Questions Remain Over New 17-Story Tower Proposal at Spice Factory Site in Crown Heights

Rendering by Hill West Architects

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Proposed changes suggested for a controversial development in southern Crown Heights were met with swift resistance by residents at a meeting hosted by Community Board 9 Wednesday evening.

“These monstrous buildings are not in line with the character of this community,” said one of the residents in the chat room that accompanied the meeting. “This is not downtown nor Manhattan!”

Roughly 100 people were present for the virtual meeting, which presented updated plans for towers proposed to stand at 960 Franklin Avenue. Initial plans called for a pair of 39-story towers (later shortened to 34 stories), which the developer, Continuum, says they still want to build despite widespread concerns.

Attendees at the virtual meeting

“We understood it was going to be a little bit controversial,” said William Wallace IV, who represented Continuum at the meeting. But he added that when nearby Ebbets Field Apartments were built at 24 stories they were considered “out of context” with the surrounding community.

But following comments from City Planning Commission Chair Marisa Lago earlier this month, who called the project “grossly out of scale with the surrounding context,” as well as Mayor de Blasio, who said the developer needs to “go back to the drawing board,” they have also drafted an alternative proposal, meant to represent a compromise.

Image via Continuum

Days before the meeting, Continuum announced those alternative plans on a website: a pair of 17-story towers with 75 percent market-rate apartments and 25 percent affordable (as opposed to the current plan, which calls for 50 percent market rate and 50 percent affordable). If that is not approved, the developer says they will build “as of right,” which they say will be six stories with no affordable housing. (Residents later asked the developer, who admitted they would be using the 421-a tax break, how there could be no affordable housing in the “as of right” option).

The 34-story tower. Rendering by Hill West Architects

The 17-story tower. Rendering by Hill West Architects

The “as of right” development. Rendering by Hill West Architects

Not explored in depth Wednesday was the effect the development will have on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The project’s environmental impact statement found the complex will cast shadows on the garden year round, potentially devastating its plants. Wallace, who questioned some of the effects on the garden that have previously been presented, said he was “as concerned as anyone” about the shadows. But he added that, despite numerous attempts, he had not been successful in meeting with anyone from the Botanic Garden.

brooklyn botanic

Image via Brooklyn Botanic Garden

That claim has not stopped the Botanic Garden from launching their own petition against the development, which currently has 50,000-plus signatures. They have partnered with Municipal Art Society to provide community training sessions before they testify at the Community Board’s public hearing for the rezoning, which takes place March 18.

brooklyn development crown heights consumers brewery 960 franklin avenue

The site in 2017. Photo by Susan De Vries

Originally the Consumers 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.

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