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Bibliophiles Attack Condo Plan for Brooklyn Heights Library

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An epic hearing over a contentious plan to replace the Brooklyn Heights Library with a new, smaller one at the foot of a wedge-shaped 36-story condo building was, in the end, anti-climactic. After hours of testimony from both sides, Brooklyn Community Board 2 postponed a vote on an application involving the sale of the library property to developer Hudson Companies. Board members were reluctant to put off the vote given the time restrictions of the city's Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP); the board gets a say before the borough president—Eric Adams, who will be having his own hearing later—steps in. But when the clock hit 10:30 p.m. last night, having heard from the highly divided crowd that turned out to speak, lining the perimeter of the room and extending out the door, the exhausted board first voted 6-4 to approve the application before pushing a formal tally to Monday.

Last night's meeting was a battle of library advocates vs., uh, more library advocates. "I heard there's a consensus that everybody values libraries," said one board member after all the testimony. The Brooklyn Public Library itself wants to sell the branch to upgrade the space, which was built partly as a fallout shelter in 1962 and has a broken air conditioning system. "It lacks the functionality you'd like to see in a public library," said Linda Johnson, president of the Brooklyn Public Library. She also addressed concerns that the library will be shrunk by a third of its current size, arguing a staircase makes up some of that lost square footage and "a lot of the [current] space is below ground and predominantly used for storage."

But opponents want to keep that storage space and cringe at the idea of selling public space to private enterprise. "These were created out of a spirit of love for all humanity and they're being taken away," said Carolyn McIntyre of Citizens Defending Libraries. "If you say yes to selling this library, you're opening a floodgate to other library sales."

Last year, Hudson Companies won a bid to build on the property in a deal that involved giving the library $52 million and building 114 affordable units at separate sites in Clinton Hill. Opponents worry the sale sets a precedent for funding public spaces with luxury buildings, a relationship currently under fire in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Speakers at last night's meeting also disputed the details of the overall proposal, such as off-site affordable housing, the lack of any plan to build a school for the rising population in the area, and the relocation of the Business and Career Library, which shares the facility, to the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza. Johnson replied the relocation of the Business and Career Library would free up space, and that a survey found its users would be just as or more likely to use it.

During the duration of the tower's construction, the whole branch would temporarily relocate to 95 Remsen Street at Our Lady of Lebanon Church, five blocks away. Another aspect of the deal that proved controversial involved the dispersal of funding earned by this transaction to other branches in the cash-strapped borough-wide system. One resident from another neighborhood argued that her library needs the funds, while others argued the communities were pitted against each other.

If the deal goes through, the building, whose design plan just increased from 20 stories to 36 and from 130 units to 139, will vaguely resemble the Flatiron building on the triangular-shaped corner of Cadman Plaza West and Clinton Street. At its base, the library-housing section will protrude outwards, with a tighter vertical pattern on the facade, to appear distinct from the larger structure, explained architect John Marvel of Marvel Architects. He also explained that the site falls within a specially zoned district in Downtown Brooklyn that allows the height.

A website for the proposal, which contains renderings, FAQ, and more, also launched this week. Stay tuned for the community board's final vote next week.
· This 36-Story Tower May Replace the Brooklyn Heights Library [Curbed]
· Brooklyn Public Library Announces Affordable Housing Sites [Curbed]
· All Brooklyn Heights Library coverage [Curbed]