Bklyn Botanic reps skip hearing on development that could block sun from garden

Brooklyn Paper
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A crowd of nature lovers stormed a recent City Planning Commission meeting to pan a developer’s request to rezone Crown Heights land near the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, claiming the 20-story towers the builder wants to erect would cast harmful shadows over the green space.

But the group of professors, anti-gentrification advocates, and Botanic Garden members who spoke out against the project did not include anyone from the beloved horticultural museum — an absence that did not go unnoticed by the 12-person panel conducting the crucial hearing as part of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

“A lot has been made of impact on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, do we know if they’re here today?” asked commission member Larisa Ortiz.

Developer Cornell Realty Management this spring resubmitted its proposal to rezone two lots on Carroll and Crown streets near Franklin Avenue — where current restrictions limit buildings’ height to seven stories, largely to protect flora at the nearby garden — in order to erect the pair of high-rises, roughly one year after the firm withdrew an identical request amid fierce opposition from critics as faraway as England who condemned the scheme.

In June, two private architectural firms tapped by local activist organization Movement to Protect the People released a study that showed Cornell’s towers would darken parts of the Botanic Garden for hours on some days — contradicting a similar report the builder conducted in 2017 that showed its structures posed no danger to the green space.

But the latest study did little to change the minds of garden bigwigs, who didn’t show up to the Sept. 26 city-planning hearing to oppose the rezoning request because they previously adopted a neutral stance on Cornell’s planned towers after its first shadow report convinced them the high-rises will not hurt their plants, according to a spokeswoman.

“The Garden publicly stated earlier this month that it would not take a position on the [Cornell project], because it is farther away and its early-morning summer shadows will have little impact on the Garden,” said Elizabeth Reina-Longoria.

Still, one member of the horticultural museum who testified at the hearing wondered if a pro-development mayor forced garden leaders to keep mum on the project by threatening to withhold funding for the green space — whose operation is paid for in part with cash from the Department of Cultural Affairs.

“Could it have impact on city funding, has the city frightened them into not speaking out?” asked Julia Bryant. “The garden appears to be unable to speak up for itself.”

Botanic Garden brass have not kept completely silent about developments proposed for its immediate neighborhood, however — bigwigs emphatically opposed a second, larger project that builder Continuum Company proposed at the site of a nearby Franklin Avenue spice factory, where it wants to erect a six-structure complex as tall as 40 stories.

“Buildings of this scale in such close proximity have raised serious concerns about shadow impacts on the Garden and its priceless plant collections and public programs,” chief green thumb Scot Medbury wrote in a May e-mail to the garden’s roughly 18,000 members. “BBG is strongly advocating to maintain the site’s current zoning.”

But some opponents worried that if officials grant Cornell a rezoning, they will set a precedent that will pave the way for Continuum’s hulking development and others to rise.

“We feel once it’s built the new zoning, people will start proposing bigger buildings to the south and the accumulation of shadowing will really build up,” Pratt School of Architecture adjunct professor Brent Porter said before the commission.

