Group files federal complaint over sale of Brooklyn Heights Library
Borough Board to vote on issue Tuesday night
An advocacy group filed a complaint with the United States Attorney’s Office on Tuesday over the planned $52 million sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library to developer Hudson Companies.
The organization Love Brooklyn Libraries! (LBL!) contends that Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) has been misrepresenting its capital funds in order to facilitate a real estate grab.
Named in the complaint are the City of New York, the NYC Economic Development Corp., the NYC Land Development Corp., BPL and Cadman Associates, LLC.
LBL!’s complaint, a draft of which was obtained by the Brooklyn Eagle, said that BPL “persists in promoting a false pretense of capital ‘underfunding’ and the false pretense of a so-called ‘crisis’ in its solicitation of the city for $52 million in sales proceeds anticipated from the sale of the Brooklyn Heights library.” The complaint was written by LBL! President Laurie Frey.
Also named in the complaint is state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who declined to take action after LBL! filed an initial letter of complaint with his office on Jan. 15.
LBL! originally filed with Schneiderman because “the Attorney General oversees non-profits,” said LBL! Secretary Doreen Gallo. Schneiderman, however, turned down the request because the library land is owned by the city and not the non-profit library system.
This doesn’t sit right with Gallo.
“Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) is not telling the truth about their expenses and funding,” she said. “The Attorney General has oversight over BPL, and they are choosing not to do anything.”
The United States Attorney’s Office’s office is an appropriate venue because BPL is the recipient of federal funds, according to LBL!. The office of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York happens to be right across the street from the library, located at 280 Cadman Plaza West.
In addition to BPL’s misstating expenses and funding, LBL! says, the action taken by the city to sell the branch to raise capital is “arbitrary and capricious,” since the established policy is to raise capital funding through the issuance of public bonds.
Finally, LBL! says that during the ULURP (uniform land use review procedure) process, members “have been denied their due process right due to the polluting and corrupting influences of false pretense, deceit and deception.”
After a series of raucous ULURP hearing at several levels, the library sale was approved by the City Council in December.
After that hearing, opponents in the balcony booed as councilmembers heaped praise on Councilmember Stephen Levin (Brooklyn Heights – Williamsburg – Greenpoint) for negotiating a slew of concessions.
The final step is approval of the Brooklyn Borough Board. This is expected to take place Tuesday evening at Borough Hall.
Protest at Borough Hall
On Monday, the group Citizens Defending Libraries (CDL), LBL! and other supporters rallied in front of Borough Hall to request that the Borough Board’s vote be delayed for a second time. The vote remained calendared, however.
Michael D.D. White, co-founder of CDL, said the sale needed more transparency. “The bid was handed off to a [Mayor Bill] de Blasio friend, who was the low bidder,” he claimed.
BPL “is not poor,” White added. “They’re just hiding money.”
After the City Council approval in December, BPL President Linda Johnson said that the library system had been underfunded for years.
“The City Council’s approval of the Brooklyn Heights Library project is a victory for the thousands of Brooklyn residents who rely on their public libraries for essential programs, services, and resources,” she said. “The benefits extend to communities throughout the borough, as BPL will now be able to deliver much-needed funding for other branches in disrepair.”
As the Brooklyn Eagle reported on Feb. 1, the library has claimed to have received a total of $84 million from Fiscal Year 2008 through Fiscal Year 2013, but LBL! says that its own research shows a budget of $145 million over the same time span.
BPL says that the money has already been allocated for upcoming construction projects. A spokesperson for BPL told the Eagle in January that it stands by the process that led up to the sale.
“The plan to build a new Brooklyn Heights Library was approved after a transparent and rigorous public review process, and we look forward to moving ahead on creating a world class library for the Brooklyn Heights community,” said the spokesperson.
The de Blasio administration was accused in a New York Post story of granting the Hudson Cos. the deal despite having the lowest bid – 12 percent lower than rival bids. BPL and NYC defended the sale, saying the developer had offered compensating sweeteners, such as an interim library site.
Hudson plans to build a 36-story luxury tower, with a new, smaller Brooklyn Heights branch on the ground floor and below ground. Marvel Architects will design the building. In addition, 114 units of affordable housing will be built in Clinton Hill.
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