Levin votes to sell Brooklyn Heights library

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

Councilman Steve Levin (D–Brooklyn Heights) is supporting the controversial sale and redevelopment of the Brooklyn Heights library, after the book-lending system and developer agreed to build a larger replacement branch and open a second new library nearby.

The pol said these and other concessions he secured in last-minute negotiations were enough to win his approval for the deal in a committee vote on Thursday.

“I believe ultimately this is an improvement and it is something we should be proud of,” said Levin.

With Levin’s okay, the Council’s land-use committee approved the plan to sell the library for $52 million to developer Hudson Companies — which will build a 36-story tower of luxury housing in its place with a new branch at the bottom — 17–2 with one abstention.

The two dissenting committee members at Thursday’s meeting were Councilman Jumaane Williams (D–Flatbush) and Councilwoman Inez Barron (D–East New York) — both of whom thought the sale set a bad precedent for more local branches to be sold off to cover the system’s mounting repair bills.

The full Council will vote on the plan on Dec. 16, but members typically defer to the wishes of the local member, so Levin’s approval means it is likely to succeed.

The sale has long divided the neighborhood — Community Board 2 voted 25–14 in favor, while Borough President Adams disapproved — and the new deal addresses many of the critics’ gripes.

Some slammed the original scheme for replacing the current 32,000 square-foot library with a smaller 21,500 square feet branch. The bibliotheca will now be 26,620 square feet.

• The library will also open a second, 5,000-square-foot facility in nearby Dumbo or Vinegar Hill, though Levin said it hasn’t found a site yet.

• Space in the new Heights building will be fitted out with science and technology labs for use by the local school district — which stretches out to Bedford-Stuyvesant — following complaints that the new building will add dozens of new families to the neighborhood but do nothing to appease local school overcrowding.

• The below-market housing associated with the residential building will still be located off-site in Clinton Hill — a plan that angered many locals, who said it unfairly segregated the rich and poor — but will now go to people with lower incomes than previously planned. A household income of around $97,125 for a family of three will now be the highest wage bracket eligible, versus $128,205 previously.

• The branch’s business library will still make the unpopular move to the Central branch in Prospect Heights, but the new Brooklyn Heights library will now have a so-called “business services center” that includes work spaces and meeting rooms.

Some believe the city is selling the desirable Brooklyn Heights land for less than it is worth. The price tag hasn’t gone up, but the developer will now give the library system 25 percent of any profits it makes on condo sales if the rate of return is more than 19 percent.

But naysayers say the new deal does not address their major objection — that they will forever lose a major public asset to a private company that doesn’t have the community’s best interest at heart.

“When this new library is put in it will be non-expandable, it will be stuck as it is inside a privately-owned building,” said Mike Jankowitz, who is a part of activist group Citizens Defending Libraries, which has fought fiercely against the sale. “You can’t bring it back from the dead.”

In the driver's seat: Councilman Steve Levin — pictured here with his old Honda Civic — will vote in favor of the library sale.
Community Newspaper Group / Laura Gottesdiener