Crown Heights

Crown Heights Spice Factory development pits labor vs locals

March 13, 2019 Lore Croghan
Here's the developers' vision for the Spice Factory project. Rendering via the City Planning Department

Brooklyn Botanic Garden reps warn about harm from shadows

The planned Spice Factory development at 960 Franklin Ave. in Crown Heights South is stirring up tensions between residents and organized labor.

While union reps touted the project’s job-generating potential, neighbors and some board members railed against Ian Bruce Eichner’s proposed high-rise at Community Board 9’s Tuesday hearing. Though the board reps said they usually support union projects, the project’s critics argued the two 39-story apartment towers will create long-term impacts that outweigh the benefits of well-paying construction jobs, including devastating effects on the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens nearby.

Related: Check out our guide to ULURP, the city’s land use review program. 

Community Board 9 ULURP Committee member Esteban Giron said at the Department of City Planning public scoping meeting that neighborhood tenants have stood in solidarity with union members in the past.

“We would never cross a picket line — ever,” he said.

Neighborhood residents’ opposition to the high-rise project is a metaphorical picket line — one that union workers should respect, Giron believes.

“You have to decide for yourselves if it’s worth crossing our picket line in response to your leadership,” Giron said to union workers who attended the meeting. “That would make you a scab, and I believe you guys you are better than that.”

“I hope that you guys will not stand in the way of the fight that we’re about to have,” he added.

Crown Heights South residents opposed to the 1.37-million-square-foot Spice Factory project argued the project would crowd schools, overburden the sewer system and subway lines and harm the plants at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Maxine Barnes, a member of Movement to Protect the People, said many residents refer to the proposed two-tower development as “the monster.”

Here's the Spice Factory, whose fate was the subject of a March 12 hearing. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Here’s the Spice Factory, whose fate was the subject of a March 12 hearing. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

‘Bastion of good middle-class jobs’

Labor reps spoke of the urgent need for work that pays prevailing union wages, as the developers of the Spice Factory project have pledged to do.

“We need real jobs,” said Anthony Williamson of Construction and General Building Laborers’ Local 79.

Ruben Colon of the New York City & Vicinity District Council of Carpenters said that — unlike a nearby development that’s not paying union wages — the Spice Factory project would be “a bastion of good middle-class jobs.”

The proposed Spice Factory towers would have 1,578 apartments.

Half the units would be affordable apartments for tenants with four different income levels. The lowest-income tenants could earn up to $36,550 per year for an individual. The highest-income tenants could earn as much as $125,160 for a family of four.

If Eichner’s Continuum Co. and co-developer Lincoln Equities don’t win the zoning changes they seek for the Spice Factory development, current zoning would restrict their construction to buildings that are just seven stories tall.

Site may be ‘inappropriate,’ Councilmember Cumbo’s rep says

Crystal Hudson spoke at the meeting on Councilmember Laurie Cumbo’s behalf.

“This proposal, developed in zero community consultation or input, may need a full reset, not just tinkering around the edges,” said Hudson, Cumbo’s chief of operations.

Constructing affordable housing on the Spice Factory site is a laudable idea, Hudson said, “but that should not give the developer carte blanche to propose 40-story, downtown-style glass towers in the middle of this community.”

Because of its proximity to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s greenhouses, the site “may actually be an inappropriate location for a development of this size,” she added.

Cumbo is a key player in deciding the fate of the Spice Factory project. When voting on zoning measures, councilmembers closely consider the wishes of their colleague who reps the district where a development project is located.

A century-old brick industrial complex currently stands on the Spice Factory site. The property began its existence as the Consumers Park Brewing Co., a brewery and beer garden. Spice-seller Morris J. Golombeck Inc. has occupied the complex since 1955.

Harm to Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Several staff members of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and garden President Scot Medbury spoke out against the 39-story towers’ design.

The high-rises would cast shadows on parts of the garden — sometimes for four hours a day. This would do irreparable harm to the plants in greenhouses and nurseries across the entire 52-acre garden, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden personnel said.

If 39-story towers are built at the Spice Factory site, the shadows they cast will harm Brooklyn Botanic Garden, advocates say. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
If 39-story towers are built at the Spice Factory site, the shadows they cast will harm Brooklyn Botanic Garden, advocates say. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

The garden’s stature as “a unique scientific institution” is dependent on its ability to propagate plants, Medbury said.

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which attracts nearly 1 million visitors per year, stands about 150 feet from the Spice Factory site.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden has posted a petition on its website that urges Cumbo and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to oppose the towers’ construction.

The Continuum Co. and Lincoln Equities bought part of the Spice Factory site for $33 million from an entity whose president is Zev Golombeck, and they now have the rest of the site under contract, city Finance Department records show.

The 3 1/2-hour public scoping meeting about the Spice Factory was a preliminary step in a process called the uniform land use review procedure, or ULURP, which is legally required when developers seek zoning changes for their projects.

The Department of City Planning will accept written comments about the project through March 25. Mail them to the city agency or email them to [email protected]

Follow Brooklyn Eagle reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

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