Crown Heights

Judge issues restraining order to halt development near Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Crown Heights residents sue the city over Franklin Avenue rezoning

April 18, 2019 Lore Croghan
Protestors (left to right) Lucy Koteen, Julia Bryant, Alicia Boyd and Sandy Reiburn hold signs outside City Councilmember Laurie Cumbo’s Fort Greene office. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

A judge has halted Crown Heights developments near the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a victory for activists who say towers planned for the sites would cast harmful shadows on the famous facility.

Brooklyn Civil Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes issued a temporary restraining order barring all construction at 931 Carroll St., 40 Crown St. and 882-886 Franklin Ave. The judge’s order specifically forbids the pouring of concrete at the sites and instructs the city Buildings Department not to issue any work permits for the properties.

“And while they cannot build, we will continue in the courts as well as in the streets, demanding that these developments stop,” Crown Heights activist Alicia Boyd said at a rally on Wednesday evening.

She’s one of three petitioners who filed the lawsuit. It’s called an Article 78 proceeding, which refers to the fact that the respondents are government entities and officials.

The properties were recently rezoned to allow the construction of 175-foot-tall, 16-story towers.

At the rally, Boyd said the towers would cast shadows on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for more than three hours per day. This would disrupt plant propagation in its conservatories and greenhouses.

“We have a world-famous garden to protect,” Crown Heights resident Janine Nichols said at the gathering.

In 1991, the Department of City Planning rezoned land adjacent to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden according to a plan crafted with input from Crown Heights residents. The purpose of the rezoning was to limit the height of new developments so they wouldn’t cast environmentally damaging shadows on the garden.

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According to the Article 78 petition, the 1991 rezoning was undertaken at the garden’s request.

The century-old, 52-acre Brooklyn Botanic Garden is one of the borough’s important recreational, research and educational facilities. It draws more than 900,000 visitors per year.

City lawyers call judge’s order ‘very limited’

Wednesday’s rally took place outside Fort Greene’s 55 Hanson Place, where City Councilmember Laurie Cumbo’s office is located. Cumbo is a respondent in the suit because she supported the rezoning of the development sites.

DCP and Marisa Lago, its director, are also respondents. So are the planning department’s Brooklyn director, Winston Von Engel, the City Planning Commission and the Buildings Department.

The numbered towers in this drawing are Crown Heights developments that are impacted by a temporary restraining order. Rendering via the Department of City Planning
The numbered towers in this drawing are Crown Heights developments that are impacted by a temporary restraining order. Rendering via the Department of City Planning

“We stand by the city’s review of this project and will defend it in court,” city Law Department spokesperson Nick Paolucci told the Brooklyn Eagle.

Paolucci called the temporary restraining order “very limited” and said it “enjoins us from pouring concrete, which is many months away.”

“Soil tests are proceeding at the site,” he added.

Cumbo’s chief of staff did not respond to the Eagle’s queries about the lawsuit in time for deadline.

Cornell Realty is a respondent

The only non-government respondent in the lawsuit is Cornell Realty. Late last year the firm won increases in the height and density of planned developments at the sites through a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. This ULURP action was called the Franklin Avenue Rezoning.

Isaac Hager and Shifra Hager of Cornell Realty did not answer the Eagle’s requests for comment.

The rezoning allows a total of 518 apartments to be built at 931 Carroll St. and 40 Crown St., a mixture of market-rate and affordable units.

The development sites are on the west side of Franklin Avenue near the Spice Factory, a high-profile property where rezoning for mammoth development is under public review. The Spice Factory is not a target of the lawsuit.

The Article 78 petition by Boyd and fellow Crown Heights residents LaShaun Ellis and Michael Hollingsworth seeks to have the City Council’s approval of Cornell Realty’s rezoning application declared null and void and to compel the developer to perform an assessment known as an Environmental Impact Statement.

The suit also demands that several properties besides the three development sites that were included in the rezoning process be removed from it.

A hearing about the rezoning lawsuit is scheduled for May 3 at Brooklyn Supreme Court.

Follow Brooklyn Eagle reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

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