In a win for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, de Blasio says he opposes Crown Heights high-rise towers

December 22, 2020

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday announced his opposition to two controversial high-rise towers proposed for a Crown Heights lot across from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. As first reported by Gothamist, the mayor said the project would “harm the research and educational work carried out by one of this city’s prized cultural institutions.”

“Today, I am voicing my opposition to the proposed 960 Franklin development in Crown Heights that would harm the research and educational work carried out by one of this city’s prized cultural institutions, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and is grossly out of scale with the neighborhood,” de Blasio said in a statement to Gothamist on Monday. “I’m calling on the developers to go back to the drawing board and create a proposal that we can be proud of.”

Developers Continuum Companies and Lincoln Equities first unveiled plans to bring a pair of 39-story towers with more than 1,500 apartments to 960 Franklin Avenue in February 2019. About half of the units would be below market rate, according to the developers.

Photo/ still of video from the garden’s “Fight for Sunlight” exhibit; Courtesy of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden, along with community groups, has fought against the proposed plan since developers first announced the project. Located on the site of a former spice factory roughly 200 feet from the Botanic Garden, garden officials have argued the development would block necessary light from shining on the site’s 23 greenhouses and nurseries and put rare plants at risk, as 6sqft learned last year.

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. Scot Medbury, the former president of the Botanic Garden, told 6sqft last year that the developer has suggested the garden use artificial light or move the greenhouses to somewhere else on the site.

Other critics, including the group Movement to Protect the People, say the planned 400-foot tall buildings are out of scale with the mostly low-slung neighborhood. Current zoning rules in the neighborhood cap building heights at seven stories, or 75 feet, requiring zoning changes in order to be completed.

Last month, activist Alicia Boyd, one of the founders of the Movement to Protect the People, filed a lawsuit to stop the development, claiming the city did not provide rezoning details 30 days before certifying the application. But, as the Brooklyn Paper reported, the temporary restraining order at the development was thrown out by a judge earlier this month, who sided with the city’s argument that only notice of 30 days needs to be provided, nothing more.

Rendering courtesy of MAS

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS), which has opposed development projects that affect sunlight and air quality, praised de Blasio’s opposition. “Since 2019, MAS has mapped and monitored public spaces threatened by shadows from private development; few developments mounted a greater risk to public space than this project,” Elizabeth Goldstein, president of MAS, said in a statement.

“From the neighborhood gem of Jackie Robinson Playground to the world-renowned Brooklyn Botanic Garden, this development posed an undue, unreasonable risk to light and air in the public realm in an already underserved area. We applaud Mayor de Blasio for tonight’s announcement, as well as the community who fought the good fight—and won.”

[Via Gothamist]


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