Growing divide: Builder skips meeting with community growers about 80 Flatbush project, sowing seeds of discord

Growing divide: Builder skips meeting with community growers about 80 Flatbush project, sowing seeds of discord
Don’t block the light: Members of the Rockwell Place Garden are fighting the proposed 80 Flatbush project because they worry it will block the sun and destroy their garden.
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

These green thumbs are seeing red!

A group of local gardeners turned their proverbial pitchforks toward a developer after the builder ditched a meeting about how a massive skyscraper in its planned Boerum Hill megadevelopment will reduce the amount of sunlight their growing patch receives.

Members of the Brooklyn Bears’ Rockwell Garden bounded by Rockwell Place and Flatbush and Lafayette avenues invited a rep for Alloy Development to the April 14 session to discuss how their meadow will be affected by the real-estate firm’s 80 Flatbush project — a controversial scheme containing residential, commercial, cultural, and classroom spaces spread out across five buildings, including new 74- and 38-story towers that are set to rise diagonally across from the garden on a lot bordered by Flatbush and Third avenues and State and Schermerhorn streets.

But the builder — which over the past year sent staffers to meet with more than 100 local pols, individuals, and organizations about its plans — abruptly revoked its initial pledge to sit down with the growers after word of the meeting spread, according to a green thumb.

“They were annoyed we sent out an announcement that we were having a meeting,” said Ron Janoff. “But our feeling was it should be public.”

The gardeners claim the taller of the two high-rises will destroy their soil-filled sanctuary by blocking out natural light its flowers and vegetables need to survive, another veteran grower said.

“It’s going to take away sunlight,” said Kate Reilly. “It will certainly change the character of the neighborhood, and turn the garden into a dark corridor where people kind of scramble looking for light.”

The developer’s draft environmental-impact statement — a study on how the project will affect the surrounding area, if built — shows that, in spring and fall, shadows cast by 80 Flatbush’s buildings would pass over the green space from approximately 11:20 am to 2:30 pm, leaving its flora with just a four-to-six-hour window to soak up sunshine, which “would significantly impact the health of these species,” according to the report.

In late spring and the dead of summer, the garden would get between five and nine hours of light, according to the study, which shows that, in early summer, the entire patch would get more than five hours of direct sunlight, with some areas receiving more than nine hours.

The Rockwell Garden — which is generally open to the public on weekends from April through October each year, before closing for the winter months — currently gets about eight-to-10 hours of light, according to Janoff, who said any less would prevent its stewards from growing some of the peppers, tomatoes, peach trees, and other herbs and plants that now thrive there.

“It would completely change what could be growing,” he said. “Nobody likes a garden that’s in shade.”

But before Alloy can build 80 Flatbush’s towers, the city must first green light the builder’s application to upzone the development site and nearly triple its allowable “floor-area ratio” — a measurement that determines how high a structure can be relative to the size of the land it is on — to 18 from 6.5, which is currently making its way through the lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

If the application is denied, however, Alloy instead will erect a development that falls within current zoning regulations and includes one 400-foot high-rise containing only market-rate housing and retail space, according to rep James Yolles, who said that other amenities including so-called affordable housing and two new schools would be scrapped from the plan.

Yolles denied accusations that Alloy backed out of the meeting with the gardeners, claiming the get-together simply did not work out, and that company bigwigs are trying to set a new time and place to discuss the rezoning process with the green thumbs.

“We look forward to working with the Rockwell Bears to better understand the issue, and find potential solutions that work for all parties,” he said. “We are optimistic that a lot of headway can be made.”

But Reilly and other growers still insist the meeting be public so that their concerns about the project are expressed in an open forum — and not behind closed doors.

“They wanted us to go to their location, and did not want to have it in an area that we had some sort of control over,” she said. “Their concern is that we are trying to make a political statement with this meeting, and maybe they’re right, but shouldn’t we?”

Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee will cast its advisory vote on the rezoning application for 80 Flatbush on Wednesday, before kicking it to Borough President Adams, who will host a public hearing on the proposal on April 30, ahead of the request’s review by the City Planning Commission, Council, and ultimately Mayor DeBlasio.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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