Best of 2007: Historic Duffield Street Residence Spared from Eminent Domain Efforts

Sometimes you can catch lighting in a bottle. In 2004, when Joy Chatel learned that her mid-19th century rowhouse at 227 Duffield Street in Downtown Brooklyn was to be seized for demolition by the City as part of the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning plan, she began a tireless campaign to preserve the building against enormous odds. In addition to her personal connection to the historic building, local legend connected the house and its neighbors with the Underground Railroad and the mid-19th Century Abolitionist Movement. Thanks to Joy’s indomitable spirit and ceaseless efforts, she gathered support from a wide array of community members and organizations, as well as out-spoken champions in public official such as Council members Tony Avella, Charles Barron and Letitia James. Thanks to their support, the City sponsored a study of the properties which showed a direct link with prominent Abolitionists and recommended that further research into this important and largely-invisible social history. Finally in December 2007, after years of struggle and two different eminent domain hearings, the City reversed its decision to demolish the home for a parking lot and announced its plan to look into re-use options for the site. Jennifer Levy of South Brooklyn Legal Services, who brought the legal action against the City which resulted in this outcome, put it best when she said “I commend the City for their flexibility. They have shown that it is possible to do development thoughtfully, in a manner that is responsive to community concerns, and with an eye to preserving our history.” We applaud Joy, Jennifer and everyone else involved in the campaign to preserve these houses for their passion, dedication and fortitude, Hopefully, decision-makers will learn from this that flexibility and community concerns are pivotal in guiding appropriate development within our historic city. There are certainly enough opportunities coming up to exercise this new wisdom; from Admiral’s Row to Moynihan Station to (dare we hope?) Atlantic Yards

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