Library Project Gets Council Land Use Committee Nod; Levin Secures Sweeteners

Today the City Council’s Land Use Committee approved the plan to demolish the existing Brooklyn Heights Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library and replace it with a new library in a high rise residential and commercial building to be built on the site, with a temporary library to be available in the Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral building during construction. This effectively clears the way for the project, as the full City Council is unlikely to vote it down given the support of Council Member Stephen Levin, in whose district the library is located, and that Mayor de Blasio also favors it.

Announcing his support for the deal, Levin listed a number of concessions that he said “significantly improve” the project. The size of the new Brooklyn Heights Branch will will be expanded by 24%, from 21,500 square feet to 26,620 square feet. In addition, a new 5,000 square foot library will be built to serve the DUMBO, Vinegar Hill, and Farragut Houses communities. The Brooklyn Heights Branch will include a 3,000 square foot Technology and Business Services Center, to be developed by BPL in partnership with local business and entrepreneurship groups. BPL will commit to seven day a week service at the Brooklyn Heights Branch, and will maintain “robust programming” at the new library, entering into “a public process to gather community feedback on programming needs.” There will also be a recapture provision that will allow BPL to share in any profit above a benchmark rate of return.

Other new provisions include setting aside 9,000 square feet of the new building, outside of the library space, “for dedicated STEM education labs administered by the NYC Department of Education and serving students in Brooklyn’s Community School District 13″; reduction of the Area Minimum Income limits for the affordable housing units to be constructed by the developer in Community District 2; and an agreement on labor standards that is acceptable to the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and SEIU 32BJ.

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  • Banet

    I’ve always had mixed feelings about this project but for those who’ve objected it will be interesting to hear their response given how much better a deal Levin secured from the developer.

  • John

    this is the power of the hold out. the power of not just rolling over. for all the pro-library people who thought they were getting a good deal and everyone should just shut up and stop complaining: you were wrong. for the anti-development people who thought there was a lot of money being left on the table: you were right.

    it’s a much better proposal. going from 21k sq feet of public space to over 40k sq ft. plus the recapture provision.

  • Banet

    Not to mention a major reduction in the qualifying income on the affordable housing:

    “Higher end Area Median Income (“AMI”) limits for affordable housing units built as part of the project have been lowered. Units formerly at 165% AMI have been lowered to 125% AMI and units formerly at 100% AMI have been lowered to 80% AMI, deepening the affordability for New Yorkers”

    Likely a lot of this was made possible by the increase in real estate prices just since Hudson made their bid a year or so ago.

    All in all, in my opinion anyone who wants to reject this deal would likely never be happy with any deal. (Though the devil’s in the details — I wonder what the terms of that clawback are.)

  • Quinn Raymond

    Assuming the developer and Brooklyn Public Library honor the agreement, this is good news.

    Would have loved to see them axe the mandatory minimum parking requirement too, but it is what it is.

    The challenge with any of these agreements that developers make with local electeds is that they are unenforceable. This is why the mayor’s mandatory affordable housing plan is an improvement over the status quo– it would be legally binding in areas that are upzoned. This would represent a massive change in the way development works in NYC.

  • Jeffrey Smith

    This is the exact result of allowing totally inappropriate people to employ totally inadequate measures to defend against a rapacious enemy. Just look at the collection of short circuits that occupied key positions in the opposition. And, no matter how many times you brought better measures to their attention, they ignored the best, most promising supporters and when anyone pressed their requests, many of the “leaders” became hostile. All the classic signs of a controlled opposition.

    We should track what becomes of many of the oposition leaders. I bet you’ll see a lot of them “miracliously” move into much upgraded digs or suddenly get a series of new, very valuable clients….

    When you enter a conflict, you need competent, honest leaders who are looking for any and all reasonable means to be successful. And they need to recruit the best supporters and use them properly. None of which was done here.

    If all of you learn from this experience, you will have derived some benefit.

    If try to use aspirin for cancer or try to use anything less than fully competent professionals, death is always the result.

  • Nomcebo Manzini

    What a joke. As if the developer hadn’t pencilled in this – or maybe more than this. What a mismatch – pros with millions of dollars to confuse matters, suss out weak and strong opponents vs. a Councilman who probably has every reason to expect that this or other developers will bankroll his next campaign. … BPL double-dealt so long and so hard that it’s impossible to see anything from them as believable or meaningful. And developers throughout NY are no doubt celebrating as – talk about rolling over with one’s underbelly signaling concession – NY starts to sell off what makes them tons more than it does the City. Hard to believe that anyone without blinders or an agenda is fooled by this charade, but this board has long had its share of shills. Some intern at Hudson probably gets to come in at noon, having spread some manure around sites like this one.

