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

The Brooklyn Paper
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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 or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

D from BH says:
So let's see, affordable housing for people in a neighborhood at threat of gentrification at a minimal charge to the city. Refurbishment of an out of date library. One of your classic win-wins. But this is New York, where people love to complain for the sake of complaining. And complain they will...
Sept. 3, 2015, 7:47 am
Ted from Park Slope says:
No, this is Michael D.D. White, who thinks he's on a grand crusade. He actually had the nerve to leave his tony digs in Brooklyn Heights to go down to a public meeting about this in poverty stricken Sunset Park to tell the poor people (most of whom were overwhelmingly in favor of a deal that doubled the size of their library and provided permanently affordable housing!) that condescendingly told the natives they should reject this deal because it depended on the evil plans to build a new Brooklyn Heights Library inside a luxury tower! Yes, Bwana, so glad you told us to continue suffering!

Everybody has seen his endless preaching about what's wrong with the attempts to get the Brooklyn Public Library out of debt, and maybe there's a point there, but has anyone ever seen him propose any solutions of his own? Other than leave everything alone, which hasn't worked so far?

Good for Sunset Park!
Sept. 3, 2015, 10:38 am
MJ from Bay Ridge says:
this library branch is a disgrace - Sunset Park should deserve better and demand state of art library like the one built in Kensington Library
Sept. 3, 2015, 10:41 am
Black says:
“I think he needs to do his homework,” White said. Just one of Mr. White's many condescending statements. Anyone who doesn't agree with him is uninformed; there is only one possible answer.
Sept. 3, 2015, 11:34 am
TOM MURPHY from Sunset Park says:
As a member of Brooklyn's Community Board #7(Sunset Park, Greenwood Heights & Windsor Terrace) and a regular user of our library(paper not digital) I welcome the start of a review process for this project as well as this financial assistance provided by our Borough President Eric Adams. I welcome also his active participation in that process.

Sunset Park has the most overcrowded rental housing stock in all Brooklyn and the need for more affordable housing is obvious. Sunset Park is an affordable neighborhood without a doubt; however, many in the neighborhood don't see the proposed rents as in line with what they believe is affordable to them.

Displacement, illegal conversion and division of current housing units are to be avoided. We are looking to accommodate families here. New construction and preservation of the old only with a resulting net increase in affordable and adequately-sized housing units available to the local population are what we seek.

That the current library is not adequate for current demand is also obvious. The plan for the future library must include the space, library materials and staffing adequate to the future demand after the anticipated growth in users. This growth will come from the increase in neighborhood population density in line with Mayor de Blasio's announced grand scheme. That is why funding must be provided in full and up front.

Before a review process can commence an adequate site to carry on the existing library's functions temporarily during demolition and through the lengthy construction period must be secured and outfitted. I've heard rumors of this effort but no solid report.

I've just returned from visiting family in Ireland. Every time I'm there I pick up a common phrase not in use here but should be. I heard a debate between a Dublin City Councillor and the host of a radio show on a topical issue. When they agreed to disagree on a matter it was suggested that what was needed now was "joined-up thinking". Not talking passed each other or imposing a bureaucratic procedure to force a plan without an agreement, but to think it through together before committing to any action plan.

The Community Board will meet on Wednesday evening September 16th at 407 43rd Street(aka 4201 4th Avenue.
Sept. 3, 2015, 11:57 am
jjm from c. hill says:
$480 studio & $1185 3 BR sounds pretty decently priced. I wonder how much for the 1 & 2 BR. And for the a'holes who wanna oppose this, i bet your the same ones complaning about homeless people on the streets & in your neighborhood. You should be supporting this if you dont wanna see anybody homeless.
Sept. 3, 2015, 2:54 pm
Rosa Martinez from Sunset Park says:
Jjm you loca loca loca!
We want books, not gross homeless people!
Sept. 3, 2015, 4:37 pm
Me from Bay Ridge says:
Sunset Park is already over-populated, which contributes to the filth level, not that that is really an excuse. It actually needs less housing, not more
Sept. 3, 2015, 7:05 pm
DF from Cobble Hill says:
Really helpful that Max Jaeger broke this story, nice reporting.

So the deal is to build a bigger library for Sunset Park, and also increase affordable housing stock there. If that is the whole story, it looks pretty sweet. The hearings will surely reveal helpful details.

The situation with the Brooklyn Heights Library is quite different. The plan is to build a library 1/3 the size of the old one. And to put the affordable housing units not in the new building over the library, but a few miles away in a neighborhood that is quite poor. So, rather than mix middle and lower income folks right into Brooklyn Heights, they would be kept in the poor neighborhoods, where they already are. There are reasons why New York City is the most segregated city in the northeast. And they’re not just historic, they are continuing.

To criticize Michael White, who has worked very hard, along with his wife Carolyn McIntyre, to defend the libraries, is suspect. I know him well. He is in favor of the best possible library, in my humble opinion. He is working for the public good, not being face-man for the interests of the developer.

Thanks for the Irish idea of “joined-up thinking,” we need more of that.

