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No grow: Botanic Garden bigwigs double down on opposition to proposed Franklin Ave megadevelopment

Two towers: Continuum Company bigwigs want city permission to build two 39-story, mixed-use towers a stone’s throw from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
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These green thumbs are seeing red!

Brooklyn Botanic Garden bigwigs are doubling down on their opposition to a proposed Franklin Avenue megadevelopment near the horticultural museum, and will send a rep to pan the plan at the first meeting of the public-review process its builder must endure to get a rezoning necessary to construct the complex.

“Representa­tives for BBG will be at the scoping hearing ... speaking out against the proposed rezoning,” said garden spokeswoman Elizabeth Reina-Longoria. “We strongly oppose any changes to the existing zoning.”

Botanic Garden leaders last year blasted plans for Continuum Company’s development — which then called for erecting six buildings as high as 37 stories with some 1,450 market rate and affordable units between them on the site of an old factory at 960 Franklin Ave. — citing concerns about shadows it could cast over the green space.

“Its towers could have significant shadow impact on the garden’s conservatory, nursery, and other collections,” Reina-Longoria told this newspaper last June, months after the local Community Board 9 expressed its own reservations about the scheme.

Garden stewards’ concerns about the complex only escalated when a local anti-gentrification group released a study performed by two private architectural firms, which found the tallest structures of Continuum’s six-building complex would cast shadows that could darken parts of the Botanic Garden — including its Children’s, Water, and Herb gardens, and greenhouses at the Steinhardt Conservatory — for more than four hours a day during certain times of the year.

The developer has since refashioned the complex, however, reducing it to two buildings, but upping their height to 39 stories each — on a lot currently zoned for structures no taller than seven stories. And the project’s two buildings will now boast a total number of 1,578 apartments, half of which would still be so-called affordable.

But the recent design changes did little to quell garden stewards’ fears about the lasting damage its shadows could cause, according to Reina-Longoria.

“Buildings of the proposed height will have a significant, negative, and permanent impact on BBG’s conservatories, greenhouses, and nurseries — where plants for the entire garden are propagated and grown — by causing the loss of as much as three hours of sunlight daily in spring, summer, and fall,” she said.

Continuum reps will present their latest proposal at the March 12 scoping meeting, where locals can weigh in on terms for the project’s environmental-impact study — a survey of its potential affects on area sewer systems, roads, schools, and other forms of infrastructure required before the scheme and its rezoning application begin their journey through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

Botanic Garden bigwigs’ staunch opposition to the Continuum project is a departure from the neutral stance they took against another controversial development comprised of two 16-story towers near the growing patch, which Council ultimately approved a rezoning for last December after Crown Heights Councilman Laurie Cumbo worked out a deal to pack even more below-market-rate units into the project.

Share your thoughts on Continuum Company’s proposed Franklin Avenue development at the Department of City Planning [120 Broadway between Cedar and Pine streets, City Planning Commission Hearing Room, in Manhattan]. March 12 at 1 pm.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Updated 11:38 am, February 27, 2019
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Reasonable discourse

AC from Upper West Side says:
I'm on the outside looking in, but I watched the whole 80 Flatbush debacle go down, and while the outcome was positive, in my opinion, how it came about was rather rough. But Steven Levin actively working with both parties involved was a huge plus and made the whole process a bit smoother, even by a little bit, which can make crucial decisions much easier to make, and more decisive, and better for everyone. I would, in this case, support a slight downscale of the project, maybe nothing crossing 30-35 stories, but it must be recognized that affordable housing is sorely needed in the city, and quite frankly, as much as I recognize how much the Brooklyn Botanical Garden means to the community, I don't think that necessarily supersedes the need for affordable housing. But it's imperative that all parties work with each other and negotiate. Compromise is your friend and makes the whole process much easier and less painful. Shrink the project, add more affordable housing, whatever it is, but this cannot be a blanket black and white issue like I've seen in the past. Personally, I think a rezoning should be granted, with the condition that a larger portion of the apartments become affordable (With current numbers, closer to 900 affordable units, or keep the current numbers, and shrink to a 1350 unit project amongst 30 story towers.) That's me though.
Feb. 27, 9:54 am
Bob from Gerritsen Beach says:
AC from the upper West side, Living in the area of the city that you call home I wonder if you even understand what affordable housing really means. I've been hearing the same song for 25 years and at the same time watched our homeless in the city grow to an estimated 60,000 today. Many of those homeless on gainfully employed and can not afford the exorbitant rents that they must live with in this city. Since you're so involved in the building industry explain to me what happened to all the affordable housing that was supposed to be available at Atlantic Yards? I have a relative who works for the building department and knows how these builders skirt the law and pay a few dollars in fines to the city and don't offer affordable housing that they promised. Whatever the fines are is recouped in just a few years of collecting market value for their apartments. After seven decades I no longer live in Brooklyn. Not because I can't afford to but because this continual saturation of apartments has made it unbearable to navigate around this once beautiful borough. I had a membership for the botanical gardens that I gave up because of the time needed to commute back and forth from my home in Marine Park which was unbearable by the congestion created by uncontrolled construction.
Feb. 27, 11:31 pm
Andrew I. Porter from Brooklyn Heights says:
The BBG membership department said in a letter to a friend of mine, "Thank you for reaching out regarding the rezoning proposed with the development on the former Spice Factory. BBG strongly believes that the zoning needs to remain the same to protect the Garden’s glasshouses. ... we’ll be sending out an email to members, visitors and other supporters asking [them] to sign a petition and contact local representatives to stand with BBG in opposing rezoning. Thank you in advance for your support in helping the Garden protect its sunlight."
Feb. 28, 5:09 pm
AC from Upper West Side says:
Bob, I've addressed the same issue in my neighborhood. We've had so many tiny little projects that offer 80 or fewer $3M+ apartments that help absolutely no one, and all our local politicians want to do is to make it harder to build, resulting in even more expensive housing. Affordability is not on their minds right now Don't go down our route. All of our new projects are getting progressively smaller, more expensive, and are eating up more valuable lots that could be used for desperately needed affordable housing, even if it's only 20% affordable. While both Helen and Linda Rosenthal are fighting projects on the basis of height, like 200 Amsterdam, (which, believe it or not, while still incredibly expensive, actually starts at a cheaper price, and offers more apartments, and more value for the money than every single new project.), they turn a blind eye to those tiny projects popping up, like 555 West End Avenue, that have starting prices of almost $8M. Don't let that trend reach Crown Heights. Actually talk about what the project has to offer, the pros and cons. Talk to the developers, be open, and they should respond as well. Hold them accountable for the promises they make, but give them a chance as well. Progress and compromise can only be made if you work together. Do what Levin did: Give numbers, sizes, what you think a good compromise would be. Tiny projects with no affordable apartments help no one, but at the same time, as you mentioned, the Atlantic Yards developers weren't held accountable. This is a double-edged sword: community leaders and government officials have to allow this kind of beneficial development or at least work to a compromise, but the developer also has to deliver. I know I'm pro-development, and I'm going to have a bias in all cases like this, but I try to look at things as unbiasedly as I can, and I don't always accomplish that. And while I love the real estate industry, I'm looking on the outside, hopefully going to make my way in someday in the future.
March 4, 4:06 pm

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