Crown Heights

Crown Heights developers stymied in Brooklyn Botanic Garden lawsuit — for now

December 17, 2019 Lore Croghan
Activist Alicia Boyd continues to fight in court against rezoning that allows high-rise development near the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

Developers behind a planned Crown Heights high-rise that opponents say could cast damaging shadows on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden attempted to skirt a temporary restraining order to begin construction, according to arguments in court on Monday.

Activist Alicia Boyd filed a new suit to keep a temporary restraining order in place that forbids work at rezoned Crown Heights sites, a new tactic that keeps alive a legal battle between the community and the developer of 40 Crown St. No decision was made Monday, effectively preventing the developer from moving forward.

Lawyers for the developer argued their client should be allowed to move forward with excavation for voluntary environmental cleanup work. That would entail pouring concrete to cap the remediated soil — an action that’s expressly forbidden in the temporary restraining order issued in April.

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But such work would open the door for more construction, signaling defeat for opposition.

“If the cement is poured, we will have lost the case,” Boyd argued. She is representing herself pro se, without a lawyer.

Karen Binder, an attorney for the developer CP VI Crown Heights LLC, argued alongside a lawyer for the owner of another property, 931 Carroll St., saying they should be allowed to move forward based on a technicality: the temporary restraining order did not identify their clients by name, so it does not apply to them.

The restraining order does identify the clients’ properties by block and lot numbers.

Binder told Justice Reginald Boddie that contractors are ready to begin the environmental remediation, which was supposed to begin Monday.

The courtroom was filled with Boyd’s supporters. Many carried roses or wore flowers in their hair in reference to Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Because of the Franklin Avenue Rezoning, which the City Council approved last year, the area in question now permits up to 16-story, 175-foot-tall apartment towers, including on the Crown Street and Carroll Street sites. Boyd believes the high-rise buildings would cast damaging shadows for more than three hours per day on the famous 52-acre garden.

Previous zoning for the area enacted in the early 1990s limits the height of new buildings near the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to six or seven stories to protect the plants in the high-profile green space.

This drawing shows proposed towers in the Franklin Avenue Rezoning. Rendering via the Department of City Planning
This drawing shows proposed towers in the Franklin Avenue Rezoning. Rendering via the Department of City Planning

Boddie made no decision on Monday about the case, which for now leaves the temporary restraining order in place and prevents pouring concrete.

In a related suit filed in April, which is still being decided, Boyd and fellow petitioners LaShaun Ellis and Michael Hollingsworth contend that the applicant in the Franklin Avenue Rezoning’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure — or ULURP — should have been required to do an in-depth assessment called an Environmental Impact Statement. The suit seeks to nullify the City Council’s approval of the rezoning and compel an EIS to be done.

Government respondents in the case include City Councilmember Laurie Cumbo, the Department of City Planning and its Director Marisa Lago and DCP’s Brooklyn Director Winston Von Engel and the city Buildings Department.

After Monday’s hearing, Boyd thanked her supporters for coming to court. “It’s you who keeps me in there, powerful,” she said.

The Franklin Avenue Rezoning sites should not be confused with another property where high-rise residential towers are planned near the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. That property is known as the Spice Factory site.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

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  1. judifrancis

    Brava Alicia Boyd! Our open space is precious and the Botanic Garden is one of Brooklyn’s best examples of nature retained within the city’s walls. How depraved are our politicians to allow this gem to be harmed by unnecessary overbuilding? How can this happen, again? Where is the political leadership?