Brooklyn Botanic Garden ramps up fight against proposed Crown Heights towers with new exhibit

July 31, 2019

Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s fight against two high-rise towers in Crown Heights continues this week with the opening of a new educational exhibit. The display is part of the garden’s larger “Fight for Sunlight” campaign opposing a proposal from developers to amend the area’s current zoning and build two 39-story towers across the street. The garden argues the proposed towers on Franklin Avenue would obstruct necessary light from shining on the garden’s 23 greenhouses, nurseries, and growing spaces, putting rare plants at risk.

960 Franklin Avenue

960 Franklin Avenue
Renderings of the proposed project at 960 Franklin Avenue courtesy of Department of City Planning

The proposed project comes from Continuum Companies and Lincoln Equities and involves the construction of two 39-story towers on the site of a former spice factory. The development would ultimately bring more than 1,500 apartments to the area, with about half of them affordable. Because current zoning rules in the neighborhood cap building heights at seven stories, or 75 feet, the proposal would require a rezoning to be completed.

On a tour of the new exhibit, which officially opened Tuesday, BBG president Scot Medbury said there are many high-rise buildings proposed for Crown Heights of which the garden has not objected. But Medbury said the garden must stand up to this proposal because of the impact “on the most sun-loving plant communities that we have.”

“What we do know is that plants that are weakened are more susceptible to pests and diseases, especially fungal disease, and they may not flower,” he told reporters. “In some cases, we wouldn’t be able to grow them at all.”

Photo and still of video courtesy of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

The “Fight for Sunlight” exhibit involves a large scrim hung in the Steinhardt Conservatory, which shares the ancestral history of ancient plants. The scrim includes a sketch of the two buildings drawn to scale and put in place where they would be seen from the garden. It highlights how the 464-foot tall towers would soar over the garden’s 54-foot tall conservatories.

The exhibit also includes a short video that shows a side-by-side of what would happen to plants if they experienced a reduction in sunlight for up to 4.5 hours each day. Plus, a few plants feature placards with extra information from the garden’s curatorial team.

According to the garden, the development’s construction could affect 20 percent of its collection, including endangered and extremely rare orchids, cacti, and bonsai trees. Medbury told reporters that the developer has suggested the garden use artificial light or move the greenhouses to somewhere else on the site.

Medbury, who is serving his 14th year as president with plans to step down next year, said: “We’ve invested quite a bit of money to build them [the greenhouses], so why should we have to move them just to accommodate one lot across the street?”

The developer has not yet filed a formal application for the project, as the zoning changes required to construct it has not been approved by the city yet. Once the application is filed, the project will enter the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which requires approval from the community board, Borough President Eric Adams, the City Planning Commission, City Council, and finally Mayor Bill de Blasio.


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