  • Remsen Street Dweller
  • Ed Townes

    I recognize that the BHB has limited resources when it comes to reporting, but if “reportage” consists of minor edits to a politician’s PR release, maybe – just as reputable publications always do, labeling ADS designed to look like a news story so as to minimize that danger – this blog ought to follow suit. Councilman Levin would not be a mortal politician if he didn’t pat himself on the back at every opportunity, but let’s take a look at some of his “tweaks,” the ones he, the headline and a few posters here think represent things of substance, even victories over a rapacious developer.

    (Make no mistake, Hudson is among the more rapacious, and in NY c. 2016, that’s saying something.)

    Maybe, local businesses will chip in a little so that there will be a tiny shadow of the soon-to-disappear Business Library in the new building. Staffing? Keeping the collection current? … With the BPL (and this was probably one of their few somewhat logical decisions) determined to make the Central Library even more central, I’m guessing that relying on the tenants in Metrotech to chip in will not work out well.

    Lower the income requirements? Yes, it’s crazy expensive to live in a decent neighborhood – and some that are at least a few flush years away from being decent by most readers’ estimations, but what IS affordable housing, really? Is it an attempt to make a middle class existence possible? Is it new “branding” for housing projects? Now the lottery for those new apts will have 10,000-to-1 odds, and when some of the “winners” can’t pay their subsidized rents, how’s that gonna play out?

    The fact that the “poor door” got many New Yorkers upset has had the perverse consequence of making housing segregation – not just de facto but de jure, as they say – acceptable ought to get liberal New Yorkers (all 10 of them – sorry, that’s a tad snarky) even more upset. But – along with the bizarro elementary school dispute, segregation has lost a lot of its bad taste. Sadly, in my opinion, let me be clear.

    That is, a mile or 2 or 3 away – at a location, I’d wager, very few Heights residents will ever see – some number of apartments for people of color will be erected. Better minds than mine can address how much of a “victory” that is – but count on “their” neighborhood schools having fewer resources and lower test scores and basically perpetuating the us/them thing for another generation at least.

    5,000 more square feet. Anybody who followed the debate about the current library knows how easy (hence tempting) it is to look at that number as a (false) proxy for “better or worse?”

    But is there anyone who’s still unaware that libraries are changing – probably even more dramatically than print publications. Take one typical (and important) class of users – kids from 8 to 20, say, researching something. In the “bad old days,” those without a set of encyclopedias at home had to go to the library. NOW? Suffice it to say that 99% of the books more than a year old would have a noticeable layer of dust on them, and that seems like an inexorable trend. And there really are more sensible ways to address what’s left of the “digital divide” than to earmark more square feet than Best Buy does for “workstations.”

    And do we know whether the builder will get another 50 feet in height to “compensate” them for these “concessions?” Yeah, maybe, the NY Times will file a freedom of information action in 10-20 years to see what Mr. Levin’s deal really cost taxpayers and neighborhood residents.

    2 quick points that dwarf all this – and that’s pretty amazing –

    1) Where was the Brooklyn Hts Association on this? They’ve shifted their focus to “the waterfront,” even though there literally will be a giant shadow falling on most of the people they represent as a result of their “ducking a winnable fight.”

    2) Infrastructure – the Clark Street station is barely equal to the demands on it currently. Pierhouse, this new building, the one likely to go up on Cadman between the 2 existing highrises on CPW and – heaven help us – what replaces the JW properties are a great deal more than a straw on the camel’s back.

    How’s our nabe look now after sunset when everybody gets ready for the midnight sanitation trucks to do their thing? Fire, water post r.e. feeding frenzy in BH? … Steve Levin, no doubt, figures that he’ll pull a diBlasio and at least try for a citywide office before the chickens come home to roost. Somehow, I don’t see that as in any way, shape or form doing the job he was elected to do.

    But when you look past your current job & responsibilities to running for something like Public Advocate, you need developers’ support more than a few hundred votes from Brooklyn Heights.

    There’s a reason Mr. Squadron got more pushback about over-development than anything else at his recent event, but when the City sells off a prime parcel for a song, we’ve reached a very, very sorry state of affairs. (And when the developer says at “crunch time,” “2 bits aren’t enough? How’s 2 1/2?” we’ve got the ultimate in black humor.)