Community board OKs plan to stick high-rise on Heights library, crowd goes wild

Community board OKs plan to stick high-rise on Heights library, crowd goes wild
Marvel Architects

It was one for the books.

A Brooklyn Heights panel okayed the controversial plan to knock down the neighborhood’s library and build a high-rise at a heated meeting on Wednesday night that frequently descended into disorder.

Members of Community Board 2 voted 25–14 with four abstentions to approve real-estate firm Hudson Companies’ bid to buy the library’s Brooklyn Heights branch for $52-million and erect a 36-story tower of luxury housing in its place, despite loud protests from anti-sale activists who accused the board of capitulating to corporate interests.

“These people are a bunch of pigs,” said Patricia Rhatigan, a Park Slope resident who repeatedly attempted to shout-down board members during the meeting. “All the money is just going straight into the pockets of developers.”

The Brooklyn Public Library claims its existing outlet at 280 Cadman Plaza West is in rough shape and is in need of $9 million in repairs that it cannot afford. Hudson plans to tear down the ageing two-story art deco library and build a new branch of the bibliotheca on the bottom floor of a wedge-shaped skyscraper containing 139 units of housing.

Proponents of the sale say the brand-new branch would better serve the community while the system could use the extra cash to fix several other languishing local outlets, and board members voting “yea” urged their colleagues to have faith that the borough’s book-lending service knows what is best for its users.

“This will improve their ability to provide library services within our community,” said board member John Dew, who voted in favor of the sale. “This is something that the public library system in Brooklyn has asked us to approve. For me that is very important.”

But vocal group of local activists have opposed the plan to sell the branch every step of the way, arguing that the library should not be pawning off its property to private interests.

Members of the group Citizens Defending Libraries packed into the Founders Hall in St. Francis College for Wednesday’s meeting, derailing discussions and booing when board members spoke in favor of the sale. The debate became so fiery at times that board chair Shirley McRae paused several times to threaten activists with expulsion.

“You are not going to commandeer this meeting,” McRae said at one point. “If you don’t allow the board to continue without the catcalling and the disrespect, you will be removed.”

Library honchos already inked a tentative sale with Hudson last fall, but the plan remains subject to several approvals. Borough President Adams will need to give his blessing next, and then the city will have to agree to rezone the land to allow for the tower.

The library and developer ultimately do not need the community board’s approval for their scheme — the panels are largely toothless outfits comprising volunteers with limited power — but the board submits recommendations to the city that the planning department may take under consideration.

The panel tacked on several recommendations to its approval — it wants the developer to come up with a floor-plan for the new library that includes as much “usable space” as the current building, and the library to set aside $2 million for future repairs and other construction at the branch.

It is also demanding that Hudson honor is pledge to build below-market-rate housing as part of the project, which the developer says it will do — albeit in two of its other developments in Clinton Hill, rather than in the Heights tower itself.

Borough President Adams will host a public hearing on the plan at Borough Hall on Aug. 18.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhurowitz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Book nook: The current Brooklyn Heights library branch.
CNG / Danielle Furfaro