Brooklyn Heights Library Meeting Reveals Schedule; Much Still to be Resolved

Last evening’s meeting of the Community Advisory Committee for the Brooklyn Heights Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library had few surprises. The final design of the proposed structure is far from complete, although it has been decided that it will be “taller and skinnier” than earlier renderings showed. The footprint of the library space within the building has at least tentatively been fixed, but the specifics of what goes into it and where remain for discussion with the community; a schedule of future events to which the community is invited, beginning with a Program Workshop at the Brooklyn Heights Branch auditorium on Monday, March 23 at 6:00 p.m. The scheduling, much of it tentative, is shown on this page of the BPL website (you’ll have to scroll down to find it; there’s lots of other information there, including the tentative floor designs for the library and the locations of the affordable housing components of the plan: 911 Atlantic Avenue and 1041 Fulton Street). If all goes according to schedule, according to architect Jonathan Marvel (in the background in the photo above; in the center is BPL President Linda Johnson and in the foreground, on the right, is Brooklyn Heights Association President Alexandra Bowie) construction of the building that will include the new library should begin in 2018.

The total square footage of library space in the new structure is planned to be 21,500 square feet. This compares to 18,954 square feet of the existing building allocated to the Brooklyn Heights Branch, as opposed to the Business and Commercial Library, which is to be moved to the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza. Committee member Robert Perris, Administrator of Community Board 2, noting that the new Sunset Park Branch will have 20,000 square feet, said, “If Sunset Park gets 20,000, I want 30,000.”

Asked why, with the increase in tech-oriented businesses in this area, the Business and Commercial Library is being moved away, Ms. Johnson said that surveys show these businesses do not use the library, but instead rely on on-line resources. The principal users of the Business and Commercial Library, she said, are would-be entrepreneurs and job seekers, and these are distributed throughout Brooklyn.

Several attendees expressed concerns about the interim facility that will serve the community during the demolition of the old library and the construction of the new one. This will be in the Social Hall of Our Lady of Lebanon Church, at Henry and Remsen streets and with entrance–which according to Ms. Johnson will be accessible under ADA requirements–on Remsen. This is a 7,000 square foot space; much smaller than the corresponding space in the present library. Special concerns were raised about programs for children during the interim period.

Committee member Doreen Gallo asked if Marvel Architects had any experience designing libraries. Mr. Marvel said they had designed the Mulberry Street Branch of the New York Public Library. He also said the firm had a team of three architects, whom he pointed out sitting in the audience, who all had library design experience. Asked if the design of the Mulberry Street Branch had involved community consultation, he said no. The parameters of the design had already been fixed by NYPL.

A resident of Clinton Street, first noting that frequent garbage pickups from One Pierrepont Plaza were already disrupting the neighborhood, asked where such pickups would be made from the new building. David Kramer, of developer Hudson Companies, said that had not yet been determined.

Toba Potosky, a resident of Concord Village, expressed concern about the shadow the building would cast on that location. Mr. Kramer said a shadow impact study would be conducted. He noted that making the building taller and thinner would reduce the area the shadow affected.

Several attendees expressed concern about the impact of the new residences on the already overcrowded PS 8 and other schools in Subdistrict 2. Ansley Samson, of the PS 8 PTA, noted that the projected 132 residential units are expected to add about seventy school age children to the neighborhood.

Michael D.D. White, of Citizens Defending Libraries, asked if the new building would receive any subsidies and if it would be subject to the controversial 421a abatement. Mr. Kramer said it would not.

At the close of the meeting, Carolyn McIntyre, also of CDL, began her remarks by saying the number of books at the Brooklyn Heights Branch had decreased in recent years, and that estimates of the cost of repairing the building, including the HVAC system, were greatly inflated. She said BPL has a policy of shutting down branches and turning over the sites to developers, who would include smaller libraries in the new buildings, and congratulated Ms. Johnson on her acumen as a real estate agent.

