Brooklyn Heights

Library officials met with blunt questions, cautious support at Brooklyn Heights meeting

Affordable Housing Component to Be Built in Clinton Hill

March 11, 2015 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Larry Gulotta, president of Independent Neighborhood Democrats, scoffed at BPL’s cost estimates for library repairs. Photo by Rob Abruzzese
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Brooklyn Public Library officials and developers were upbeat at a Monday night meeting that provided some new details on the plan to sell and develop the Brooklyn Heights library branch.

A number of local residents expressed scathing criticism of the plan, however, and urged the library and its Community Advisory Committee (CAC) to consider the impact of yet another residential tower on Brooklyn Heights’ already-overcrowded elementary school, P.S. 8.

Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) CEO Linda Johnson was joined by David Kramer of Hudson Companies, the developer chosen through the RFP process, and Jonathan Marvel of Marvel Architects. Marvel will be designing the building on the site where the library currently stands at 280 Cadman Plaza West.

“This project almost checks all of the boxes that Hudson likes to do,” Kramer said. “It has a library — an institutional presence — it has an educational use, it has retail, it has parking, it has affordable housing and it has market-rate housing.”

Kramer called it a “big, fun, interesting, complicated project that we spent six months wrapping out arms around.”

Revised renderings of the proposed tower were not shown at Monday’s meeting, disappointing many attendees.

Kramer said that Hudson “took a fresh look” at the project’s design after winning the RFP. “We’re working diligently to finalize a design we can show you,” he said. “It is a taller, skinnier building than what we initially came up with.”

Further details will be shared as part of the ULURP process, which should take seven to nine months, he said. He added that the building will be “as of right,” with no zoning modifications.

BPL’s Johnson said, “All of us are committed to delivering a building to the community that improves the skyline,” raising some titters from audience members opposed to the development.

She added, “When we’re ready to show the building, we’ll show the building. If it’s ready by the next meeting [in May] that would be great. And if all of us are not happy with what the building is looking like at that point, then we’re going to keep working on it until we are satisfied with it.”


Affordable housing

David Kramer of Hudson CompaniesKramer also announced what he said was “breaking news” — the location of the 114 units of the affordable housing component of the project. The affordable housing will be broken into two sites in Clinton Hill: one at 911-917 Atlantic Ave. (which will house roughly 75 units), the other at 1041-1047 Fulton St. While these sites are far from Brooklyn Heights, they are still within Community Board 2, as required.

By moving off-site, “we doubled the amount of affordable housing,” Kramer said.

The affordable units will be available at “a whole range” of incomes, encompassing 60, 80, 100 and 165 percent of Area Median Income (AMI), or roughly $40,000 at smaller household sizes to $83,000 at larger household sizes.

The market-rate housing in Brooklyn Heights will not be available until the affordable housing comes online.


Saint Ann’s School

Kramer said that Saint Ann’s School is considering taking 18,000 sq. ft. of below-grade space for a theater/auditorium space. “They’re crossing their T’s and counting their checkbook,” he said.

Saint Ann’s is also involved in the conversation because they own one of the three buildings on the zoning lot — the Saint Ann’s lower school (the Farber Building). The other two buildings on the lot are 1 Pierrepont Plaza and the library.

“The Farber Building has 25,000 sq. ft. of air rights available that we propose to buy from Saint Ann’s,” Kramer said. “We’re currently negotiating with Saint Ann’s.”


Workshops coming up

 Jonathan Marvel of Marvel ArchitectsMarvel unveiled a detailed design and construction schedule. He expects construction to start in 2018.

 The first of several open workshops will be held on March 23 at 6:30 p.m., “allowing the community to be heard” in the design process, he said. “It’s a listening moment.”

After each workshop, “We’ll be collecting and analyzing the information, putting it into matrices, giving it back to the community as pie charts and percentages so you can see where the general tone is,” Marvel said. “This is almost a foolproof way of coming up with . . .  a 21st-century library that really does represent the larger vision of this community.”

A second workshop will take place April 20. Ideas generated will be compiled into a draft report in May, followed by a CAC meeting. Surveys will also be carried out, Marvel said.


General project outline

The meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd.The redevelopment will transform the existing 62,000 sq. ft. facility – which needs $9 million worth of repairs, according to BPL – into a multi-use tower, with a 21,500-sq.-ft. branch library at ground level and below ground. The building will be responsible for the HVAC costs for the library in perpetuity.

The Business and Career Library, which currently shares the building with the branch library, will be moving to the Central library at Grand Army Plaza.

The library entrance and parking garage will be on Cadman Plaza West, but the residential and retail entrances will be on Clinton Street.

Food vendors include Brooklyn Coffee Roasters and a space curated by Smorgasburg, which will provide a rotating tenant every month.

BPL insists the Heights branch will be “the same size or bigger than the present branch,” since a large percent of the current building is used for archival storage. According to figures presented on Monday, 17,527 sq. ft. (once a fallout shelter in the basement) are currently “unprogrammed.”

Of the $52 million purchase price, roughly $40 million from the sale will go towards the capital needs of other Brooklyn branches that require significant repairs, Johnson said — specifically Walt Whitman, Pacific and Washington Irving.

“We have submitted a draft ULURP application to City Planning,” Kramer said. He expects the application to be certified sometime around June.

Consulting firm AKRF will be working with Hudson on the Environmental Impact Statement, required as part of the ULURP process. Environmental testing and geotechnical borings will be done to test for hazard material and structural content.

During construction, roughly 7,000 sq. ft. of accessible interim library space will be provided at Our Lady of Lebanon Church at Henry and Remsen streets in the Heights, Kramer said.


