Heights Association not a book critic: Group isn’t fighting library building sale

Turning the page on the Brooklyn Heights library
CNG / Danielle Furfaro

Here’s the first plot twist in the proposed sale and redevelopment of the Brooklyn Heights branch library.

The generally preservation-minded Brooklyn Heights Association stunned some book lovers by announcing it will not oppose the Brooklyn Public Library’s plan to sell the 1962 structure and replace it with a new facility on the same site — a move library officials say would save $9 million in repairs to the broken air conditioning system alone.

“Given the circumstances, the hand that’s been dealt at the moment, we’ve decided to focus our influence on what kind of branch would go in the new building and putting pressure on the library to set up a temporary branch that’s much more than a bookmobile,” said Brooklyn Heights Association executive director Judy Stanton.

Stanton says her group doesn’t exactly support the redevelopment plan, which would allow a developer to snatch up the hot Cadman Plaza Plaza West property, build a high-rise on the site, and allocate space for a new, more modern Brooklyn Heights branch on the ground floor — minus the system’s Business Library, which would move to the Central Branch at Grand Army Plaza.

But the Brooklyn Heights Association won’t go to the trenches against it as long as Brooklyn Public Library officials agree to certain conditions.

In a statement posted on its website, the Brooklyn Heights Association said the Brooklyn Public Library must continue providing service in Brooklyn Heights throughout the redevelopment process, find a new space for the branch that is “of adequate size,” and give all proceeds from the sale of the old branch to the library system.

But that’s not enough for some critics of the Brooklyn Heights Association and the Brooklyn Public Library, which is taking flak for its similar plan to sell off the historic Pacific branch — the borough’s first library funded by industrialist Andrew Carnegie.

“Technically they are saying they don’t favor it, they are just not standing in the way of it, if that’s a distinction,” said Michael D. D. White, a spokesman for Citizens Defending Libraries, a group formed earlier this year to “save libraries from developers,” according to its website.

“The Heights position is an absolute sellout to the developer’s point of view,” White said, arguing that it doesn’t set firm enough size requirements for the new space.

Stanton said the Brooklyn Heights Association is simply supporting the position of the librarians and the Friends of the Library — and that doesn’t mean the group won’t change its stance in the future.

“The amount of space that [Brooklyn Public Library] officials say we need — we might not agree with that,” she said.

The Brooklyn Heights branch has taken heat before. Last summer, the broken air-conditioning system led to unsafe temperatures that caused 30 emergency closures.

This year, library officials will cut back summer hours, likely opening on weekdays from 8 am to 1 pm to avoid the hottest part of the day — instead of the normal closing times of 6 or 8 pm. Saturday hours haven’t been finalized yet. Emergency closings are not off the table, either, according to a library spokesman.

Reach reporter Jaime Lutz at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow her on Twitter @jaime_lutz.

Branch library manager Uldis Skrodelis started working at the Brooklyn Heights branch in 1977.