No date has been set for the next Community Advisory Committee meeting, but it is expected to be sometime in May.

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  • bethman14

    Blah Blah Blah. Same tired old nonsense from the CDLers. Ad hominem attacks, unsubstantiated claims, conspiracy theories, right wing NIMBYism hiding in plain sight. Time to stop kvetching and build the new library. Brooklyn is too inclusive, too progressive, too forward thinking to tolerate right wingers like Mr. DD White and Ms. McIntyre for long.

  • Slyone

    I wanted to clarify something that I wasn’t clear about last night (you know, what with doing calculations on my phone, with my kids in the next room coming in to say hi every once in a while). The library project altogether — 132 market rate units and 114 affordable units (which will not apparently be at the library site, but will be in CB2 but not, as we understand it, in the PS8 zone) will add about 246X0.29=71.34 (or 72) K-5 public school children, according to the official formulas.


  • StoptheChop

    Did anyone bring up the appropriateness of the deal with St Ann’s (private) school – when that square footage could be used for more library space, OR for the pre-k program that PS8 eliminated because of its overcrowding?

  • bethman14

    By your math and logic, the project will add approximately 38 possible students to the PS8 school zone. This sounds like an absolute worst case scenario, assuming that every unit is sold to parents of K-5 students, and that every family sends their kids to public school (questionable logic, but whatever). So are you arguing that a project that will fund $40 million in renovations at libraries all across Brooklyn and build 114 units of affordable housing should be stopped because at most 38 more kids will attend PS 8?

  • ClaudeScales

    The St. Ann’s deal is another unresolved item. Initially, the school planned to use the space as a gym. Now their thinking is to have it be a theater and performing arts space, but they haven’t decided if they can commit to it. A decision is expected in the next ninety days or so. If they don’t do it, Mr. Kramer said, the below grade portion of the building would be re-designed to eliminate one level.

  • Poplar

    Are these the same architects that designed the Pier 1 buildings?

  • Reggie

    Your entire supposition is incorrect. The deal between Hudson and St. Ann’s is a private transaction independent of the proposed replacement library. You might as well say, if Hudson doesn’t sell any apartments on the 16th floor, that space could be used for a pre-K program.

  • ClaudeScales

    The same firm designed the Pierhouse buildings. However, they have different developers.

  • Slyone

    The PTA’s position — as articulated at many meetings and in our petition letters — is simply that before decision-making bodies approve additional residential housing in our school zone, we need a plan to address the already significant and fast-growing overcrowding problem at our school. We have not taken a position on any building or project, except that new residential housing should not be approved without a solution to address significant overcrowding at the zoned for which those residences would be zoned.

    We have 30 classrooms in total (including rooms that are supposed to be for “special” classes — like art, music and drama) at our school, one of which is not easily convertible into classroom space because of its design. This year we have 28 classrooms of students (having lost our pre-K classrooms last year), 6 K classes, and only 3 5th grade classes leaving our building. K pre-registration just ended and we had 30 more in-zone children register for K this year than we did last year. It is unclear how we meet our neighborhood’s needs next year, let alone the year after, when more than 500 additional residential units are slated to be completed and coming online.

    38 kids may not seem like a lot (it is 7-8% of our school’s capacity, for what that’s worth); at this point, we do not have 2 classrooms to house them.

    We respectfully request that before more residence are approved in our zone, there’s a plan to address the public school needs of the children that would live in those residences.

  • Fritz

    Affordable housing in the ?neighborhood? Not that there is much now, and the new building won’t take any. But 1041 Fulton Street is not anywhere in sight, avoids a “poor door” in the proposed building.

  • Carlotta

    The community at large has had no say in this matter of selling public property. At this last meeting there also were very few questions from the CAC.. It appears that the BPL has steamrolled its plan through and with self satisfied smirks, I might add. A renovated building with a school built atop it may not give other libraries in Brooklyn money to renovate, but it would give this district room for its children to learn in a less crowded space. And while I’m at it @Bethman – right wingers??

