Brooklyn gentrification is an age-old hot-button issue. But lately, it’s not just about interlopers displacing established communities — brownstone neighborhoods are up in arms over looming towers threatening their gardens and parks. And the fights are getting complicated.
In July, ruling in favor of a massive redevelopment project at the old Pfizer plant in central Brooklyn, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron called the borough’s development review process “Byzantine” — like something “Rube Goldberg, Franz Kafka and the Marquis de Sade cooked . . . up over martinis.”
But the bureaucracy that community boards, activist organizations and even church groups create in low-rise Brooklyn are all part of the process that just might keep the glass towers at bay.
Behold, the borough’s most controversial new proposed — and, in one case, already under construction — developments.
The Boerum Hill behemoth
In April, local efforts to stop a proposed $900 million glass building complex at 80 Flatbush — which would dwarf brownstone blocks in Boerum Hill and Fort Greene — went international.
At 4:50 a.m. one morning, a poll on the NIMBY site Block80FlatbushTowers.org was flooded with votes in favor of the project. According to data shared with The Post by the poll’s author, Fort Greene activist Ben Richardson, the early-morning votes came from far-flung nations like South Africa, Holland and Romania.
Could it have been another example of Russian meddling in a vote? “It’s possible,” Richardson said when asked if a troll brigade was behind the hack.
That incident is just one small example of the intensity of feelings surrounding a proposed rezoning that would allow for a 986-foot “supertall” skyscraper (the designation for any building higher than 984 feet) that would tower over the borough’s current tallest building, the 602-foot Hub at 333 Schermerhorn St. The 74-story behemoth at 80 Flatbush would be part of a five-building complex that includes a 38-story structure and houses a high school, elementary school and community space, as well as offices and apartments.
While other large buildings like the Hub and the historic Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower already exist on the nearby blocks around Barclays Center, local organizations are fighting tooth and nail to slash the scale of Alloy Development’s project, which sits on a transitional block in brownstone-laden Boerum Hill.
“It’s overly dense and a bad precedent for Brooklyn,” said Howard Kolins, president of the Boerum Hill Association.
His group objects to the height of the project, the placement of the schools and the lack of setbacks on the tower. “We get labeled a NIMBY, but it has never been our position that nothing be built,” he said. “We are for respectful and intelligent development.”
There’s also a splinter group that maintains a community garden at nearby 95 Rockwell Place and is campaigning against the development.
“We have been surrounded by 35- to 50-story buildings and it’s [already] affected our sunlight,” said Ron Janoff, 74, a retired teacher and the coordinator of the 40-year-old Rockwell Place Bears Community Garden, which grows vegetables, grapes and flowers. “Virtually everything we currently grow in the garden couldn’t be grown in the shadow of 80 Flatbush.”
Thanks in part to the opposition efforts, New York City Councilmember Stephen Levin and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams have joined the chorus, saying they would like to see the scale of the project reduced. However, the proposed cuts aren’t enough for angry locals.
“Not everyone would agree that dropping 20 stories from 986 feet to 600 feet is a win,” Kolins said.
Shadowy developments in Crown Heights
A bevy of new high-rise towers may soon cast a rose-strangling shadow over the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. In 1991, the city passed zoning regulations limiting neighboring buildings to a maximum of 13 stories, to help keep the garden in sunlight. Now, developers are pushing to overturn that zoning.
Cornell Realty hopes to build two 16-story residential towers, at 40 Crown St. and 931 Carroll St., in Crown Heights, permits show. It’s expected that if the builder gets its way, other high-rise developments will follow. It did not respond to requests for comment,
Continuum Co. is watching Cornell’s progress with interest, and tentatively planning two buildings — rising 39 and 37 stories and with 1,500 apartments (including some 750 affordable units) and retail and community space — at an old spice factory at 960 Franklin Ave. in Crown Heights.
Opponents argue that this would forever darken the greenspace. “[This is] of great concern,” Elizabeth Reina-Longoria, Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s director of communications, told The Post. “We have been strongly advocating with the city to maintain the site’s current zoning, which protects the garden’s conservatories, greenhouses and plant nurseries from building shadows.”
A study commissioned by Movement to Protect the People shows that the projects would block sunlight year-round. Moreover, at other times of the day, the scorching glare from the large glass towers would create a “burn, baby, burn” situation for Prospect Parkgoers, MTOPP says.
“Stopping the first development is most important, because it will pave the way for all the other developments,” said Alicia Body, the group’s co-founder, who was arrested for disrupting a community board meeting. (She was later acquitted). “We have been successful thus far, but only because we have challenged the community board on a continuous basis.”
Developers deny MTOPP’s claims. “The two buildings that we have proposed are stepped back . . . to mitigate any adverse shadow impacts,” said Continuum spokesperson Lupe Todd-Medina.
But Body insists that the consequences of these buildings would be “horrendous.” She added, “We calculate 17.3 acres of shadows. You are basically talking about . . . the destruction of the garden.”
The park hogs in Brooklyn Heights
Brooklyn Heights is one of New York City’s wealthiest neighborhoods, according to census data released in 2013 that put the area’s median income at $166,346. Two developments now rising in Brooklyn Bridge Park have ignited a vicious legal battle pitting luxury-home developers against local luxury homeowners protesting the loss of parkland.
The Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp. is currently building a pair of 30- and 15-story towers, Quay Residences and 15 Brooklyn Bridge, on Pier 6. Quay will house 126 condos costing from $1.9 million to nearly $8 million; 15 Brooklyn Bridge will contain 100 units of affordable housing and 40 market-rate units. Revenue from both developments would pay for repairs to piles that support the piers at the very popular Brooklyn Bridge Park. That part sounds great, right?
However, the Brooklyn Heights Association and People for Green Space Foundation are not happy.
In July 2016, these opponents filed a lawsuit, claiming that the builder was reneging on its promise to develop only enough housing to support the park.
“We need open space at the park, not needless new condo towers,” Patrick Killackey, the president of the BHA, said in a statement at the time.
The group says on its Web site, “While the BHA is not opposed to affordable housing . . . it [is] opposed to any housing in the middle of desperately needed parkland unless it is needed to support the park.” It did not respond to requests for comment
State Supreme Court Justice Carmen St. George urged both sides to come to an agreement, outside court, for a single, taller tower. But the legal fisticuffs ground on for nearly a year until St. George dismissed the suit in February.
“We look forward to continuing to work with the community and all park users,” BBP president Eric Landau said in a statement.
The towers will be completed next year.