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Judge orders halt in construction at controversial Crown Heights developments

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The Brooklyn Supreme Court restraining order will prevent Cornell Realty from pouring concrete at construction sites near the Botanic Garden

City Planning Commission

A Brooklyn Supreme Court judge granted a temporary restraining order against a controversial development that activists say would block sunlight from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Activists from the Movement to Protect our People (MTPOP), which has rallied against the project, filed an Article 78 petition on April 11, mentioning developer Cornell Realty, City Council member Laurie Cumbo, and the Department of City Planning, among other officials and city agencies.

Judge Johnny Lee Baynes granted the temporary restraining order pending a hearing on May 3, preventing the developer from pouring concrete. This effectively will halt construction at the sites that are located at 40 Crown Street and 931 Carroll Street (among eight other addresses). The order cites the December 2018 City Council Franklin Avenue rezoning approval.

“This is a classic case of David and Goliath, where the people, who live in low- to moderate-income communities of color, are fighting big-time real estate deals and unsavory politicians,” Alicia Boyd, an activist from MTPOP, said in a statement. “Too often in these communities there is no accountability, no transparency, and a bending and even breaking of the law, when it comes to real estate development projects, especially ones that have to go through the public review process.”

According to City Council documents, Cornell Realty intends to build two 16-story mixed-use buildings with 518 residential units, including 140 affordable ones, and 15,000 square feet of retail. While the project has received backlash because of its proximity to the garden and what opponents say is its potential to block sunlight, the City Planning Commission found the rezoning would “have no significant impact on the environment”.

“We stand by the city’s review of this project and will defend it in court,” Nick Paolucci, City Law Department spokesman, said in a statement. “This very limited TRO enjoins us from pouring concrete which is many months away. Soil tests are proceeding at the site.”

This isn’t the only project in Crown Heights that has come under fire because of its potential effects on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. That institution has gotten involved in the fight against a different proposed development, located at 960 Franklin Avenue, that’s being developed by Continuum Company and Lincoln Equities. That project would bring two 39-story towers to the neighborhood, which the garden claims “will have a lasting negative impact on [its] conservatories, greenhouses, and nurseries,” its campaign website against the 960 Franklin development reads.

Previous zoning in the area, established in 1991 to protect the garden, capped building heights at 75 feet.

Cornell Realty couldn’t be reached for comment.