Hearing on Proposed Library Sale Draws Differing Views

The controversial three-way deal that involves the selling of the Brooklyn Heights Library property so developers can build a high-rise luxury housing building with a larger library on the first few floors and off-site affordable housing in a less affluent neighborhood drew a mixed response at a hearing on the subject last night at Borough Hall.

The project plans for developer Hudson Companies, Inc to buy 280 Cadman Plaza West site, which currently houses the two-story Brooklyn Heights branch, for $52 million with $40 million from the sale earmarked to be invested in other branches around the borough for urgent capital needs.

An art rendering of the building that will replace the current Brooklyn Hts LIbrary at Cadman Plaza.
An art rendering of the building that will replace the current Brooklyn Hts LIbrary at Cadman Plaza.

Hudson Companies will the  build a 36-story residential building with a new 21,400 square foot library on the bottom floors and 114 affordable-housing units off-site in Clinton Hill.

However, at last night’s hearing, a good number of construction union protestors showed up to point out the developer has not provided any assurances that they will build and operate with responsible employers.

According to Build Up NYC, 75 percent of construction fatalities in NYC in 2014 occurred on job sites where employers did not participate in state approved training and apprentice programs.

“We as a community, owe it to the workers who work at heights on construction sites and to their families to make sure that every worker has the benefit of state of the art training and apprenticeship programs and can work for an responsible employer,” said Build Up NYC President Gary LaBarbera. “The Hudson Companies should commit to use contractors and subcontractors who participate in state approved training and apprenticeship programs on the library project. The lives of working families matter.”

But Boniface N. Wewe, Supervising Librarian at the Washington Irving Library, attested to the rats, mosquitos and raccoons that his library often hosts. In the summer, their air condition breaks down and in the winter, their boiler breaks down, he said, adding that the money from the sale will help other libraries.

“A man cannot live on the banks of a river and wash his hands in spittle,” said Wewe, referencing an African proverb. “When there is opportunity for improvement, it should be taken.” 

A overflow crowd filled borough hall to express their point of view on the proposed Brooklyn Heights Library sale.
A overflow crowd filled borough hall to express their point of view on the proposed Brooklyn Heights Library sale.

But a good number of residents showed up at the meeting to protest the sale of the library, which they deemed as a public asset.

“We are the temporary guardians for future generations of these public assets. We have no right to sell these assets,” said Christopher Robles, attorney and Brooklynite, who believes the incorporation of affordable housing is what the developer thinks is key to getting the plans passed.

“What we need in Brooklyn is low-income housing, because affordable housing is not low-income housing,” Robles went on to say. “Nobody mentioned these housing units have strings attached to them. If you don’t have an adequate credit score, you don’t qualify for these affordable housing units. If you don’t have verifiable income, you don’t qualify for these affordable housing units. And, why are these affordable housing units curated to this branch, being developed on the other side of town? We need to be integrating our communities, lets call it what it is. You can not be setting up a system where the working poor live in one side of town, and the working rich live in another side of town, and that’s what’s happening under this whole plan and they’re calling it affordable housing. ”

“Mayor de Blasio, you told us ‘no more tale of two cities,’ we have two cities more than ever, and that’s wrong,“ said Robles.

The hearing was part of the city’s land use process. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams now must weigh in on the project before it moves to the city council for a final yes or no for the project moving forward.

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