Developer files plan to demolish Brooklyn Heights Library; Asbestos removal begins Wednesday

Work begins before developer closes on site

October 31, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The city has approved the developer’s application to demolish the two-story Brooklyn Heights Library at 280 Cadman Plaza West. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

After years of controversy, developer Hudson Companies filed plans with the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) on Friday to demolish the Brooklyn Heights Library.

Asbestos abatement work will start on Wednesday.

Hudson plans to build a 36-story luxury tower with a new, smaller Brooklyn Heights branch at the original library site at 280 Cadman Plaza West.

Interior demolition will begin in December and last approximately four to six weeks, according to a spokesperson for Hudson. Exterior demo will begin in January and last approximately four to eight weeks.

Preparatory work observed at the site last week caused a flurry of angst among some keeping tabs on the library. Several observers contacted local officials after assuming that asbestos abatement had already begun without any special protections in place.

One of those worried about asbestos was Justine Swartz, who told the Brooklyn Eagle, “During the working hours the workers are going in and out of the back door to throw out stuff. They are not being washed down every time they exit the building. Only when they are ready to go home.”

Hudson: Asbestos rules will be followed strictly

 According to Hudson, however, workers on the site are carrying out only minor interior demolition, such as drywall removal, in preparation for the upcoming asbestos work.

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The Hudson spokesperson said that the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has stringent requirements for asbestos abatement, and that the project will follow these to the letter.

Any “friable” (easily crumbled) material that can potentially become airborne will be removed while soaking wet, the spokesperson said. The material will be deposited into black bags, sealed and put into containers for safe disposal off site.

According to the rules, all abatement areas must be tented and sealed, and only abatement personnel will be allowed to access those areas. All workers will be required to wear protective gear and use protective equipment. The workers will use water spray machines to control dust, and there will be a decontamination system for asbestos workers to clean up prior to leaving the job site.

As required by DEP, a third party inspection company has been hired to do air monitoring while the asbestos abatement work is ongoing.

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon (D-Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Park Slope) said that several constituents had reached out to her office with their concerns.

“I spoke directly to the people at Hudson,” she told the Eagle. “The construction management team has been very responsive.” Hudson took her on a walk-through of the abatement procedure, she said.

Still, she added, there’s a “trust level” following the controversy about the development, and that needs to be addressed.

“There are also some very real, legitimate concerns. A number of people find themselves vulnerable to these issues,” Simon said.

“It seems to me the developer and the library are taking them very seriously,” she said. She feels that DEP inspectors “will be very careful to make sure all the requirements are met,” she added.

Work starts even before developer owns site

In a twist, demo work will begin before the developer actually closes on the site.

The Hudson spokesperson told the Eagle that while the sale is not complete, it’s important to Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) to get the project started so that the new  library can be open to the public as soon as possible.

To meet that goal, BPL and Hudson signed a license agreement to allow the asbestos abatement and demolition work to start prior to closing, but only as approved and permitted by the governing regulatory agencies. Should the project cease for any reason, Hudson is required to restore the site to the pre‐demolition state (minus the asbestos) at its own cost. DOB had not officially approved the demolition as of Tuesday.

Despite the fight by groups including Citizens Defending Libraries and Love Brooklyn Libraries, Inc. (the Brooklyn Heights Association chose not to fight the development), the library closed its doors in late July. Love Brooklyn Libraries, Inc. lost a case in court earlier in July but has filed an appeal, according to the group’s head, Marsha Rimler.

The group challenged the project’s environmental assessment under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). Some of the environmental issues they want addressed include the already high level of local traffic, the shadow the building will cast on nearby Cadman Plaza Park, and the loss of the Business & Career Library and the federal document depository. (These facilities are moving to the Central Library in Prospect Heights.) In addition, the group argues that the city never considered the importance of the library’s architect, Francis Keally, or the artist that did the stone friezes on the library façade, Clemente Spampinato.

An interim library is housed in Our Lady of Lebanon Church, 109 Remsen St.

BPL expects to begin construction on the new Brooklyn Heights Library in fall 2016. The library’s contract with Hudson stipulates that the new branch be built within 3.5 years.

As part of the deal, 114 units of affordable housing will be built in Clinton Hill. The project also includes a dedicated science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education lab for the local school district and a small library branch in DUMBO, amenities negotiated by Councilmember Stephen Levin during the ULURP process.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration in May denied that the city chose a friend and contributor as the winning bidder in the $52 million deal to redevelop the library, over bids that paid more.

De Blasio spokesperson Austin Finan told the Eagle in May, “Hudson Companies was awarded the contract meritoriously as its bid provided the best overall package for the library and the community at large, including the most affordable housing.”

The administration’s role in another controversial real estate deal, the sale of Long Island College Hospital in Cobble Hill, is being looked at by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. No charges have been filed in any of the real estate deals under investigation.

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Updated Nov. 1 to reflect that DOB had not officially approved the demolition plan as of Tuesday. DOB approved the application. Asbestos removal is slated to begin Wednesday nonetheless.

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