  • dumbfounded

    How long does it take for you to press/push your elected officials to get cracking on schools instead of blaming the BPL and BBP for the lack of classrooms?

  • Reggie

    The project is subject to ULURP. This process will start in May or June:

  • Michael D. D. White

    Mr. Kramer said that Saint Ann’s was looking at what might be 18,000 square feet for a theater, and then later said that Saint Ann’s might be getting 20,000 square feet (about the same size as the proposed shrunken library) for that theater.

    .- We cannot overlook how the benefits to Saint Ann’s, a private school, are helping to drive this sell-off and shrinkage of public tax-payer-paid-for assets, including the effect it may have had on the odd-man-out position supporting the library sale and shrinkage taken by the Brooklyn Heights Association.

    Kramer also mentioned how Saint Ann’s has “ambitious” plans about an expansion of its campus. Those plans are tied in with what it is getting in terms of space and money from the library sale and shrinkage.

    Noticing New York reported when there was a presentation to Saint Ann’s faculty about this.

  • Michael D. D. White

    No, it’s a private transaction that helps drive the decision to sell and shrink the tax-payers’ library. If the library isn’t sold and shrunk Saint Ann’s won’t get its payday of maybe 20,000 square feet and/or the cash its gets from its air rights sale.

  • Michael D. D. White

    It was important that the BPL said on Monday that it is hiring the developer’s architect and also that the developer’s architect will be key a key interface representing the BPL in dealing with the public in the “transparent” design process that will look to justify the library’s sale and shrinkage.

  • Michael D. D. White

    A significant piece of news from Monday night is that URLUP certification has been pushed back, yet again, now until June. This clearly indicates that we have forced the library administration officials and their developer partner to grapple more realistically with the community’s rejection of this project. They are now working as best they can to try to make the community rejection appear less obvious. In September, when the developer was selected, ULURP certification was going to be this month. Then it was pushed back to April, now it’s two months later. Originally, the Bloomberg administration initiating these real estate schemes, and pursuing them on multiple fronts, wanted everything to happen many months early with a developer contract for the Brooklyn Heights Library being executed before December 31, 2013, Bloomberg’s last day in office.

    But listen to how the new date has been picked to just barely accommodate the timing of a manipulated community “charrette” process. The charrette will occur two weeks from announcement with small tables of 6 to 8 people that will each include, there to steer things, one representative of the developer’s architect, now anointed as the library’s architect as well, and one representative of the Brooklyn Public Library that, with its transformation into a real estate development company, is also the developer’s representative. If you listen to the system for input that was described Monday night, it is rife with opportunity for the BPL (with the developer) to provoke and cherry pick input to support its vision which starts out inflexibly with a decision to shrink the library from 63,000 square feet to 21,000, square feet. (WEEDY DETAILS FOR THE GEEKS KEEPING TRACK: Monday night the architects came up with slightly revised figures a reduced existing library size of 59,000 square feet rather than the 63,000 square feet used to produce inflated air conditioning repair estimates, and a proposed shrinkage to 21,500 square feet, not reflecting what was stated to be the result of the RFP.)

    April 20th the Library, working with the developer’s architect, will restate and reformulate what they consider to be the public input for reaction. Then that will be presented to a stacked CAC (not representative of the public) in May. . . . just in time for commencing the ULURP process right afterward in June!

    A real open and transparent process to determine what the community wants should have preceded any decision to sell and shrink the library or to move the library’s Business and Career Library functions way from Downtown Brooklyn.

    On another front, there are developer-serving arguments being promulgated that the “design” of the project can’t be considered in the URLUP process, only whether the disposition of this publicly owned property makes sense. That argument, if bought into, opens the door to allowing the developer to make radical changes to the project even after ULURP. It also ignores what one must absolutely consider to make a determination of whether the disposition of this substantial public assets makes any possible sense: You must consider how poorly the design of a drastically shrunken library will serve the public versus what the public has now and could have with some sensible upgrading and perhaps adaptive reuse of portions of the premises.

