Brooklyn Heights

Controversial Brooklyn Heights Library hi-rise approved by City Planning

Council to review project; unions still opposed

November 2, 2015 By Mary Frost and Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Hudson Companies plans to build a 36-story residential tower on the current Brooklyn Heights Library site at 280 Cadman Plaza West. Rendering courtesy of Marvel Architects

On Monday, the City Planning Commission approved 10 to 0, with two members recused, the controversial $52 million Brooklyn Heights Library project.

The planned development has provoked a chorus of impassioned objections over concerns of overcrowded Heights schools, the shrinkage of library space and the off-siting of the affordable housing component, but was approved by Community Board 2 and endorsed by the Brooklyn Heights Association.

The ULURP process moves next to the City Council, where the project’s outcome is not certain. The Council must take action on the application by holding a hearing within 50 days of the CPC’s decision.

Casey Adams, a spokesperson from Councilmember Stephen Levin’s office, told the Brooklyn Eagle following the vote, “Our staff and the City Council’s Land Use Division are in the process of reviewing the project in preparation for our hearing.”

The spokesperson added, “The Councilmember’s biggest concern is determining whether this is a good deal for the public before he votes on it. We are looking at how this project affects the amount and type of library space available to the community and how it fits in with other pressing concerns in the neighborhood, like the overcrowding at P.S. 8.”

Hudson Companies’ David Kramer plans to build a 36-story residential tower on the current library site at 280 Cadman Plaza West. The project would include a 21,500-square-foot replacement library, two ground-floor retail spaces and 139 market-rate condominiums.

Hudson also plans to construct 114 affordable housing units at two offsite locations – one on Fulton Street and one on Atlantic Avenue in Clinton Hill.

As striking as the design may be by award-winning architect Jonathan Marvel, some opponents still feel the planned high rise is “like giving the finger to Brooklyn Heights,” said one longtime resident.

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In September, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, as part of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), “disapproved with conditions” the development.

Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), however, called the project a “win-win.”

“We applaud the City Planning Commission for joining Community Board 2, Brooklyn Heights community organizations, and Brooklynites who care about the future of their libraries in supporting BPL’s plan for a new Brooklyn Heights branch,” a BPL spokesperson said in a statement.

“As the Commission recognized, this project is a win-win for Brooklyn,” the spokesperson said. “In addition to bringing a new state-of-the-art library to Brooklyn Heights at no cost to BPL, it will also help to alleviate the system’s capital crisis by generating more than $40 million that will be invested in libraries throughout the borough. We look forward to continuing this dialogue throughout the public review process.”

Following the vote, Michael D. D. White, co-founder of the advocacy group Citizens Defending Libraries, which has been fighting the development, found irony in the outcome.

“We know that the vote today was taken at Reade Street, which makes it ironic since the commissioner is decreasing the amount of reading space,” he said.

White said it was also ironic that “today they voted to drastically shrink the library to a third of its current size, and on the front page of the Times there is an article on insufficient reading space for children who want to take part in story time.”

“We think the vote made clear that those who voted are not votes of conscience,” he added.

The pro-labor group Build Up NYC was also dissatisfied with Monday’s vote.

“We are taking our case to Brooklyn’s voters. We expect they will be strongly opposed to the Hudson Companies proposal when they hear the facts,” said Gary LeBarbera, president of Build Up NYC.

“The Brooklyn Heights library is being downsized and 139 units of luxury housing will be built on top of it,” he said. “The affordable housing component has been geographically segregated from the new luxury high rise with no plans to create mixed income housing. Much of the affordable housing is planned for middle income individuals, not families or working people. 

“This is not the kind of New York City that reflects our values,” he added. “The majority of New Yorkers voted to end the tale of two cities, we need to work together for a Brooklyn that works for all.”

 Updated  at 5:06 p.m. Monday, Nov.2 with an additional comment from Councilmember Stephen Levin’s office.

Updated  at 6:10 p.m. Monday, Nov.2 to reflect the City Planning vote was 10 – 0.

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