In Rare Move, City Backs Off Two Controversial Rezonings That Would Block Botanic Garden Sun

The 2018 rezoning at 40 Crown Street. Rendering via NYC Department of City Planning

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A Kings County Supreme Court Judge struck down the 2018 Franklin Avenue rezoning on Monday, after a years-long court battle waged by neighborhood activists. The same day, Mayor de Blasio effectively killed the controversial rezoning of the nearby Spice Factory at 960 Franklin Avenue.

The legal ruling, issued by Judge Reginald Boddie, reverses the certification of the 2018 rezoning, which would have allowed for two 16-story developments at 40 Crown Street and 931 Carroll Street and Franklin Avenue near the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

In a 27-page ruling, Boddie agreed with neighborhood activists’ assertions that the Department of City Planning did not conduct a thorough enough environmental review process when certifying the rezoning.

“I think that the tide is turning,” said Alicia Boyd, an anti-gentrification activist who brought the suit, which co-names DCP, Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo, and Cornell Realty as respondents. “People are tired of [the mayor’s] affordable housing plan. People have seen that it does not work, people have seen as rezonings have been passed that the amount of homelessness has risen, not decreased.”

The rezoning would have allowed for 518 new residential units in the neighborhood — 258 of which would have been below-market-rate units built by the affordable housing developer Asian Americans for Equity. Activists, however, charged that the buildings would accelerate gentrification and displacement — and that shadows cast by the two 16-story buildings would harm the nearby Brooklyn Botanic Garden, though the garden itself never expressed any opposition to the towers.

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The Spice Factory at 960 Franklin Avenue in 2017. Photo by Susan De Vries

“Ever since these projects were proposed, we felt they were mechanisms of displacement,” said plaintiff and city council candidate Michael Hollingsworth on Tuesday.

The activists represented themselves without trained legal representation, facing off against some of the largest land-use law firms in the country.

“That’s an important accomplishment for pro se litigants in a Black and brown low to moderate income community,” Boyd said during a rally on December 22.

A spokesperson for the city’s legal department said the city will appeal the decision regarding the 2018 rezoning.

“The environmental review was appropriate and we are planning to appeal,” said Nicholas Paolucci.

Boddie’s decision came the same day de Blasio effectively killed the Spice Factory rezoning, which would have allowed for a mixed-use mega-development further down Franklin Avenue, and has also been the subject of lawsuits and public opposition from the Botanic Garden.

“Today I am voicing my opposition to the proposed 960 Franklin Avenue development in Crown Heights that would harm the research and education work carried out by one of this city’s prized cultural institutions, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and is grossly out of scale with the neighborhood,” the mayor told Gothamist. “I’m calling on the developers to go back to the drawing board and create a proposal that we can be proud of.”

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The proposed towers at the Spice Factory. Rendering via Continuum Company

The mayor, who carries large sway on rezonings in the city, rarely weighs in on private applications before they reach his desk, and has previously defended the other developments further up Franklin Avenue, saying the hundreds of income-targeted apartments they would provide were too important to sacrifice.

Boyd said she suspects the mayor’s opposition to the 960 Franklin project was spurred by a recent lawsuit and details that began to emerge on the project.

“With the lawsuit, we were able to stop the certification temporarily,” Boyd said. “And I think once the lawsuit was filed somebody said ‘well, let’s look at what is being proposed’ … they looked at the plan, they realized there were some serious issues with the plan.”

Editor’s note: A version of this story originally ran in Brooklyn Paper. Click here to see the original story.

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