Judge overturns controversial Crown Heights rezoning on border of Botanic Gardens as mayor kills Spice Factory project

A rendering of the 2018 rezoning proposal.
Department of City Planning

A Kings County Supreme Court Judge struck down the 2018 Franklin Avenue rezoning on Monday, after a years-long court battle waged by neighborhood activists.

The ruling, issued by Judge Reginald Boddie, reverses the certification of the 2018 rezoning, which would have allowed for two 16-story developments at 40 Crown St. and 931 Carroll St. near the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. 

In a 27-page ruling, Boddie agreed with neighborhood activists’ assertions that the Department of City Planning did not conduct a thorough enough environmental review process when certifying the rezoning.

“I think that the tide is turning,” said Alicia Boyd, an anti-gentrification activist who brought the suit, which co-names DCP, Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo, and Cornell Realty as respondents. “People are tired of [the mayor’s] affordable housing plan. People have seen that it does not work, people have seen as rezonings, and rezonings have been passed that the amount of homelessness has risen, not decreased.”

The rezoning would have allowed for 518 new residential units in the neighborhood — 258 of which would have been below-market-rate units. Activists, however, charged that the buildings would accelerate gentrification and displacement — and that shadows cast by the two 16-story buildings would harm the nearby Brooklyn Botanic Garden, though the garden itself never expressed any opposition to the towers. 

Activists celebrated in Crown Heights on Dec. 22.Photo by Ben Verde

“Ever since these projects were proposed, we felt they were mechanisms of displacement,” said plaintiff and city council candidate Michael Hollingsworth on Tuesday.

The activists represented themselves without trained legal representation, facing off against some of the largest land-use law firms in the country.

“That’s an important accomplishment for pro se litigants in a Black and brown low to moderate income community,” Boyd said during a rally on Dec. 22. 

A spokesperson for the city’s legal department said the city will appeal the decision regarding the 2018 rezoning. 

“The environmental review was appropriate and we are planning to appeal,” said Nicholas Paolucci. 

Boddie’s decision came the same week that Mayor Bill de Blasio effectively killed the contested 960 Franklin Avenue rezoning, which would have allowed for a mixed-use mega-development further down Franklin Avenue, and has also been the subject of lawsuits and public opposition from the Botanic Garden.

“Today I am voicing my opposition to the proposed 960 Franklin Avenue development in Crown Heights that would harm the research and education work carried out by one of this city’s prized cultural institutions, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and is grossly out of scale with the neighborhood,” the mayor told Gothamist. “I’m calling on the developers to go back to the drawing board and create a proposal that we can be proud of.”

A rendering of the now-scrapped developments at 960 Franklin Avenue.Continuum Company

The mayor, who carries large sway on rezonings in the city, rarely weighs in on private applications before they reach his desk, and has previously defended the other developments further up Franklin Avenue, saying the hundreds of income-targeted apartments they would provide were too important to sacrifice.

Boyd suspects Hizzoner’s opposition to the 960 Franklin project was spurred by a recent lawsuit, and by the exact details that began to emerge on the project’s details. 

“With the lawsuit, we were able to stop the certification temporarily,” Boyd said. “And I think once the lawsuit was filed somebody said ‘well, let’s look at what is being proposed’ … they looked at the plan, they realized there were some serious issues with the plan.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story associated the organization Asians Americans for Equality with the projects at 40 Crown Street and 931 Carroll Street. They are involved with a separate project.