Planning Commission OKs Heights library sale, all eyes turn to local councilman

Wedge issue: Councilman Steve Levin must now decide whether he will support this giant building on the site of the Brooklyn Heights library branch.
The Brooklyn Paper
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He is carrying the weight of a 36-story tower on his shoulders.

Councilman Stephen Levin (D–Brooklyn Heights) expects to have the decisive vote on a controversial plan to sell the Brooklyn Heights library branch to a housing developer after the City Planning Commission approved the scheme on Monday — but he is keeping mum on which way that vote will go.

The commission voted 10–0 with two abstentions in favor of the city’s proposal to sell the Cadman Plaza West site to developer Hudson Companies for $52 million and allow it to build a residential skyscraper and new library in its place, which means the Council will now make its decision.

Members typically follow the lead of the local representative when voting on land-use issues — in this case, Levin — but the councilman refuses to say which direction he might steer them until the proposal officially comes before the Council, a spokesman said.

“We’re not making a public statement on the Brooklyn Heights library project because it hasn’t come before the Council yet,” said Levin’s deputy chief of staff Casey Adams, adding the team does believe his boss’s opinion will be crucial. “Traditiona­lly, Council members defer to the member in whose district a land use project is located and we expect that will continue to be the case.”

Levin’s decision will be controversial either way — the proposal has sharply divided neighbors, with public meetings on the scheme frequently devolving into screaming matches.

Some — including many members of the local community board, which approved the plan in July — back the Brooklyn Public Library’s claim that selling off the valuable land is the only way the borough’s cash-strapped book-borrowing system can fix the shabby-looking Heights branch and other run-down outposts.

But critics — notably Borough President Adams, who rejected the plan in September — have slammed the proposal, arguing Hudson’s design will shrink the current library space, add even more kids to already overcrowded local schools, and unfairly segregate the rich from the poor by siting all below-market-rate housing associated with the project several neighborhoods away in Clinton Hill.

The community board’s and Beep’s opinions are ultimately only advisory, however — the Council vote is the one that really matters.

Levin — who has expressed both sympathy and reservations on the proposal in the past — is considering both the size of the library as well as school overcrowding in his decision, said his spokesman.

“We are looking at how this project affects the amount and type of library space available to the community and how it fits in with other pressing concerns in the neighborhood, like the overcrowding at PS 8,” said Casey Adams.

The Council doesn’t always fall into line with local members’ wishes — in 2009, members overruled Levin’s predecessor David Yassky to support rezoning land in Dumbo for a 17-story tower.

The Council now has 50 days to vote on the plan following the planning commission’s thumbs up on Monday. Mayor DeBlasio can then veto its decision, but Council members can also overrule him if two-thirds of the pols join forces to do so.

Reach deputy editor Ruth Brown at or by calling (718) 260–9309. Follow her at
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018: Vote was erroneously written as 10-2; it was 10-0.
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Reasonable discourse

Marsha Rimler from Heights says:
Councilman Levin is the elected representative who will have to (despite his hiding) take a position on this proposal. He cannot take a position and then wink to his fellow council members to do something else.
He needs to take ownership of the process in the council. We need clarity. Anything else speaks of his inablity to lead ( as he has demonstrated on this issue thus far). If he cannot lead and get his collegues to follow his lead we will need to look for a more courageous councilmember in the primary and general election.
By the way he will be running for a 3rd grandfathered in term(like the Bloomberg third term)
Nov. 3, 2015, 9:55 am
Charles from Bklyn says:
If this young councilman cannot stand and protect the neighborhood he represents and say no to greed and the new corruption (government facilitation of the transfer of public assets to private parties), then the middle class in Brooklyn is doomed, and everything they built over the past 40 years will continue to be taken and given away to richer people. Stand up Mr. Levin and protect Brooklyn.
Nov. 3, 2015, 10:11 am
Walt from Brooklyn-the original suburbs says:
Democracy is based upon the people electing individuals to represent the commonly held position of the electorate. So often our councilman loss sit of that relationship as other influences tack hold of their thinking and the people are left out of the process.

We can only hope that this councilman will stand with the people that have given him the place to speak their collective voice of the people.
Nov. 3, 2015, 11:55 am
Jim from Greenpoint says:
I guess Levine should contact his ex boss Vito Lopez.............
Nov. 3, 2015, 12:46 pm
Joseph from Brooklyn says:
Here’s hoping that the council member will do the right thing and vote to APPROVE this transaction. Not every luxury condo development results in a new and improved library space, affordable housing, and a windfall for the public library system. This one does, and Levin should seize the opportunity, as any rational custodian of public assets ought.
Nov. 3, 2015, 2:16 pm
JUSTINE SWARTZ from Brooklyn Heights says:
The SHADOW from this huge Skyscraper
will be cast everyday for approximately
5 hours over the central Ball Field in Cadman Plaza Park during the afternoons. Our Quality of Life will be affected by lack of sunlight. This is the wrong location for a monstrous building.
Nov. 3, 2015, 3:45 pm
DD from Brooklyn Heights says:
Oh no, shade on a ballfield during the summer. That sounds horrible. How can you live like that???

