Opponents of a planned high-rise development that would bring a mixture of just under 1,600 affordable and market-rate apartments to Crown Heights attended a community board meeting on Wednesday night, arguing that the buildings would cast massive shadows on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and put too much strain on the neighborhood infrastructure.
Developers Continuum Company and Lincoln Equities want to build two 39-story towers at the site of a spice factory at 960 Franklin Avenue, with 789 market rate and 789 income-restricted housing units—20 percent more affordable units than the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy requires. If approved under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), the city’s zoning review process, the full project will be completed by 2024.
While the full City Council votes on ULURP, the Council’s longstanding tradition is to defer to the local member on land-use votes. That essentially puts the fate of the 420-foot towers in the hands of Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who represents Crown Heights and parts of Central Brooklyn. At Wednesday’s Community Board 9’s ULURP committee meeting, the project’s skeptics, which included many of CB 9’s land use committee, talked about how to best put pressure on the Council member.
“I think it’s up to us as a community to bang down her door, essentially, and make her actually do her effing job,” said neighborhood resident Virginia Bechtold to a smattering of applause.
Another resident, Lindsey Smith, listed “the impact on the garden, the impact on public transit in the area, destroying a historic, character-full site and turning it into a generic glass and steel … [and] the further strain on our resources” as her reasons for opposing the rezoning.
But as is common in city land-use battles, the potential outcome the community faces is not development or no development. If Continuum Company and Lincoln Equities can’t get the necessary rezoning to build the two towers, they could settle for 75-foot, six-story buildings with 518 units that can be built under the existing zoning, and could potentially lack any below-market-rate units.
James Harris, director of government and community affairs for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, said he would take “no issue” with the smaller building, since the two proposed towers would cause more shadows to be cast on the garden.
“We think the 75-foot building that is allowed to be built as of right would be fantastic,” Harris said, encouraging the crowd to sign a petition showing disapproval of the rezoning.
Along with concerns about the two towers depriving the garden of sunlight, attendees said they didn’t believe City Planning was going to take into consideration the strain on a host of matters, including transportation, schools, policing, firefighting, and the sewage system. Many expressed skepticism of the process, questioning whether City Planning’s environmental review of the area took enough information into account, with local activist Alicia Boyd floating the possibility of a lawsuit if the assessment of the impact on the area isn’t in their view up to snuff.
Additionally, some noted the units deemed affordable by the city were not in fact affordable to most people who currently live in the gentrifying neighborhood, as the median household income in the area, which is just over $50,000, is below that of those set to live in some of the income-restricted units.
If the developers are able to build the two towers, 60 percent, or 473 units, of the 789 below-market-rate units would go to people making at or below 80 percent of the area median income; 158 units, 20 percent of them, would be reserved for residents making up to 100 percent of the area median income; and another 158 units will go to those making 120 percent of the area median income.
Though there was near unanimous agreement in the room the development ought to be opposed, few were optimistic about the prospect of stopping it. While the political winds in recent months have turned against New York real estate, as a progressive surge has taken hold— multiple people referenced Council Member Carlos Menchaca’s vow to kill the Industry City rezoning plans unless his demand for more time is met—some were skeptical Cumbo would follow suit, saying her record bodes poorly for those who wish to block the development.
Specifically, a few people at the meeting cited what transpired in 2017 with the Bedford-Union Armory redevelopment, which was approved by Cumbo and in turn the Council, though the project on a city-owned site was amended after negotiations between the city and developer and the Council member.
“For the armory and other types of rezonings,” said Girón, a ULURP committee member and tenant advocate, “we’ve had 100 percent negative [feedback] from the community board, [but] it was completely ignored.”
Boyd, for her part, predicted Cumbo will “do a song and dance” about possibly opposing it, but when it comes time to make a decision, will approve the project. “I do not think Laurie Cumbo is going to be persuaded,” she told Gothamist.
“We have watched Laurie Cumbo switch her tune, [saying] ‘I’m not going to vote for this, I don’t like this,’” only to vote for the project “at the last minute,” Boyd said.
“History shows that eventually she has voted with the developer,” Nichola Cox, a member of the CB 9’s ULURP committee, said in an interview, “so that’s my expectation.”
A spokesperson for Cumbo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Tuesday, City Planning will hold a public hearing on the developer’s proposal, and will field input from residents.