In Thursday’s Brooklyn Daily Eagle, community advocate Doreen Gallo tweaked the raw nerve that is the proposed sale of the Brooklyn Heights and Pacific branches of the Brooklyn Public Library. The BPL’s controversial plan to sell the two properties—eliminating costly repairs and maintenance in exchange for new much reduced libraries rebuilt by developers—has been roundly criticized by many in the Brooklyn Heights community, including Citizens Defending Libraries, an advocacy group spearheaded by Michael D.D. White, a long-time Brooklyn Heights’ resident, and his wife, Carolyn McIntyre.
In an open letter to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, published on the Eagle’s website, Ms. Gallo—executive director of the DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance who also sits on the Brooklyn Public Library Community Advisory Council—urged the newly-elected Beep to block consideration of the recent proposals to remake the Brooklyn Heights branch’s triangular lot at the intersction of Clinton and Cadman Plaza West into a high-rise residential tower housing a much smaller library.
Ms. Gallo also requested that Mr. Adams consider supporting a proposal to landmark all 21 of our borough’s Carnegie grant libraries, including the Pacific branch, which was the first of the Carnegie libraries constructed in Brooklyn.
Asked about his position on this thorny issue, Mr. Adams responded with an invitation to an upcoming reporters’ roundtable, where the Brooklyn Heights Blog will be represented and raise this and other local issues.
Perhaps most pertinent to any discussion about local libraries is the fiscal health of the parent organization, the Brooklyn Public Library. As a result of drastic cuts in City funding, the BPL has struggled in recent years to maintain reasonable levels of service. In an exclusive article dated February 28 of this year the Eagle reported that the BPL, now in the midst of its annual $500,000 spring appeal, “has amassed almost $300 millions worth of deferred repairs.” In the same article, the Eagle said that New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer will conduct a top-to-bottom audit of the non-profit organization, addressing a “broad range of fiscal issues.”
In publishing her anti-development viewpoint, Ms. Gallo is taking on the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA), the venerable civic association that conditionally supports the BPL’s plan to eliminate a branch whose maintenance costs, according to BPL, have skyrocketed in recent years. According to a January 2013 statement on the BHA’s website, the Association gave its approval of a new, state-of-the-art branch in exchange for the proposed sale on the conditions that the BPL must maintain continuous library service to the community during demolition and construction, the replacement branch is of adequate size, and proceeds from the sale of the property go to the Brooklyn Public Library rather than to city coffers.
In putting herself on the same side as Mr. White, who on his website describes himself as an “attorney, urban planner and former government public finance and development official,” Ms. Gallo is tapping into a powerful strain of grass-roots advocacy that has created strong feelings on both sides of the debate. Mr. White and Ms McIntyre, along with others, expressed loud displeasure during last month’s annual BHA meeting at BHA President Alexandra Bowie’s discussion of the organization’s stance in the dispute.