Borough Hall ‘needs additional time to review’
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn’s Borough Board will not be voting as planned on Tuesday on the contentious issue of the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library site to a developer.
According to the group Love Brooklyn Libraries (LBL), Borough Hall removed the item from the Board’s agenda after a meeting between Andrew Gournardes, counsel to Borough President Eric Adams, and LBL officers last Thursday.
A spokesperson for the borough president told the Brooklyn Eagle on Friday that “Borough Hall needed additional time to review the proposal.”
LBL filed a complaint letter with state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Jan. 15 which contends that Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) has been misrepresenting its capital funds in order to facilitate a real estate grab.
The library has claimed to have received a total of $84 million from Fiscal Year 2008 through Fiscal Year 2013, but LBL says that its own research shows a budget of $145 million over the same time span.
LBL’s vice president Laurie Frey told the Eagle last Thursday, “Brooklyn Public Library is Pinocchio sitting on a pile of money. Their nose keeps getting longer and longer every time they say 'We don't have enough. We need more.’ Love Brooklyn Libraries is calling for the truth.”
A spokesperson for BPL told the Eagle last week that it stands by the process that led up to the approval of the Heights branch by the City Council.
"The plan to build a new Brooklyn Heights Library was approved after a transparent and rigorous public review process, and we look forward to moving ahead on creating a world class library for the Brooklyn Heights community," said the spokesperson.
Though passed by the full City Council, the sale of the library cannot go forward without approval by a majority of the members of the Borough Board, according to New York State’s Not-for-Profit Law and the City Charter.
The Borough Board is composed of Borough President Adams, who serves as chair, the council members for each district in Brooklyn and the chairs of Brooklyn’s Community Boards.
During the ULURP process, Community Board 2 and the City Council voted to approve the library’s sale to Hudson Companies. Borough President Adams, however, "disapproved with conditions."
Among other recommendations, Adams proposed including elementary school space in the development; called for affordable housing on-site; recommended that the library maintain its current publicly-accessible floor area, inclusive of the Business Library; and proposed a possible merger of the city’s library systems.
In a letter to BP Adams on Jan. 29, Frey wrote, “Your office has stood by the community in this matter, and we note with appreciation your protection of Brooklyn’s interests.”
On Friday, LBL member Marsha Rimler, who has been vocal in fighting the sale, told the Eagle, "BP Adams and his staff have been wonderful to work with -- he's a mensch." [Update: According to LBL, Rimler left the group as of Feb. 8.]
36-story tower planned
Hudson plans to build a 36-story luxury tower. A new Brooklyn Heights branch will be built on the ground floor and below ground.
The deal also includes an affordable housing component in Clinton Hill. Affordable housing is a priority of Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Councilmember Stephen Levin wrangled additional concessions from the developer before throwing his support behind the deal.
These included increased library floor space, a STEM lab, a Technology & Business Services Center, a 5,000-foor library in DUMBO, profit sharing by the developer and a decrease in the income needed for the affordable housing.
Levin was criticized by a number of community members, however, who are opposed to more development in Brooklyn Heights and the sale of public assets to commercial interests. One group very active in this fight is Citizens Defending Libraries.
The city is selling the library to Hudson Companies for $52 million. BPL says it is underfunded and has to sell the valuable Heights property to help address $300 million in capital repair needs across Brooklyn. The sale would generate $40 million towards these needs.
Love Brooklyn Libraries claims that BPL is “gaming” the system by spreading its capital funds among 145 – 150 line-item projects in 48 branch libraries.
“In other words, it appears that BPL is gaming the system to manufacture a work slowdown or “deferred maintenance crisis,” LBL says.
“When the false premise of capital ‘underfunding’ is dispelled, there is no longer a reason for going forward and irreversibly harming Brooklyn’s public trust for public land,” LBL adds.