Janet Freeman seemed paranoid.
The long-time SoHo resident was standing on the corner of Spring and Elizabeth streets on a recent Friday afternoon perturbed that she had been interrupted in her search for cigarettes.
However, her agitation quickly turned to alarm when she discovered that a reporter was waiting for her.
“Are you stalking me?” she said as her skinny frame paced back and forth, her fingers nervously moving wisps of gray hair away from her face.
Convincing Ms. Freeman that she was not in danger took a little longer than expected. Once calm, she opened up, albeit briefly, about her well-known opposition to new development in the neighborhood.
“Just look at it!” she said, spreading her arms to showcase 11 Spring Street.
Once owned by media heir Lachlan Murdoch, the five-story, 14,000-square-foot building is currently being transformed into luxury homes. A sign hung from the facade: “Three unique residences starting at $6.7 million.”
As if on cue, a friend of Ms. Freeman’s walked past.
“I just got my place!” the friend noted sarcastically while pointing at the scaffold-covered building.
The two shared a quick laugh about the neighborhood’s latest eyesore before Ms. Freeman returned to her reticent ways. “She’s who you want to talk to,” she said, referring to her friend. “Not me.” And with that, she went on her way.
While Ms. Freeman is quite adept at deflecting attention from herself (she declined to be formally interviewed for this piece), she’s become a legend of sorts in the neighborhood. For years, she has been a ceaseless voice of opposition to any new development in Nolita and SoHo.
In the past year alone, she has spoken out against Superior, La Esquina and Bar Martignetti’s, all new or incoming restaurants to the zip code. She has gone to great lengths to prevent an outpost of Ivan Kane’s Las Vegas burlesque show Forty Deuce from opening at 19 Kenmare Street; and has protested a new hotel that is planned for Kenmare Street and Cleveland Place.
At a recent Community Board 2 meeting, she became so involved in a debate about Fem Fatale, a new lounge set to open at 173 Mott Street, that she had to go to the bathroom and catch her breath, according to a meeting attendee.
“She just kept yelling, ‘Why don’t you put in a grocery store? Why don’t you put in a day care center? Why does it have to be a lounge?’” another attendee told The Observer.
Downtown real estate brokers are very familiar with Ms. Freeman’s protesting personality.
“Ever since I started going to community board meetings, I have never seen someone show as much hatred toward development as she does,” a broker told The Observer. “She opposes every single condo, club, bar or restaurant coming into the district.”