Brooklyn Botanic Garden leaders are fighting back against a proposed new development that would block crucial morning sunlight to its gardens and greenhouses.
“Fight for Sunlight,” an exhibition that opens at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on July 30, is meant to address this issue and raise awareness about the controversial proposed rezoning of the Spice Factory at 960 Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights that would produce two 39-story towers as part of a larger complex.
Located less than 200 feet away from the garden’s greenhouse complex, the development would produce long shadows that stretch across the entire Botanic Garden and almost to Prospect Park across the street, according to Botanic Garden reps.
Scot Medbury, who has served as the president and CEO of Brooklyn Botanic Garden since 2005, said that up to 4.5 hours of morning sunlight during the summer months could be lost, which would harm the greenhouses and nurseries that are closest to the planned development, as well as gardens to the south.
Inside the Steinhardt Conservatory, a large scrim hanging from wires displays a map showing the possible effects of the planned development. It gives any viewer standing in front of it a clear sense of how much sunlight will be lost.
Below the scrim are informational placards explaining the planned scope of the project. A short video goes into detail about the length of the shadows the buildings may produce.
The developer, Continuum, said at a public scoping meeting earlier this year that the Botanic Garden should look into “artificial light” for the areas that will suffer the most from the shadows or move the greenhouses, according to Medbury. Moving the greenhouses is not an option, and the two organizations have not spoken directly, Medbury said.
An independent nonprofit institution, the Botanic Garden is supported by public funds through the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, New York State Natural Heritage Trust and the Institute of Museum Services.
The official public review process, or ULURP, of the proposed rezoning has not yet kicked off, although City Planning released a draft scope of work and a scoping meeting took place earlier this year.
If all goes according to the developer’s plan, construction on the first phase of the planned project will start in January 2021, with the second phase beginning around October 2021, according to the draft scope of work. About 790 units out of the 1,590 total residences will be affordable under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program.
Medbury scoffed at the idea that their fight is somehow against the need for affordable housing, calling it a “false opposition.” They have “mostly stayed out” of other developments in the area that won’t affect the garden. For a nearby development at 40 Crown Street and 931 Carroll Street, which will produce two 16-story towers and was approved for rezoning in December 2018, Medbury said, they reviewed the city’s shadow study that was part of the Environmental Impact Statement to make sure it was accurate.
Brooklyn Botanic has not commissioned their own shadow study for the Spice Factory development — what they have now they are calling a model — because it would cost, according to Medbury, somewhere between $15,0000 to $20,000. They are waiting for City Planning to release the Environmental Impact Statement, and will review it the same way they did the previous development, he said.
Originally the Consumer’s Park Brewing Company and more recently a spice factory, the site has a rich history, architectural significance and was important to the history and development of this part of Brooklyn, as Brownstoner columnist Suzanne Spellen has written.
If the developer does not win public approval for the rezoning, the buildings can be no more than 70 feet tall — versus 431 feet tall — and contain about 581 apartments instead of 1,590, according to City Planning.
Even though it would not be ideal, the Botanic Garden has no plans to fight as-of-right development at the Spice Factory site, Medbury said. What they are against is the rezoning, and they’re hoping both elected officials and the public at large will see their concerns.
“We’re hoping sense will prevail,” Medbury said. “This is really out of scale.”
[Photos by Craig Hubert unless noted otherwise]
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