissance Equity Holdings purchased the property from the California-based Emmes Group, in October, 2005, for $138,500,000. This most recent transfer of the property — which is located on a 20.64 acre site in an area roughly bounded by Foster Avenue, Brooklyn Avenue, Newkirk Avenue and Nostrand Avenue — occurred just a couple of years after Emmes purchased the complex, then called Vandeveer Estates, from a receiver, who had been overseeing it following a declaration of bankruptcy. Doing “Full Assessment” According to Christian Hylton, an attorney for the new owners of Flatbush Gardens, Renaissance Equity Holdings had, “Done a full assessment of what needed to be done after years of neglect,” after taking possession of the property. Top on their list, he went on, was, “Replacing all 59 elevators by the end of 2006. We have asked for the most accelerated program possible to facilitate renovation and replacement.” In addition, said Hylton, boilers in the complex’s seven heating plants, “Will be upgraded and repaired as necessary.” There have been, he noted, “Some problems with the distribution of heat.” To address that, said Hylton, “We have hired a consultant to deal with the issues as they arise.” The complex’s garages will be repaired, Hylton told his listeners. Garage E, he said, “Will be fully renovated by January 31st, and other garages will come on line through the year to the point where we have all the garages on line and fully operational.” In the area of security, Hylton said that the owners of Flatbush Gardens had met with the 67th Precinct, and were hoping that with the precinct’s influx of new officers, more would be assigned to the area of Flatbush Gardens. They are looking at “improving the intercom system” in the buildings, he said, as well as improving “lighting at the perimeter” of the complex. As for trash issues, he remarked, “We hoped to see improved pick-up service in the future.” Community Response Hylton’s words met with some degree of disbelief. “I’ve been around for a while, and I don’t believe a word you said,” remarked board member Albert Payne, who also pointed out, “The property has been a revolving door for a while.” Payne criticized Hylton’s presentation of the complex’s sanitation issues, as well as the approach he had taken in discussing security matters. Responding to Payne’s critique, Renaissance Equity Holdings, rejoined Hylton, are, “Long-term players.” They keep and improve the properties they purchase, he contended, noting that the group had taken on one complex in the Bronx which, he said, was, “Probably more derelict than the former Vandeveer. They have held it now for 15 years, and are completely turning the property around.” Ken Fisher, another attorney for Renaissance Equity Holdings, made it clear that the property owners did not intend to rely on the NYPD’s ability to provide security for the complex. “We have a private security company,” he told the board. “They were brought on by the previous owners and we are continuing with their service.” As for sanitation, he said, “We had a problem with bulk pick-up, not construction stuff. Sanitation agreed with us and they are now picking this up.” However, board member Bernice Diaz, who lives on East 32nd Street, responded with a complaint. She said that, despite Fisher’s words, “Right now you are still dumping garbage on a dead end street, Farragut Place and East 32nd Street. I am tired of waking up every morning, and looking out my front door and seeing garbage on East 32nd Street. I spoke to Sanitation and it’s not Sanitation’s responsibility to clean up there. It’s very, very disgusting. If you are going to clean up Flatbush Gardens, let us see something.” “We will look into it,” Hylton promised. Trash Being Hurled One East 34th Street resident brought up a safety issue – the ongoing hurling of detritus from the roofs of Flatbush Gardens onto the residential street. “Cars are being crushed by debris being thrown off the buildings,” she contended, adding, “Your security team has never responded to our calls since you’ve been there. We have reported it, but the situation has not been addressed on any level.” The new owners, said Fisher, are, “In the process of doing an assessment of the rooftop doors and replacing locks as necessary.” In addition, he said, at the suggestion of Inspector Robert Boyce, the commanding officer of the 67th Precinct, the owners were looking into installing cameras there. “Something like that,” Fisher added, “is a fairly serious thing, a police matter. You should call 911.” There should be an easy way for the community board office, which fields complaints about the complex, to reach out to management on site, noted CB 17 District Manager Sherif Fraser, who said that she was, “A little disappointed because you don’t have a liaison person,” as Emmes had. “I was also disappointed to call the office a few days ago,” Fraser went on, “and discover that the phones were disconnected and not in service. I need to know who will be the contact person for the community board office.” The phone issue, said Fisher, had arisen out of a problem with the management office’s phone service provider, during the recent move from the old basement office to a new, street-level location. “We will have the property manager call you tomorrow and introduce himself to you,” he promised, adding that, “The most important thing is that, if there are problems that come to people’s attention, they are fed” to the manager. Fisher also noted that, “There is now a tenant liaison to deal with individual problems for the tenants in the buildings.” Community Relations Beyond the property’s upkeep are issues of community relations. Board member Terrence LaPierre, recalling that Emmes had “worked with schools, worked with homeowners,” asked what the intentions of the new owners were in this regard. “Right now,” responded Fisher, “our priority is trying to get a handle on the problems there, the elevators chief among them.” The complex, he added, “Has been sadly neglected for more than a decade. What we do in terms of community relations is important, but we are still feeling our way on that.”

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