The hotly debated proposal to sell the current site of the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Heights branch to a private developer moved forward on Wednesday afternoon when the City Council voted 45 to 1 (with three abstentions) to OK the plan.
“This project today is significantly better than initially proposed,” Council Member Stephen Levin told the assembly. “I encourage my colleagues to vote aye.”
And “aye” they did.
— Brad Lander (@bradlander) December 16, 2015
Council Member Laurie Cumbo — who appeared to oppose the project at the November 19th Land Use meeting — commended Levin’s recent negotiations, acknowledging “no one wants to set the precedent of selling public assets… [but] my district will benefit from 114 units of affordable housing.”
Those affordable units were the main reason for at least one abstention on the vote. Council Member Jumaane Williams — Chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings — abstained, saying that the income targets for the public housing should have been lowered further.
A group of about eight people with Citizens Defending Libraries booed throughout the meeting. Public Advocate Letitia James repeatedly asked them to be quiet and sit down.
But council member after council member affirmed the proposal and expressed admiration for Steve Levin’s role in sweetening the deal for the city.
Brownstoner caught up with Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson after the vote. When asked how she felt, Johnson replied, “Relieved.” But she went on to say that it was a big day for the library, one that would help the entire system get long-overdue repairs.
Many supporters, lately including Council Member Steve Levin, view the plan as a win-win for both the public and the developer. But the opposition sees the sale of the site as the irretrievable loss of valuable public property for a quick, unsustainable financial fix.
What’s this whole library thing, again?
The proposal entails selling the city-owned site at 280 Cadman Plaza West for $52,000,000 to developer Hudson Companies. Hudson would then build a 36-story luxury condo tower designed by Marvel Architects that has a new library and retail spaces on the ground floor.
Hudson would also open an interim library during construction, and build 114 units of affordable housing at two sites in Clinton Hill — 1041-1047 Fulton Street and 911-917 Atlantic Avenue.
Last week, Steve Levin got some alterations to the plan:
The new library at the base of the tower will now be bigger than first proposed — 26,620 square feet — and required to remain open seven days a week. Hudson will build an additional 5,000-square-foot library for nearby Dumbo and Vinegar Hill. The base of the condo tower will also have 9,000 square feet of STEM classroom space for School District 13.
Hudson agreed to a surprising “recapture provision” that means Hudson must give the Brooklyn Public Library a quarter of all profits above an internal rate of return (IRR) of 19 percent from the luxury condo sales. The income ranges for the Clinton Hill affordable units have also been lowered.
To hold Hudson accountable, these provisions have been written into the deed that will transfer ownership of the library to the developer.
Fancy new library! STEM space! Affordable housing! All good, right? Think again.
Some folks still passionately oppose the library-sale proposal.
Selling this site isn’t a silver bullet. The Brooklyn Public Library has an estimated $300,000,000 deficit for much-needed repairs. Sure, this deal would give the BPL two new library spaces and roughly $40,000,000 to mend other branches. But opponents question whether selling off a valuable public asset — like land in downtown Brooklyn — is the right way to go when there’s no sustainable long-term plan for library funding.
Adding fuel to the already flaming controversy, union coalition Build Up NYC issued a report last month claiming that the $52,000,000 sale would fleece the public of up to 32 percent of the land’s actual value.
In the report, analysis by Hugh F. Kelly Real Estate Economics found the market value of the site to be between $68,000,000 and $78,000,000. The economics firm compared the site’s projected land value of $211 per buildable square foot to the average price in north Brooklyn ($270) and average price for land within a two mile radius ($311).
The Library really wants this plan to happen.
The Brooklyn Public Library has recently taken pains to promote the plan to local community members in Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo. Over the past three weeks, the BPL issued at least three mailers urging supporters to contact their council member, and sent library staff to canvas the sidewalks collecting signatures.
The library’s promotional materials highlighted how money from the sale would be put to repairing other branches, in addition to the increase in publicly usable area in the new Heights branch, and the creation of affordable housing.
Despite early vocal community opposition, the proposal cleared several hurdles — passing Community Board 2 in July, only to be “disapproved” by Borough President Eric Adams in September, then unanimously approved by the City Planning Commission in early November.
Steve Levin’s support for the deal made it all but a sure thing in the official City Council vote today, as council members typically align themselves with the decision of the district’s member.
So. What’s next?
Today’s City Council vote is a near-definitive decision in the standard Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) requiring multiple government and community bodies to approve the sale of a public asset like 280 Cadman Plaza West. Now, Mayor Bill de Blasio will have five days to review the plan. If he does nothing, the Council decision stands. If he vetoes today’s City Council decision — a move that few mayors have ever made — a second City Council vote with two-thirds of council members in favor can override his veto.
Where do you stand?
[Renderings: Hudson Companies | Photos: Barbara Eldredge]
Council Member Steve Levin Gives Thumbs-Up for Heights Library Development
City Council’s Top 5 Concerns About the Brooklyn Heights Library Sale and Development
City Planning Unanimously Approves Brooklyn Heights Library Sale and Tower