The City Planning Commission has until mid November to deliver its verdict on Cornell’s up-zoning proposal — which Community Board 9 and Borough President Adams have already recommended against — and Council is expected to vote on the request either later this year, or early next, according to ulurp protocol.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Updated 4:53 pm, October 3, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Charles from Bklyn says:
The first question members should ask is what are the finanical conections between the botantic garden, its board members, and the developer. The fact that the botantic garden did not send a representative is beyond outrageous, and shoes a breach of their fiduciary duty to protect the garden.
Oct. 2, 2018, 8:18 am
Mike from Wiliamsburg says:
Anti-housing activists cite shadows so often because their real agenda is so odious. It would be nice to know if the Brooklyn Botanic Garden would be harmed by shadows in this case, since it is important and public. We can't trust the same people who bring up shadows for every community garden and sidewalk.
Oct. 2, 2018, 9:46 am
Roxie from Ft Greene says:
Typical Mike from Williamsburg stupidity. You don't trust the same people who bring up shadows fot every community garden and sidewalk? You would trust other people to bring up shadows? Btw, the BBG is not considered a community garden by anyone but you.
Oct. 2, 2018, 10:03 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
Yes, I would trust experts who work for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden but not trust bored property owners who like their locked-off playgrounds. I don't consider BBG a community garden, which is why the BBG deserves consideration regarding shadows. The anti-housing activists, including the Airbnb mogul in charge of BANG, should be scorned, mocked, and driven out of town on a rail.
Oct. 2, 2018, 10:38 am
Shelly from Crown Heights says:
Check out this analysis by writer Rico Cleffi, looking at the developer's history of mass evictions. This article doesn't deal with the shadow angle of the story, but it's excellent.
Oct. 2, 2018, 12:24 pm
BoFiS from Ditmas Park says:
I really hope they deny this upzoning request, there is no need for more high-rises around there, and certainly not that cast shadows on the gardens, which is WHY the zoning in that area is setup that way. These towers will be of no benefit to the pubic, so why give in to rich developers?
Oct. 2, 2018, 1:14 pm
Jess from Flatbush says:
The BBG is a both an NYC treasyre and an international tourist attraction; a twenty-story tower diminishing that in * ANY * way benefits who? We already know De Blasio is a crook, hopefully a newly energized City Council will keep his corrupt azz in check.
Oct. 2, 2018, 1:30 pm
Roberto from Brooklyn Heights says:
Perhaps canceling our membership to the Garden would help, but there are other forms of pressure, too, including calling for the resignation of the BBG director, picketing, writing letters to the Mayor..... The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a battery charger for thousands of souls. Why doesn't the BBG management fight for continued sun on this botanical treasure!
Oct. 2, 2018, 8:24 pm
steph from clinton hill says:
this is disgusting. real estate developers are ruining the neighborhood and lining de blasio's pockets. now they want to ruin the botanic garden??
Oct. 2, 2018, 8:44 pm
Mike from Williamsburg says:
Roberto: I'm interested in your last sentence (which should have used a question mark instead of an exclamation point). Why don't they fight? Maybe the change in sun won't matter to the plants it would affect. I don't know. I really would like them to weigh in, since you are correct that it's a battery charger for souls. Too often the shadows argument is abused by NIMBYs--no shadows in community gardens, in any parks, on streets, on their own brownstones. So people are right to be skeptical about the shadow argument. But the BBG is very important, so it would be great to know why they aren't talking about this development. Is it fine? Or is it a threat? We should know. We can allow the needed housing growth somewhere else if it would endanger the BBG.
Oct. 2, 2018, 9:19 pm
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
Bigger Bigger Bigger - the mayor wants bigger bigger. Tear down the landmarks they are in our way. And mumble about "affordable housing" while ignoring unaffordable real estate taxes. The abandonment of good "affordable" housing in the late 60's into the '70's was a result of more taxes than the income from rentals could generate. Keep it up - the Mayor and the Governor will be long gone when the effect of their greed shows up. Then everyone will be Soooooo surprised at this "unexpected" development.
Oct. 3, 2018, 9:02 am
Roxie from Ft Freene says:
Mike from Williamsburg, is writing stupid comments in the Brooklyn Paper all you do, or do you write stupid comments in other papers and other media?
Oct. 3, 2018, 9:02 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
Roxie hasn't written a comment that is spelled correctly yet. But worse, she hasn't written one that displayed any level of reading comprehension skills. Being dumb isn't going to protect flora. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden needs better allies.
Oct. 3, 2018, 12:21 pm
Adamben from Bedstuy says:
Fine! then someone draw where the shadows from these proposed buildings will be cast. Do us all the favor (science vs rhetoric).
Oct. 3, 2018, 1:52 pm
Eliza from Prospect Heights says:
Adamben - the sun moves throughout the day, so the shadows will as well. I have a feeling whatever these "activists" are showing are shadows that only last for an hour or two. I think the question that should be posed to them is what time of day are their photos showing? It could be that BBG is not opposing this because it will have minimal impact (ie: just for an hour, early in the morning, for just a few months). Shadows for the same time period can change even month to month. I'd like to know about about their study and what they are choosing to show.
Oct. 4, 2018, 9:53 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Why exactly do those proposed apartment buildings need to be 40 stories considering that the majority of the area is lowrise to begin with?
Oct. 4, 2018, 3:32 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I meant to say 20 stories, not 40 stories after looking back at the article.
Oct. 4, 2018, 3:33 pm

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