Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams, hosted a public hearing on the development of two buildings near the cherished Brooklyn Botanic Garden on Tuesday, September 4th at the Borough Hall headquarters.
The project, called the Franklin Avenue rezoning, would change the existing R6/C1-3, R6A, and R8A zones into an R8X/C2-4 classification. In plain English, the changes would allow significantly more residential and commercial development than are currently allowed.
The changes, if approved, would allow developer, Cornell Realty LLC, to build two large structures. 40 Crown Street would have 390 apartments, 105 of which would be “affordable” under the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Program (MIH). There would also be an approximately 15,000 square foot supermarket built under the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) program. 931 Carroll Street would have 128 apartments, 35 of which would be affordable. Approximately 150 off-street parking spaces would be created.
The purpose of the hearing was to give opponents and supporters of the project an opportunity to voice their concerns before the Borough President. The two government agencies to vote on the development are the Community Board and the Borough President. The Community Board has given an emphatic ‘no” to this project. This is pursuant to the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP). The Community Board and Borough President make advisory recommendations. Then the City Planning Commissioner does the same thing. The final decision is made by the City Council.
This is the zoning background: In 1991, New York City rezoned blocks along the Garden, placed height limits of 6/7 stories, and determined that buildings above 13 stories would be detrimental to the Garden because of the shadows cast by these tall structures.
Cornell placed plans with the Department of City Planning to change the height restricted zone from 6/7 to 22 to 42 stories.
One of the rezoning requirements was for applicant, Cornell Realty, to conduct a shadow study of the project. First, an Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS) is prepared to determine whether or not any negative impacts on the community will result. If no negative impacts are identified, the environment review is complete. If possible impacts are identified, a more detailed, time-consuming, and costly Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must be prepared.
These reviews assess impacts including air/water quality, traffic/congestion, displacement of low-income residents, and more. However, because of this project’s location, the impacts of the proposed buildings’ shadows on Garden landscaping and greenhouses have drawn most attention.
Movement to Protect the People (MTOPP) is a community-based organization that opposes over-development, gentrification, and developer control of politicians through campaign contributions. They stated in a print document inviting public participation in the series of hearings that, “MTOPP and FLAC also conducted their shadow study following the guidelines of New York City CEQR manual.” They charge that the developer lied on their application, violating the State Environment Quality Review (SEQR) regulations.
The MTOPP document goes on to say that 17.3 acres of shadows will be cast and that the City was wrong to approve the Cornell Realty EAS without requiring the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement. They claim the EAS is misleading.
Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo initially recommended disapproval to the project because it did not contain enough affordable housing. Cornell Realty, resubmitted their plans with no additional “affordable” housing. Crystal Hudson read a statement on behalf of Councilwoman Cumbo, who said that she doesn’t see any significant benefits and jobs at prevailing wages for applicants. This plan doesn’t offer good solutions, and we can no longer allow developers to put forth plans for our community.
The developer is now in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). This is a 7-month process where several different government agencies evaluate the proposed changes.
The list of speakers opposing the development ranged from local residents, community board members, block association members, the Crown Heights Community Council and frequent Garden visitors.
While speakers overwhelmingly opposed the construction, the project did have a few supporters. The first speaker represented Cornell Realty. He said that they would provide 151 parking spaces, and would meet the required affordable housing requirement.
The Haitian American Caucus, a group whose mission is to provide the Haitian Diaspora with access to information and resources, is in favor of this project. They said that they now have viable solutions regarding affordable housing and are willing to sit down and talk. They are in favor of this project.
Democratic District Leader, Geoffrey Davis, is also in favor of this development.
Among the opposition complaints was the claim by Cornell that the shadowing over the Garden would be for only 1 hour and 17 minutes. A Shadow Study comparison prepared by sAterreform Center for Advanced Urban Research and distributed at the hearing clearly showed the shadowing over a much larger area, depending on the month and time of day.
The size of the apartments was the concern of a Community Board 9 member. The member feels the buildings are too tall, and the apartments should be much larger to attract families who are the cornerstone of any community.
Another speaker said that his group opposes sacrificing the Garden to get these structures, and said that no one should violate the trust given to the Garden 100 years ago.
One young lady made an impassioned appeal to Eric Adams. She said that if he plans to run for mayor without supporting their “green space”, they would review all elected officials’ records, and he would not get their vote.
The mental and physical health of the community was discussed by a local resident. He said that it’s not just the shadows cast by the buildings, but the aesthetic value of the Garden – 15 species of birds, and the future of the community which will be negatively affected.
The Environment Impact Statement did not address the sewage issue, one speaker said. He added that the two systems serving the Garden areas are totally maxed out. He asked how the area can accommodate two more towers.
An architect encouraged the panel not to vote for rezoning, but to approve “brick by brick”, meaning on a per structure basis.
Other speakers included one long-time resident who felt that Medgar Evers College should be involved in the decision making.
A soft-spoken young woman, who has lived in Crown Heights since age 11, spoke of her love of nature and of the Garden’s bucolic-like atmosphere. She pleaded with Borough President Eric Adams to keep it as it is now.
For more information on upcoming meetings contact the Movement to Protect the People (MTOPP) at (917) 238-8604.