On the books: Beep’s cash backs controversial Sunset Park library plan

On the books: Beep’s cash backs controversial Sunset Park library plan
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

Borough President Adams is backing a controversial plan to sell city land and redevelop the Sunset Park library with low-income apartments on top of it.

The Beep will give the project $500,000 from his capital budget that developers say they’d use to keep rents affordable if the city signs off on the deal. But the move puts Adams in the bad books of critics, who say the check is a waste of taxpayer money, because so many people are against selling public land — even to promote below-market-rate housing.

“When our tax dollars are going in this fashion to oppose what is in public interest it’s a real tragedy,” said Michael White, who heads the group Citizens Defending Libraries and says he has collected thousands of signatures against a similar library redevelopment plan in Brooklyn Heights.

The Brooklyn Public Library wants to sell the Fourth Avenue branch to the Fifth Avenue Committee — a developer that would tear down the 43-year-old building and erect a larger library — plus 39 below-market-rate apartments.

The proposal will also land on Adams’s desk as part of a city-mandated, but largely advisory, public review process — something the developer hopes will start this fall, a Fifth Avenue Committee spokesman said.

The Beep — who recently said he’d like to replace libraries’ paper books with electronic ones — supports the general concept of expanding both libraries and low-income housing through public-private partnerships that cede city land, a spokesman said.

He can recommend changes to the Sunset Park plan as part of the formal review, which will also determine how his half-a-million-dollar allocation will be spent, the spokesman said.

The Fifth Avenue Committee aims to use it to subsidize rent, according to its housing development director.

Rents in 39 of the 49 units planned will range along a sliding scale, depending on income, with the lowest-priced studios at $480 and three-bedrooms topping out at $1,185 — the other 10 will be “slightly higher but still well below market,” the group’s plan shows.

They’ll all remain below market rate permanently, according to the group’s housing development director, Jay Marcus.

“Expect it to be put into any regulatory agreement we sign with the city,” Marcus said.

Another critic of the plan supports low-income housing in general — just not the Sunset Park plan — and instead wants the city to keep the library land and invest in it.

“We are always happy to see our tax dollars come back to us, however, as we have been very public about, the best use for that property is an educational complex,” said Friends of Sunset Park founder Maria Roca, who is advocating for the city to build an eight-story library facility and rent out portions to generate revenue. “No one is against affordable housing. That’s not the point — the point is best practices. How do you maximize the land? We’re talking about 49 families versus tens of thousands of people who use the library.”

The borough’s library system says it needs to sell some branches to help offset $300 million in deferred maintenance, but critics say the Beep should take a look at the library’s financial books before supporting any sale plan.

“I think he needs to do his homework,” White said.

Adams agrees, and said he plans to use the Freedom of Information Law and local councilmembers’ subpoena power to check out the Brooklyn Public Library’s books before he gives his blessing to the sale.

“The goal is to get as much information as possible to allow … my land-use person, to give this a real analysis,” Adams said.

The Beep’s funding will stay in an account controlled by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development until Adams signs off.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeg[email protected]glocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
For the record: Maria Roca of Friends of Sunset Park speaks against the Sunset Park library plan during the beep’s Borough Hall hearing on a separate library redevelopment project in Brooklyn Heights.
Photo by Jason Speakman