Botanic Garden development opponents to begin settlement talks
A Brooklyn judge called for settlement talks in a lawsuit challenging the planned construction of Crown Heights towers that activists say would cast damaging shadows on the famous Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
At the conclusion of a contentious court hearing on Tuesday, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Reginald Boddie asked activist Alicia Boyd and Crown Heights residents LaShaun Ellis and Michael Hollingsworth to begin settlement negotiations next week.
Boyd agreed to participate in the settlement talks, which will take place in a private session in the judge’s chambers, and will include lawyers for the entities they are suing. Boyd, Ellis and Hollingsworth are suing City Councilmember Laurie Cumbo, the Department of City Planning and its Director Marisa Lago, plus Winston Von Engel, who is the department’s Brooklyn director. The City Planning Commission and the city Buildings Department are also targeted in the suit.
“This situation can be a win-win only if the parties are willing to compromise,” Boddie said. “I’m not asking you to cave.”
Assistant Corporation Counsel Shiva Prakash represents several respondents, which is what defendants are called in an Article 78 proceeding, a type of lawsuit that involves government entities.
Melanie Wiener of Abrams Fensterman, who represents another respondent, developer Cornell Realty Management, also agreed to participate in the discussions. She has been trying to get the case dismissed.
Boddie said he would like Cumbo to attend the settlement talks but didn’t think it was appropriate for him to contact her.
After the hearing, the Brooklyn Eagle asked Cumbo’s spokesperson if the councilmember plans to attend the settlement negotiations.
The spokesperson had no comment at this time.
The spokesperson also had no comment at this time about an issue raised at Tuesday’s hearing. It concerns the existence of a Community Benefits Agreement Cumbo claimed she made with Cornell Realty Management in December 2018. The agreement increased the amount of affordable housing that the developer would be required to build, Cumbo said at that time.
Boyd, who is pursuing the case without a lawyer to represent her, asked the city to provide a copy of the Community Benefits Agreement. At the hearing, the city’s lawyer said there is no such document. (A Community Benefits Agreement is a set of promises a developer makes to local groups. The promises often involve the creation of jobs or affordable housing.)
In their suit, Boyd, Ellis and Hollingsworth contend that the Department of City Planning and City Council were wrong to upzone development sites 931 Carroll St. and 40 Crown St. last year without doing an environmental impact study.
The Franklin Avenue Rezoning, as it’s called, will allow developers to construct 175-foot-tall, 16-story towers at the sites. The activists say buildings of that height will cast damaging shadows on the 52-acre botanic garden.
After the hearing, Boyd spoke briefly to supporters.
“The fact they want to engage in negotiations shows we have a very strong case,” she said.
The properties in the Franklin Avenue Rezoning are located near another high-rise development site — the Spice Factory at 960 Franklin Ave. — that’s not part of the activists’ lawsuit.
Ian Bruce Eichner’s Continuum Company and Lincoln Equities want to rezone the Spice Factory so they can build towers that Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s staffers say would cast harmful shadows on their greenhouse and conservatory complex.
Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.
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