Brooklyn Boro

Benepe: One skirmish won, but battle to save Brooklyn Botanic Garden not over

'I was at the point of tears,' Benepe said

June 25, 2021 By Mary Frost
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The war to save the Brooklyn Botanic Garden from shadows falling from 400-foot tall luxury condominiums is not over, BBG President Adrian Benepe told the Brooklyn Eagle. 

Even though Community Board 9 on Wednesday totally rejected the rezoning proposal, “This was just one skirmish in the long and drawn-out battle. The existential threat remains,” Benepe said. “There’s no declaration of victory here. The next skirmish take place right away.” 

Developers are seeking a rezoning for a mixed-use “massing” of buildings with towers at least 34 stories tall at 960 Franklin Ave., about 150 feet from the garden. As part of New York City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), CB9 was required to hold a public hearing and vote on the rezoning proposal.

A rendering of what the height of 960 Franklin Ave. would be, as seen from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Courtesy of Municipal Art Society

The current zoning law limiting buildings in the area to seven stories was enacted in 1991 to protect the Garden from encroaching development. CB9 disapproved the rezoning application without modifications or conditions and resolved that any modifications to the original application should not be considered as part of this ULURP review.

The rezoning application has been criticized by elected officials, community members and members of the City Planning Commission. BBG presented CB9 with a petition signed by 56,000 community members opposing the development.

“What is apparent is the extreme opposition in this community,” Community Board 9 Chair Fred Baptiste said in a statement.  

The next ULURP hearing will be Tuesday, June 29, 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 both in person (at Brooklyn Borough Hall) and remotely. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ruling restoring public meetings following the end of the Covid-19 emergency may complicate the scheduling, however, Benepe said.

Benepe said he testified at the CB9 hearing “and stayed four and a half hours. At least 800 people registered to attend and about 80 testified.”

The buildings’ year-round shadows would harm many plants that the Garden has carefully cultivated for decades, BBG says, including rare cacti, endangered orchids, and hundred-year-old bonsais, and threaten all of its collection.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden President Adrian Benepe
Twitter photo

“It was so heartwarming to have that huge outpouring of support from the community. I was at the point of tears,” Benepe said. “People told multigenerational stories of their experiences. Like Marvin Ciporen, who described how, when he was a little kid in Brownsville, bought a little packet of seeds and planted them in a box on his fire escape. 

“Generations of Brooklynites have depended on the Garden as their backyard, garden, wedding place,” he said. “No Botanic Garden in the world has the depth of support. The strength, the depth, the passion of the supporters convinced Community Board 9 to recommend the total rejection of the proposal.”

Shadows from the condos would also have a negative effect on Medgar Evers College, the Jackie Robinson Playground and the surrounding community, residents testified.

In its official statement, BBG said, “The Garden applauds Community Board 9 for voting to disapprove the rezoning of 960 Franklin Ave. Tens of thousands of community residents and many elected officials and City Planning Commission members have publicly opposed the project because of the existential damage that it will do to the Garden and surrounding neighborhood.

 “We urge the local elected officials who stand in the path of approval of the rezoning proposal to reject this development and protect the community and neighborhood,” BBG added. 

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