    I asked questions Monday night that Linda Johnson mostly didn’t answer. The library has overstated what it believes it will net financially by selling the library. Johnson said that the small amount of net funds will go to certain other libraries, not mentioning the Grand Army Plaza Library where alterations will be necessitated by the transfer and accommodation there of the Business and Career Library functions. . That’s to the extent that the Business and Career Library continues to exist at all. It is important to remember that although the Business and Career Library functions are supposedly being moved to Grand Army Plaza there will be no new space created to accommodate those function, so the reconfiguring of Grand Army Plaza, which Ms. Johnson acknowledges will have a cost she will not state, will just be about cramming it in and reducing space for other activities there.

    Ms. Johnson says that she will not state, or net out this cost of GAP reconfiguration because she says that it was always the intention to move the Business and Career library way from Brooklyn’s Downtown. Actually, as you can tell from the BPL’s own minutes that is NOT the case. The plan to move the Business and Career Library out of Brooklyn Heights in order to sell and shrink the Brooklyn Heights Library goes back to 2007 with the BPL’s “Strategic Real Estate Plan” put together by ex-Forest City Ratner Vice President Karen Backus. We think the “Strategic Real Estate Plan” should be made public and have asked for it via FOIL, but Ms. Johnson and the BPL have refused to provide it. Ms. Johnson said Monday night it was because she doesn’t understand our request.

    With the figures released Monday night, between the branch library and the Business and Career Library functions, the BPL assigned 57% percent of the space to the branch Library and 43% to the Business and Career Library, and that’s ignoring how the Business and Career Library has always functioned in supportive synergy and on an integrative basis with the entire library making it one library. For example: Consider the computer room that is supposed to be part of the Business and Career Library, and not technically, the branch.

    While the library is proposed to be reduced from 63,000 square feet to 21,000 square feet, we heard the developer speak of how Saint Ann’e was going to get perhaps 18,000 square feet, and perhaps 20,000 square feet in the building just for an auditorium.- We cannot overlook how the benefits to Saint Ann’s, a private school, are helping to drive this sell-off and shrinkage of public tax-payer-paid-for assets.

    Yes, there were a few individuals and entities like the developer-oriented Chamber of Commerce who read prepared statements in support of the sale and shrinkage of the library. There was also the Downtown Partnership- Check out the relationship between the Downtown Partnership and Forest City Ratner before putting stock in what they say.

  • Reggie

    “Clearly indicates?” I think that is a leap of logic.

  • Reggie

    Fair enough, but that is a different argument than the one made by StoptheChop.

  • bethman14

    Hey Mike is back! Missed ya buddy!

    Did anyone ever tell you that brevity is the soul of wit?

  • bethman14

    Mike is a world champion pole vaulter when it comes to leaps of logic.

  • Foo

    Any guesses where Kramer’s kids go to school?

  • Michael D. D. White

    One small correction. i actually asked for confirmation that the off-site housing serving various income tiers would not use any Low Income Housing Tax Credits (state and federal – LIHTC). The developer, Mr. Kramer, confirmed that these units wouldn’t use this housing particular subsidy or any other and then threw in that, in addition, the new luxury condominium tower would not be subject to the
    very controversial 421a abatement. In a conversation afterwards, LucY Koteen observed that a number of luxury buildings on 57th street were not subject to the 421-a abatement and then famously were retroactively put into the program via a backroom deal passed with an Albany statute.

    I am more concerned about my questions to which Linda Johnson didn’t provide adequate answers.

  • Wilow Street Watch

    By far the most shocking aspect of the meeting was one
    Questioner who pointed out that buildings like this are
    Destroying the allow density barrier which has for decades
    Protected and defined the Heights. He ALSO pointed
    out that modern buildings built to a price point have
    poor fire and collapse protection against deliberate
    assault…given the amount of people who pumped his
    hand after his comments, he was not alone in his