Lie-brary! Opponents of Heights branch redesign call community input ‘a charade’

This is not what democracy looks like: Susan Stanford, a member of Citizens Defending Libraries, showed up at a community input session on April 20 to denounce plans to redesign the Brooklyn Heights Library.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

A friendly meeting to discuss ideas for the new Brooklyn Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library turned heated Monday night when opponents of the controversial plan to knock down the book-lending outfit’s present building and replace it with a high-rise claimed the gathering was just a dog-and-pony show.

Four of the nearly 20 people who were supposedly on hand to pitch their ideas for designing the new branch to Library big-wigs complained that the Library should never have sold their beloved branch to developers for $52 million and should have instead left the building the way it was, and claimed the whole event was an exercise in futility.

“This is a charade,” said Susan Stanford, a member of the group Citizens Defending Libraries, which is against the Library’s plan. “They have us sitting in a room designing but they are still taking away a public asset and giving it to a developer.”

The Brooklyn Public Library sold the low-rise building, at the corner of Cadman Plaza West and Clinton Street in October to raise money for the Library, which is a private organization that relies heavily on city dollars. But opponents of the sale have decried the planned shrinkage of the new branch, which will be about one third smaller than its current size.

Library officials have countered that lost space will be storage and office space.

Here’s the plan: Shelly Salinsky of Brooklyn Heights explains his team’s vision.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

In between outbursts, patrons and neighbors of the branch sat at tables with representatives of an architecture firm tasked with developing tentative plans for the library and discussed how they thought the new branch should be laid out.

The ideas gathered at the meeting will be recorded and will help architects understand community needs when designing a request for proposals, the step in the development process where city agencies give firms the chance to describe how they would carry out a contract, according to Library officials. The hope is that ideas suggested by community members will eventually become reality when the new library rises from the ashes of the old, said a spokesman.

“Starting at the beginning, we want to hear from library stakeholders,” said David Woloch, executive vice president for external affairs at the Brooklyn Public Library. “Often we don’t get the opportunity to get this kind of input.”

A second plan to sell the historic, 110-year-old Pacific branch of the Library — the borough’s first building built with funds provided by multi-billionaire (in today’s dollars) Andrew Carnegie — was stopped when protesters convinced library officials to spare the edifice.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhurowitz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Workshopping: Library fans hash out their ideal redesign of the Brooklyn Heights Library at a community meeting on April 20.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

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