Brooklyn Heights

A ‘sizable number’ of developers eyeing Brooklyn Heights Library site

No transfer of air rights expected

October 1, 2013 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
b_library_heights_ Eagle photo by Bob Scott.jpg
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Brooklyn Public Library’s controversial plan to sell the Brooklyn Heights branch library site has attracted a significant amount of interest from developers, BPL spokesperson Emma Woods told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday.

BPL issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the property at 280 Cadman Plaza West in June.

“We were thrilled to receive a sizable number of responses from respected developers,” Woods said.

“We’re reviewing the proposals now, and are confident that the value of this property can be unlocked to provide a beautiful new branch to the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood as well as support the needs of the system as a whole. We will share more details in the coming weeks,” she said.

Woods said that BPL anticipates construction of a building of similar height to other buildings on Cadman Plaza West, which is achievable under the current zoning, which allows 10-12 FAR (“floor to area ratio”). She denied that the site’s developer would have to buy air rights from a third party to build a profitable project, as alleged by the advocacy group Citizens Defending Libraries. “This level of development does not require transfer of any additional development rights, and we do not expect additional development rights to be acquired for this site.”

Woods continued, “Brooklyn Public Library looks forward to continuing our robust public dialogue, including our ongoing meetings with the Community Advisory Committee, all in advance of the City’s full land use review process.”

According to the Office of the City Register, in 1986, roughly 141,000 feet of development rights were transferred from the library site to Forest City Ratner’s 1 Pierrepont Plaza next door, allowing 1 Pierrepont Plaza to grow to 601,079 square feet of “floor area.” (Its current rentable floor area is slightly larger.)

Alexandra Bowie, President of the Brooklyn Heights Association, commented on Tuesday, “We understand that several developers have submitted proposals and are looking forward to learning more about them. In addition to the library space and interior, we are interested in any projected building’s height, bulk, exterior, and whether any proposal contemplates changes to current zoning.”

Bowie wants the BHA to have a voice in selecting the eventual developer. “We believe that the community’s interests would be better served by including a member of the Brooklyn Heights Community on the selection committee and we urge the BPL to do so,” she said.

She added, “We also urge the BPL to hire a specialized library architect to design the library interior.”

BPL has said it needs to sell the valuable Brooklyn Heights property, along with other sites, because of years of budget cuts. According to BPL, the building requires more than $9 million in repairs, including $3.5 million to fix the air conditioning system.

Historic branch libraries throughout Brooklyn have deteriorated over the years. The Pacific branch is estimated to need $11 million in repairs; the DeKalb branch needs almost $5 million. Other branches needing millions worth of repairs include the Walt Whitman branch, Saratoga branch, Leonard branch and Bushwick branch.

The sale of the Heights’ property “is intended to generate capital funds that can be invested in other BPL facilities to help address $300 million in deferred maintenance across the borough,” BPL said in a statement.

The project, which would most likely end up as a residential or mixed use tower, will replace the 51-year-old library building, which reopened in 1993 after a two-year renovation.

The current building is shared by the Brooklyn Heights branch and the Business & Career Library. Room in the project would be set aside for a new Brooklyn Heights branch, but would not include the Business Library. BPL plans to move the Business Library to the Central Library in Prospect Heights.

The RFP mandates that the new library must occupy at least 20,000 square feet, of which no more than 5,000 square feet can be below grade and which must be “oriented to maximize natural light.”

Deborah Hallen, secretary of the Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Branch Library Inc., told the Brooklyn Eagle in April that the 20,000 sq. ft. is probably equivalent to the “useful” floor space of the present branch, not including space belonging to the Business Library, such as the large ground-floor computer room.

“Some of the library’s current floor space is inefficiently allocated to corridors and subdivided areas; the new floor plan will be more open, requiring less staff and less office and storage space,” she said. Some items in storage will be moved offsite.”

The new Brooklyn Heights branch would be owned as a condominium unit by the city and operated by BPL.

Josh Nachowitz, BPL’s VP of Government and Community Relations said at a February 28 meeting of a library steering committee that BPL wanted to move quickly to sell the Heights building.  “Sometime this year we hope to identify development partners, and enter a contract before the end of this administration,” he said.

On Monday, Woods said that while the library would not be locking in a contract before the end of the Bloomberg administration, BPL expects to announce its selected developer in December.

Library supporters across New York City spoke out on Monday against the sale, shrinkage and underfunding of public libraries at a City Council oversight hearing on “capital construction needs and the potential disposal of libraries in New York City.”

Some library supporters say the repair costs quoted by BPL are likely inflated. “The situation last year with the air conditioning should not be used as a pretext to get rid of the building and replace it with a smaller library,” Council Member Steve Levin told the Daily News. Last week, Levin urged local residents to attend Monday’s City Council hearing.

Besides the Pacific branch in Boerum Hill and the Brooklyn Heights branch, both part of the BPL system, the Central Library in Manhattan faces shrinkage, and the Mid-Manhattan and Science Industry and Business Libraries face closure. (The Pacific branch has received a reprieve through the efforts of City Council Member Letitia James.)

Update on October 2 with comments from the Brooklyn Heights Association and details about development rights.

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