A crucial hearing on whether two giant, shade-throwing towers will be built next to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden unfolded with last-minute changes, impassioned opposition and a lingering silence from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
Last Thursday, the New York City Planning Commission held a public hearing to discuss whether a proposed 34-story, two-tower development should be built at 960 Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights. The proposed development has faced fierce opposition, both due to its height, and the sunlight it will block.
The current zoning in the area allows for builds about seven stories high maximum, so developers Continuum Company are seeking an exception.
However, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and its supporters say the shadows cast on the garden due to the towers’ height will cause rare and hundred-year-old plants and trees to die.
And some residents fear the buildings will open the floodgates for more high-rise and luxury developments in an already-gentrifying neighborhood.
In a surprise move Thursday, those at the hearing learned that Continuum Company had switched up the plan by submitting an entirely new proposal for a development of 17 stories, Brooklyn Paper reported.
The developer’s reps said they hoped the public and commission would discuss the new plan. But the City Planning commissioners quickly shut down that idea as being far too short notice.
“We got a little bit blindsided by this new alternative proposal with no details that was presented this morning by the developer, but the City Planning Commission was equally blindsided,” Brooklyn Botanic Garden President Adrian Benepe said.
Forty-five people went on to speak in opposition to the initial 34-story proposal. Seven people spoke in favor of it, including one representative of the 32BJ labor union who said it would bring building jobs.
Others made impassioned pleas to stop the development. “Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a beacon of light that must not be overshadowed,” Xenobia McNally told the hearing.
Save the Sunlight rally
More than 100 people attended a rally at Brooklyn Botanic Garden last Wednesday ahead of the hearing to oppose the development.
The long shadows that would be cast over the garden, as well as the Jackie Robinson Playground, would have a disastrous effect on plant life, gardeners said.
Right now, zoning for the area is capped at 75 feet — or about seven stories. That limit was set in 1991 in order to prevent shadows from being thrown on BBG’s conservatory, the garden says.
BBG has been fighting the proposal for years, as modeling shows the buildings would put the garden’s conservatories, greenhouses and nurseries in shadow for as much as four more hours per day, potentially causing plants to die off.
A petition against the towers had got about 60,000 signatures, Benepe said, more signatures than had ever been collected on a petition against a development in New York City.
Opponents had already rejected alternate proposals the developers had put forward in the past.
“This is not something that can be tweaked in the margins to be made palatable,” Municipal Art Society of New York President Elizabeth Goldstein said.
Eric Adams silent on plan
The development has also been rejected by some of the city’s top politicians and community groups.
Community Board 9 has opposed the development, as has City Council members Speaker Corey Johnson and Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo.
Last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio called the project “grossly out of scale with the neighborhood.”
The community was still waiting on any word from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams on whether he has a recommendation for the proposal.
The Planning Commission has the authority to end the process with its own vote, or to send the application to City Council, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden says.
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