Brooklyn Heights

Go ahead, close our library! Heights group OKs replacing it with a hi-rise; foes demand audit

March 19, 2013 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
library_heights_ Eagle photo by Bob Scott.jpg
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The Brooklyn Heights Association’s board has given tacit approval to the Brooklyn Public Library system’s plan to sell the site of the Brooklyn Heights and Business branches on Cadman Plaza West, move the Heights Branch to the first floor of a yet-to-be conceived private residential building, and move the Business branch to the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza.

However, the leader of a protest group that wants to save the current library building has written to New York City Comptroller John Liu, asking for an audit of the library system.

A statement on the BHA’s website reads:

“The Brooklyn Heights Association board has voted that, at this time, the BHA will not oppose redevelopment plans for the Brooklyn Heights Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library providing that: 1) there is continuity of library service in Brooklyn Heights throughout the development period; 2) the replacement Brooklyn Heights Branch Library is of adequate size; and 3) the proceeds from the transaction go to the Brooklyn Public Library.

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“All on the BHA Board agree that the library is an important part of our community and that the BHA should be part of the planning process. Through our membership in the Community Advisory Group, and by working in tandem with the Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Branch, we expect to be strong advocates for a new library that meets the needs of our community.”

The BHA also pointed out that the current Cadman Plaza West site is not within the Brooklyn Heights Historic District.

For many years, the library branch has had problems with its air-conditioning system, and at times has had to shut down because the air conditioning was inadequate to deal with the summer heat. In 2012, the library was closed for 30 days.

The city plans to sell the property — by some estimates worth $100 million — to a developer in order for the library to avoid spending $9 million in repair, including $3.5 million to replace the decrepit air-conditioning system.

It is understood that the building would be torn down and a new privately owned residential building would be erected there. Because the land is city-owned, the proposal would have to proceed through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

The branch has a Community Advisory Committee, which has had one official meeting on the sale of the branch, and has scheduled another one for next week. Its members have questioned some of the BPL’s plans, but the group is not an advocacy organization.

However, an organization specifically opposed to the destruction of the current Heights library building, Citizens Defending Libraries, has formed. A petition it sponsored has gained 8,000 signatures, and Councilwoman Letitia James and a representative of state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery both spoke at its most recent meeting.

Carolyn McIntyre, the organizer of the group, has written to Comptroller Liu, requesting “a full audit of the BPL in light of the announcement to close and sell the Brooklyn Heights branch library and the historic Pacific Street branch library, the oldest Carnegie library.

“It is deeply troubling,” she wrote, “that our public library systems are on the front line of every budget fight. Libraries are the lifeblood of our communities and they are an increasingly rare public space. Every year, we must fight to ensure that library hours and services are not reduced. Libraries are a beacon for young people, immigrants, seniors and business in our communities.”

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