Rezoning seed replanted: Builder again seeks green light for polarizing Botanic Garden–adjacent tower

Big concerns: Proposed Franklin Ave. development in C’Heights ‘too tall’ for nabe, civc guru says
Photo by Taylor Balkom

This builder is emerging from the shadows.

The developer that last year abruptly abandoned its controversial request to rezone land near the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to make way for 20-story residential towers quietly resubmitted the application in April, according to a Department of City Planning spokesman.

Cornell Realty bigwigs again asked the city to okay an upzoning to make way for two 175-foot Crown Heights high-rises on Carroll and Crown streets near the Prospect Heights garden — where current regulations cap buildings’ heights at 70 feet to prevent their shadows from depriving plants of precious sunlight — exactly 12 months after they nixed an identical request as thousands of critics from as far away as the United Kingdom signed an online petition condemning the scheme.

“Having visited many times, I’m sure growth can be better accommodated without compromising your own zoning regulations,” said Mark Hamill, a petition signee who listed his location as Manchester, United Kingdom.

But before Cornell pulled its first upzoning request, the firm conducted city-mandated shadow studies it claimed proved its towers wouldn’t hurt the Botanic Garden’s flora, green space spokeswoman Elizabeth Reina-Longoria said at the time.

News of the developer’s second upzoning attempt, however, comes as Botanic Garden leaders publicly denounced another development on Franklin Street near the green space, whose builder is pushing for its own upzoning to allow for a 37-story residential complex.

“Brooklyn Botanic Garden is strongly advocating to maintain the site’s current zoning, which was put in place, in part, to protect the garden’s conservatories from building shadows,” Reina-Longoria said.

Continuum Company chief Bruce Eichner in December filed preliminary documents requesting to rezone the site of an old Crown Heights spice factory at 960 Franklin Ave. between Montgomery Street and Sullivan Place — where current relations restrict height to seven stories or less — in order to erect a six-tower complex with structures between 27- and 37-stories tall, not counting rooftop bulkheads to house mechanical equipment.

The development site is about a block away from the Botanic Garden’s indoor greenhouse at the Steinhardt Conservatory, and its high-rises could potentially block light from reaching the plants within, slowly starving them to death, Reina-Longoria said.

“Our main concern with Continuum’s proposal is that its towers that could have significant shadow impact on the garden’s conservatory, nursery, and other collections,” she said.

And the Botanic Garden’s opposition to the Franklin Avenue complex will likely grow stronger with the release of shadow-impact studies a local anti-gentrification group commissioned from Pratt University and City College, the results of which will be shared later this month, according to the organization’s leader Alicia Boyd.

The studies, which the group funded with roughly $3,000 in donations, examined how detrimental the new buildings’ shadows would be to Botanic Garden plants, as well as how badly the green things could be burned by light reflecting off the structures, Boyd said.

Eichner returned a message requesting comment, but only by accident, and declined to speak further upon realizing he called a reporter.

Find out the results of the universities’ shadow studies at St. Francis de Sales School of the Deaf [260 Eastern Pkwy. between Franklin and Classon avenues in Crown Heights, (718) 636–4573] on June 20 at 6 pm.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.