I look forward to this Paper’s reporting on the hearings.
Sept. 3, 2015, 10:08 pm
Joan from Sunset park says:
I'm tired attacks on people trying to do good, like this Michael White. Who's paying them off? The developer and his billions? The library in debt up to its eyeballs?
Sept. 3, 2015, 10:13 pm
Dan from Boerum Hill says:
DF, whatever study you found that said NYC was the most segregated city in the Northeast needs to either double check their numbers or redefine how they identify segregation. Having lived in Baltimore and Philadelphia and spent considerable time in Boston and DC, I can say without question that those cities are far far far far far more segregated than NYC in every imaginable measure.
Sept. 4, 2015, 6:02 am
Marsha Rimler from heights says:
Personal attacks should not be used to support this and other library sales. Affordable housing is the wedge that the folks at the library and the city are using to justify these sales. Eric Adams initially spoke against the sale of public assists when her ran for BP.
He is a lovely man but is his ambition encouraging this flip-flop.?? After all when he runs for mayor which he has stated he wants to do he will need real estate money. Any Borough President who goes down in history as the first to support library sales will have difficulty in the future. Once we begin this there is no end.
Sept. 4, 2015, 6:22 am
Raj says:
Marsha is right. Personal attacks should only be used to oppose the sale of libraries. She would know; she's made a bushel of them.
Sept. 4, 2015, 11:52 am
Ed from Bay Ridge says:
Raj is right.
Marsha, your attack post is so hypocritical that it's silly.
Sept. 4, 2015, 1:23 pm
Claire from Brooklyn says:
The man doesn't care about reading - he's not read a book in years! Not intelligent, just a beneficiary of identity politics.
Sept. 4, 2015, 1:46 pm
Gino from South Bk says:
Tnx for the inane contribution, Claire.
Sept. 4, 2015, 4:55 pm
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights says:
I want to be clear that the foremost objection I was expressing about the way that tax dollars are being used is that the Fifth Avenue Committee is largely taxpayer financed through grants and subsidies, and the Fifth Avenue Committee is, in an objectionable way, promoting the sell-off of public assets testifying that the Brooklyn Heights Library should be sold and shrunk. (FAC was selected without public notice or a competitive bid as the developer of the Sunset Park project.)

Long ago we met with the Fifth Avenue Committee urging them to take a stand against the sale of public assets, citing the Brooklyn Heights Library and LICH in particular. We have asked multiple times for the Fifth Avenue Committee to oppose the sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library as a boondoggle. When they were out in Sunset Park making the case that community suspicions about their long-secret Sunset Park library project should be assuaged because they could be relied upon to represent the public interest we asked again and to speak out against the Brooklyn Heights project (where Ratner is a gatekeeper of development rights), and they told the Sunset Park residents they might, indeed, oppose the sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library.. . .

. . . .Instead, on June 17th they sent their representative to applaud the sale and shrinkage at a CB2 hearing. We asked that they not disgrace themselves like that again, but on August 18th they doubled down, sending TWO representatives to Borough President’s office to endorse the sell-off (presumably they sent TWO because ranks were thin with nobody testifying for the sale except those one way or another on the payroll of the real estate industry or like FAC seeking to benefit directly from it.)

That is the example of our taxpayer money being used in a tragic way directly against the public interest. Maybe FAC considers that it is OK to argue for the sale and shrinkage because it sees the two transactions as linked, but that only further sullies the already questionable Sunset Park deal that was sprung on the community.
Sept. 4, 2015, 6:17 pm
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights says:
The reason Mr. Adams has homework to do is that there is a linkage between these two projects , the Sunset Park, and Brooklyn Heights library sales (one that the Fifth Avenue Committee thinks makes justified its arguing for the boondoggle sale of public assets for a song- see my other comment) and Mr. Adams is right now supposed to be carefully considering the merits of the Brooklyn Heights sale now before him.

Citizens Defending Libraries has been the conduit of over 1,660 completed testimony forms from the public opposing the sale, Hence, with everything the public has had to say he has a lot to figure out about these two transactions neither of which stand up well to scrutiny.

More about that testimony here:

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams Still Taking Testimony On Whether Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn’s Central Destination Library In Downtown Brooklyn Should Be Sold And Shrunk
Sept. 4, 2015, 6:30 pm
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights says:
Personal attacks? They are generally indicative of the weakness of any available substantive arguments.
Sept. 4, 2015, 6:34 pm
Cindy from Brooklyn Heights says:
In his culture books aren't valued. He's prefer a basketball court or hip hop arena. Simply, he's not qualified to make decisions about something he doesn't understand.
Interesting that no libraries in black neighborhoods are up for sale. He wouldn't do that to them. Big surprise.
Sept. 5, 2015, 4:19 am
Kenny from Chelsea says:
Our city is being swallowed up by sub par construction.
Sept. 5, 2015, 9:01 pm
HONEY from Sunset Parks says:
My books!!!!

Mis libros!!!
Sept. 6, 2015, 6:50 am
Charles from Bklyn says:
Creating more perminant affordable housing is good, but instead of selling the land, they should form a non-profit to build the development through tax credits, HPD and DHCR grants and maybe some good old tax payer money. Giving away public land should NOT be the solution. Short sighted; the new government corruption.
Sept. 6, 2015, 8:41 am
mary buchwald from park slope says:
BP Adams says he is submitting a FOIL request re BPL's finances before his decision on Sunset Park. Good.
YET - tonight Adams may be making his decision re sale and shrinkage of Brooklyn Heights Library without having submitted the FOIL request. He should have seen the FOIL request before making a decision tonight.
So much for Adams idea of getting informed when it comes to BPL's finances, and add to that paper books are the desirable books people prefer not e-books that BP Adams is pushing. Shameful when Brooklyn BP Adams gives $3 million to libraries, when Queens BP gives $15 million from their respective budgets.
BP Adams, do you know it is the responsibility of City Council and Mayor's budget to fund capital needs for city libraries. It's not the responsibility of BPL. You should not support BPL's wrongful schemes.
Citizens Defending Libraries initiated by Michael White and Carolyn McIntyre has many informed supporters. CDL is telling it how it is re BPL plans vs the public's needs. I thank them all and the 2,000 hearing testimonies just sent to BP Adams asking him not to vote to sell and to shrink the Brooklyn Heights Library.
Sept. 8, 2015, 9:29 pm

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