CPC Holds Hearing on Proposed Brooklyn Heights Library Redevelopment Plan

David Kramer, principal of the Hudson Companies, testifying before the City Planning Commission. Image credit: CityLand

David Kramer, principal of the Hudson Companies, testifying before the City Planning Commission.  Image credit: CityLand

The proposed redevelopment would replace the current library with an upgraded library and luxury condominiums.  On September 22, 2015, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on the Department of Citywide Administrative Services’ and Brooklyn Public Library’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure application to redevelop the Brooklyn Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.  The proposal would replace the current library with a new 36-story building containing a new library on the ground floor and 139 market-rate condominiums above.  The proposed plan would also construct 114 permanently-affordable housing units at an off-site location in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn.  The Brooklyn Heights Library is located at 280 Cadman Plaza West, and would remain open throughout the redevelopment process at an interim location inside Our Lady of Lebanon Church, located at 113 Remsen Street, which is five blocks from the library site.  Clinton Hill and Brooklyn Heights are both located within Brooklyn Community Board 2.

The Brooklyn Public Library system has 60 branches throughout the borough and is one of the largest library systems in America.  It is currently facing $300 million in unmet capital needs, but only receives $15 million annually from the New York City budget.  This funding deficit has caused many branches to suffer from leaking roofs, dysfunctional air conditioning and heating systems, and other maintenance issues.

The new Brooklyn Heights branch, which was designed by Marvel Architects for development by the Hudson Companies, would be the largest in the Brooklyn Public Library system.  The sale to Hudson Companies would generate $52 million, which the Brooklyn Public Library would use to fit-out the Brooklyn Heights branch and invest in other branches with urgent capital needs.  However, many community activists and Brooklyn residents oppose the redevelopment, arguing that the Brooklyn Public Library purposefully allowed the Brooklyn Heights branch to deteriorate in order for it to justify the proposed redevelopment, and that the new library will have less public space for patrons to use.

At the September 22nd hearing, the public hearing space was filled to capacity with more attendees sent to an overflow room.  Linda E. Johnson, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Public Library, and David Kramer, principal of the Hudson Companies, testified at the hearing to the necessity of the redevelopment proposal.

Ms. Johnson testified that the Brooklyn Heights branch is facing a deficit of $9 million in unmet capital needs, which has caused problems with many aspects of the building’s facilities.  She further explained that the lack of funding has created a circular problem because the library can only afford to pay for emergency repairs—when such repairs are most expensive—rather than preventative maintenance work, which would cost less and prevent future issues from arising.  Unlike other struggling branches, according to Ms. Johnson, the Brooklyn Heights branch is located on a valuable piece of land, which has allowed this redevelopment opportunity to arise.

Mr. Kramer testified that the proposal sets forth a plan to build double the amount of affordable housing units required to satisfy the project’s zoning requirements for the inclusion of market-rate condominiums, and that providing the affordable housing on-site would require a reduction in the quantity of units built.  The affordable housing development would have two “micro-retail spaces” on the ground floor, which would be occupied by Brooklyn Coffee Roasters and Smorgasburg.  Further, Mr. Kramer noted that there would be a local preference in filling the affordable housing units, and local hiring would be conducted through the HireNYC program.

City Council member Brad Lander testified that it is generally “appropriate and, in fact, essential to take some of the value of the air rights of that branch and convert it into dollars to preserve other libraries around Brooklyn.”  However, Council member Lander made clear that he defers to Council member Stephen Levin, who represents Brooklyn Heights, on the specific land use issues pertaining to the redevelopment plan.

On July 6th, 2015, Brooklyn Community Board 2 approved the redevelopment plan on the condition that $2 million be set aside in a reserve fund for future library repairs, and that the new library does not have less usable space than the current building provides to the public.  Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams conditionally disapproved the redevelopment plan and made recommendations tailored to the concerns of the local residents, such as the inclusion of elementary school space in the new development and on-site affordable housing.

CPC: One Clinton Street (150399-PPK; 150400-PQK) (Sept. 22, 2015).

By: Jessica Soultanian-Braunstein (Jessica is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2015)





One thought on “CPC Holds Hearing on Proposed Brooklyn Heights Library Redevelopment Plan

  1. Go, Brooklyn Heights, In every development or re-development, the people’s land must be used FIRST for the people’s purposes in that same community board. Brad Lander knows what this is all about and I am delighted he is advising people. The insistence on inclusion of more public use space in the library, a new elementary school (which of course should accompany any new housing development), more than the required minimum number of affordable housing units and funding for future capital needs — all are reasonable requirements for this one-time opportunity to leverage funds from luxury development. There are only a limited number of luxury development opportunities and all of the public must get all they can from them as land changes uses. It’s a question of morality. Thank you for setting a good example for the rest of us.

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