After a tense discussion amongst the board, stalled sporadically amidst disapproving shouts from the numerous opponents in the audience, the board voted to approve the sale of the Cadman Plaza site to developer Hudson Companies, whose plans call for razing and rebuilding the branch in the bottom portion of a 36-story luxury development.
The final vote was 25 in favor, 14 opposed and four abstaining.
The project has been the focus of heated debate throughout the community since its inception. Opponents flooded the board meeting at St. Francis College on Wednesday, bearing signs and chanting “Not for Sale” amidst repeated threats of expulsion by chairperson Shirley McRae.
Wednesday’s decision comes after a protracted vote by the board’s Land Use Committee finally ended in a conditional affirmative decision during a last-minute meeting earlier this month. The committee’s first vote in June ended in a stalemate after four hours of public testimony pushed the meeting late into the night.
The committee voted to approve the sale with conditions during the second meeting on July 6. Among those conditions is that the new branch have the same usable floor space as the existing branch, long a point of contention among the project’s detractors.
Hudson Properties’ plans called for decreasing the branch’s square footage by a third.
The other conditions were that a $2 million fund be allocated for future repairs to the branch after its completion, and that the deal include a memorandum of understanding and community benefits agreement with the developer.
Board members discussed the merits of the project for approximately 40 minutes before casting a vote, rehashing the roster of knotty debates that have emerged since the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) issued RFP’s for a private developer in 2013, saying it couldn’t foot the $9 million in repairs needed at the branch.
Proponents have long argued the sale will solve a host of problems in one fell swoop, doing away with a crumbling eyesore of a branch while infusing the cash-strapped BPL with $52 million from the sale, which it he said will go towards repairs at branches which haven’t seen renovations in years.
The plan also calls for the construction of 114 units of affordable housing at two buildings within Community Board 2.
“The bottom line is we’re doing what we can with what we have,” said board member William Flounoy. “There’s no money in the system to maintain the library. Are there better situations? Yes, but we have an opportunity to build a brand new library, we have an opportunity to have affordable housing.”
Opponents have cautioned the project could set a dangerous precedent for selling off public land to private developers, and have voiced concerns about the impact the 139-unit development could have on the area, which has seen rapid change in recent years in large part due to development.
Board members have referenced conversations in the past in which they said it had been decided new development would not be supported by the board until investments in infrastructure were made.
On Wednesday, numerous board members said that already over-burdened local infrastructure couldn’t bear the brunt of the new residents, especially area schools, which local PTA members have said are already at 140 percent capacity.
“I can’t even think of approving a plan when we know it’s not going to work,” said board member Ken Lowy. “If we took a vote and said “are there enough schools, is there enough room for people in the subway?”, people would say no. There’s no infrastructure.”
Michael White, founder of the group Citizens Defending Libraries, which advocates against the private sale of libraries and long one of the project’s most vocal opponents, said despite Wednesday’s vote he was optimistic the sale would not go through
“The outrage that the community is experiencing will ripple outward,” he said. “I think we will have a victory, but it’s going to be a very hard-fought one.”
The application next hits the Borough President’s desk next month before going on to the City Planning Commission and City Council.
In a statement, BPL said it looked forward to moving ahead in the process.
“The community agrees—building a new Brooklyn Heights Library will provide residents the world-class library they need and deserve, while also ensuring that branches throughout the borough receive much-needed repairs and renovations,” the statement read.