The Brooklyn Botanic Garden won’t be overshadowed by tall(ish) apartment buildings anytime soon—though that could change in the future. Developer Cornell Realty has withdrawn an application to rezone several Crown Heights blocks, according to the Brooklyn Paper, possibly in response to community outcry over its plans to construct two 16-story buildings close to the garden.
Back in 2014, Cornell purchased two sites—40 Crown Street and 931 Carroll Street—for $17 million, with the intent of turning them into housing. The developer originally intended to build four seven-story buildings, but last year, it began the rezoning process to build taller towers.
Cornell would have taken advantage of the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program by adding 150 affordable apartments to its proposed 500-unit development, spread out over two 175-foot towers. In exchange, it would have been granted the ability to build bigger and higher.
But as the Brooklyn Paper notes, community outcry over the proposed buildings was swift, particularly pertaining to the towers’ possible effect on the nearby Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Cornell’s lots fall within an area that was rezoned in 1991 to “encourage mid-rise, high coverage buildings, and to prevent incursion of commercial uses in the residential midblocks,” according to the developer’s environmental assessment statement—and, in part, to protect the garden from the intrusion of tall towers.
Though the developer conducted shadow studies, which showed that building higher would not have an adverse effect on the garden itself, neighbors and fans of the garden weren’t convinced. A group, called Flower Lovers Against Corruption, began a change.org petition over a week ago, aimed at City Council member Laurie Cumbo (who would have had a say in the rezoning process) and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. It reads, in part:
let [Cumbo] know that we care about our sunlight, our air, our public spaces and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Tell her to say NO! to this development. Let her know that this is an election year and we vow to only support candidates that support our causes and protect our public assets.
Though it only got around 4,000 signatures—some of which came from people who don’t even live in the area affected by the potential development, much less Brooklyn itself—its proponents are calling Cornell’s withdrawal of its application a victory.
“I think the petition did a wonderful job,” Alicia Boyd, who heads up the anti-gentrification group Movement to Protect the People, told the Paper. Cumbo, who’s currently dealing with community outrage over the Bedford-Union Armory redevelopment, “would have been hard pressed to support another controversial development with an election just around the corner,” per the Paper.
Still, this is only a temporary setback for Cornell: in a letter to the city that accompanied its withdrawal of plans, the developer noted that it will resubmit the application “after additional outreach to community stakeholders and elected officials.”
Update: Council Member Cumbo released the following statement regarding the development:
Through a series of negotiations, I was successfully able to work with local elected officials, tenant leaders and the community in order to have Cornell Realty withdraw their ULURP application. Collectively, we stood firm that large-scale market rate housing does not represent our community's need for real affordable, low-income housing. We have shown that we can win as a community when we work together. This victory should inspire and resonate with communities throughout New York City.