Questions from the CAC

Deborah Hallen, president of the Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Branch LibraryFollowing the presentation, members of the CAC questioned the timeline, asked about shadows, parking and other issues and pushed for more square footage.

CAC member Helen Pearlstein, a resident of Concord Village, asked how the project’s design has changed from the original proposal.

While the broad outline remains the same, Kramer answered, the building’s footprint and cladding have changed, along with other aspects that haven’t yet been finalized.

CAC member Lorraine Bonaventura asked how much time the public would have to comment on it the plan.

“We’re hoping in 60 to 90 days we’ll have renderings to show you, and that will precede the beginning of ULURP,” Kramer answered.

Deborah Hallen, president of the Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Branch Library, inquired if the branch’s current librarians would be allowed to have input into plans for the interim library. Kramer said they would.

Robert Perris, district manager of Community Board 2Robert Perris, district manager of Community Board 2, pointed out that the new Sunset Park branch is being redeveloped, and “they’re getting 20,000 sq. ft.”

“I know that I shouldn’t covet my neighbor’s library … but I do covet my neighbor’s library and if Sunset Park can get 20,000, then I want 30,000,” he said.

Doreen Gallo of the DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance was one of the few CAC members to express outright skepticism. “I don’t know if a 30-story building is really improving the skyline,” she said to applause.

Doreen Gallo of the DUMBO Neighborhood AllianceShe asked Marvel about the company’s experience designing libraries – the company designed the Mulberry Street branch of the New York Public Library, Marvel said – and asked if the company had considered adoptive reuse instead of demolishing the existing building. Marvel said the current building was unusable “as the base of a new, larger condo tower.”

Gallo also wondered why BPL was moving the Business Library to Prospect Heights at a time when Downtown Brooklyn is filling up with startups and is designated as part of the Tech Triangle.

Johnson responded that the Business Library is “not used by local members of the corporate community or startups. It’s used by burgeoning entrepreneurs and people looking for work, and those people live all over the borough.”

Gallo also said BPL missed the opportunity to bring in more money to the library through creative amendments, such as attaching a small fee to each condo sale. “One percent goes to this book fund in perpetuity,” she said.

“We were pleased with the amount of money the project yielded given what we believed the estimates were when we started the process,” Johnson responded.

Alexandra Bowie, president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, asked if a library specialist architect would be hired to help design the library.

“I have a library team and they’re here tonight,” Marvel said. He said the three-member team would be part of the community workshops and would be present “all through design and construction.”

Toba Potosky, board president of Cadman Towers, expressed concern that the new building would cast “a permanent shadow on top of our co-op.”

As part of the ULURP and environmental review, “We have to undertake a shadow study analysis,” Kramer said. This analysis looks at the incremental impact made by the shadows cast by the building at different times of the year and different times of day.

“As we go with a skinnier footprint, it has less of an impact,” Kramer noted.

Thomas Amon asked how many square feet the Business Library would take up once it moved to the Central Library.

“I don’t think we have a solid number yet,” Johnson said. “Part of it is going to be in conjunction with the Information Commons [already] existing on the first floor of the Central Library.”


Public comments

When the floor was opened up to residents, a floodgate of emotion was unleashed.

“People do not support this library! Yet you speak of it as a done deal!” one woman cried out. “I know it means billions for you but it means nothing for us . . . This is a solid library. It was allowed to go to seed intentionally!”

A man who lived across the street expressed concern about traffic and garbage pickup, which he said was already a problem at 1 Pierrepont.

Michael D.D. White, of Citizens Defending LibrariesLarry Gulotta, president of Independent Neighborhood Democrats, scoffed at BPL’s cost estimates for library repairs. “The numbers that are thrown around are not transparent. We’re skeptical, and the club is skeptical. The executive board of the IND passed a resolution, and it says we don’t believe this is a viable plan.”

Michael D.D. White, of Citizens Defending Libraries, asked about tax credits and subsidies, and the cost to build out the space at the Central Library to make room for the Business Library.

Kramer said the affordable units would be built without city or state capital subsidies or federal tax credits, and the condos “will be paying full taxes from Day 1.”

Johnson added that the cost of building out the Central Library to accommodate the Business Library “is not coming from the proceeds of this sale.” She said the decision to move the Business Library from Brooklyn Heights “was in the works before the property was sold,” and that some public funding has been obtained for this purpose.

Ansley Samson, co-president of the P.S. 8 PTA, was one of several attendees calling for more attention to the neighborhood’s need for more school space. Residential units at the site are expected to add about 70 children to overcrowded P.S. 8, already at 142 percent capacity, and the broader area is also at or above capacity.  “That’s a big impact.”

“I don’t think any one project can be the panacea that solves all sorts of problems,” Kramer said.

DNA’s Gallo asked, “Is there any kind of reaching out to the School Construction Authority (SCA)” to get more space for P.S. 8?

“SCA did not want a school at this site because the feeling was that school buses would clog the whole area all the way to the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge,” Halen said.

Neighborhood activist Jeffrey Smith called for more attention to security issues. “You’re putting up a tower that’s easy to arson and easy to topple. The basic structure of these building is paper mâché,” he said.

Not all commenters were against the proposal. Lori Raphael, vice president of strategic partnerships for the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce delivered a statement from the Chamber in support of the project.

Another woman who works next door said she looked forward to the tower and the incoming food vendors.

Resident Karen Johnson said the level of acrimony over the library issue and other Heights developments was upsetting. “This saddens me to see this – this polarization that’s occurred and what’s happening to our neighborhoods. Between Brooklyn Bridge Park, between the closing of LICH,  the Heights Cinema left us and something’s going up there. Density and height are what we’re about.”

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