There's a dozen much much taller condos going up downtown, none of which include a shiny new library (which is better than the alternate, having taxpayers pay for renovations of the existing dreary library). Why are people freaking out about this?
Nov. 3, 2015, 4:04 pm
JUSTINE SWARTZ from Brooklyn Heights says:
Losing five hours of mid-day afternoon sunlight is not inconsequential nor funny. Children need and enjoy Sunlight in order to live healthy and grow. The Brooklyn Heights community will be irreparably harmed by the loss, in perpetuity of beautiful sunlit park areas. Shadows from this ill advised High-Rise Condominium will darken Cadman Plaza Park, the Korean War Veterans’ Plaza, the Brooklyn General Post Office building’s west façade, and other multiple streets of residential housings, extending to the Promenade. Three months of extra darkness where there was Summer's light is significant, and is adverse to our well-being and quality of life.
Nov. 3, 2015, 8:21 pm
DD from Brooklyn Height says:
And the award for the biggest First World Problem goes to: Justine. Congratulation!

Walking past these underutilized parks all the time, I can only imagine that if having a sliver of that park shaded during the hottest months of the year reduces your quality of life, than you must live a pretty amazing life. There are real quality of life issues in this area. Tons of litter on Court Street, for example. The Borough Hall subway station is in terrible disrepair. The housing supply is not meeting the demand made by people moving to the city which is driving up housing costs. And a neglected library in Brooklyn Heights that is in serious need of renovations that the Brooklyn Public Library system simply cannot afford. Those are my priority quality of life issues. We'll have to agree to disagree.
Nov. 4, 2015, 10:03 am
h from s says:
I'm sure Justine is a wonderful person so I hope my sarcasm isn't taken personally. The point I'm trying to make is that her concern may be stated as losing sunlight but that's simply a tangible manifestation of a much greater fear: Change. Many people live in Brooklyn Heights because it's a lovely community which, thanks to strong historic preservation laws, has stayed largely in tact when compared to most NYC neighborhoods. It's laudable that she wants to keep this neighborhood great. For me, I suspect there's such a strong sense of community in Brooklyn Heights that a few extra apartments won't make a noticeable difference. There will be an impact on lighting in the park but it's highly unlikely that it will be so obstructive to diminish your quality of life in any significant way. But for me, although I identify with my neighborhood and want what's best for it, my stronger identity is with NYC as a whole. I want my community to do it's part in helping improve public facilities like libraries as well. There is more demand for housing than the current housing stock permits. In areas underdeveloped areas where the existing infrastructure is strong (such as on Court Street), I'm in favor of large developments to help ease the housing shortage. It's likely me and Justine will not see eye to eye and that's fine. The great thing about this city is everyone can have their opinion but we still magically live harmoniously.
Nov. 4, 2015, 10:25 am
CLM from Bklyn Heights says:
Trees and grass, needed in a park, grow in sunlight not shade. Not a first world problem, but a universal urban problem. We have a library in Bklyn Heights--the developer is not giving us a library. The existing library could be renovated. Brooklyn does not need another tall tower only for the rich, with the affordable housing miles away, mostly studios, and in bad school districts. This kind of housing policy makes no sense, and the millions that the developer will pay for the site will quickly disappear while a free standing public library could be a benefit for generations to come.
Nov. 4, 2015, 12:13 pm
Joe from Bh says:
If you're against change for the sake of change, that's your opinion and you're entitled to it. But the arguments you are using are fruitless.

There are several parks in the shadow of skyscrapers in NYC including Madison square park and Bryant park. I've never come across dead trees or grass on either.

Are you basing the assertion that the developer isn't going to provide a library on actual fact or are you making that up based on personal biases against developers?

Yes, the existing library could be renovated. However the money to do so would either come from the library system as a whole meaning other libraries in needy neighborhoods would lose money for their renovations or we could raise taxes which would hurt the poor.

If there weren't demand for a tower, developers wouldn't spend money developing it. If they built a tower in a poor neighborhood instead it'd be gentrification. If don't build enough housing to meet demand, everyone's housing becomes more expensive. Nobody will build cheap apartments because building code and red tape make construction too costly. If you want affordable housing, go after that.

I agree that the low income housing should be with the tower, not separate. If we put our energy towards that instead of fighting change, developers would likely have agreed. They usually do.
Nov. 4, 2015, 1:43 pm
Bob from Brooklyn says:
DD, make your point without demeaning someone else's.
Nov. 4, 2015, 11:38 pm
Elizabeth from Prospect Heights says:
I'd like to know how much DD is getting paid to shill for this ugly, aggressive, out of place, and completely unwelcome behemoth? Extra commission for being rude and smugly dismissive I presume?
Nov. 5, 2015, 12:56 am
mobs are scary as f from Brooklyn says:
Hopefully his decision will be based upon accurate information. To hell with the popular consensus, if it's wrong.

(nice building, but that's presently irrelevant)
Nov. 6, 2015, 12:32 pm
Liz Tilton from Brooklyn Heights says:
When's the Donnell Library in Manhattan reopening? ** THAT ** real estate for "new space" worked out well for library patrons, didn't it? Less is more!

When's the Squibb Park Bridge reopening?
Nov. 10, 2015, 1:24 pm

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