Ready or not, Sunset Park’s library saga finally appears to be approaching its final chapter.
After years of meetings, rallies, planning and modifications, the neighborhood’s Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) branch at 5108 Fourth Avenue is slated to receive the long proposed and controversial major makeover.
On Thursday, March 16, the New York City Council voted unanimously to approve plans for the site that include increasing its current 12,200-square-foot space to 20,755 square feet with 18,200 open to the public.
Along with improved facilities, the project being spearheaded by the Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC) will create 100 percent affordable housing above the library — the portion of the project that has been most contentious, in part because of concerns that the affordable housing won’t be truly affordable, as well as because of concerns that the space could be better used by the library or, possibly, as a school.
Nonetheless, library and city officials celebrated the vote. “Thanks to the support of the City Council and the residents of Sunset Park, we will soon begin construction of a library that will offer the robust and diverse programming, large multilingual collection and comfortable, inspiring environment that our patrons and staff deserve,” said BPL President and CEO Linda Johnson. “We look forward to designing and building the new Sunset Park Library with input from the community.”
In past meetings, BPL officials had discussed a dire need for repairs at the Sunset branch.
“We have issues with the roof,” said David Wallach of BPL during a CB 7 meeting last year. “We have problems with the electrical system as there are only 12 outlets in the branch. We have a boiler that needs to be replaced and most glaringly, the [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] system which died a few years ago needs to be replaced.”
The vote ensures that those issues will be addressed; in addition, new technology and flexible space needed to accommodate many uses and serve a large, diverse group of patrons will be added.
“By bringing 49 affordable apartments online and funding the expansion and upgrade of the library, this development will serve the neighborhood for decades to come,” added Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen.
The units to be available to people with incomes spanning 30 to 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI). The majority of the units are reserved for incomes at or below 50 percent AMI, and most apartments will rent for $500 to $1,000 per month. Also, a minimum of 50 percent of the apartments will be reserved for Community Board 7 residents, 10 percent for city employees and 10 percent for the physically disabled.
In addition, nine units will be reserved for survivors of domestic violence. Thirty-five percent of the apartments will be permanently affordable through City Regulatory Agreements that will be recorded with the property.
“Fifth Avenue Committee is grateful for the overwhelming support this project has received and that FAC and BPL will be able to move forward to bring a 21st century public library and 100 percent truly and deeply affordable housing to the Sunset Park community,” said FAC Executive Director Michelle de la Uz. “This project is a model in how to ensure that the community can achieve the maximum benefits possible as part of redeveloping public land for public good. We look forward to continuing to work with the community as this project moves forward towards construction.”
The FAC will construct the eight-story, mixed-use building, including the library’s core and shell, at no cost to BPL, which will fit out the new library for approximately $10 million, using a portion of the proceeds from the redevelopment of its Brooklyn Heights branch, another controversial project that is moving forward. According to a press release, the city will own the library in perpetuity, as it does the current branch.
“For the past two years, Sunset Park stakeholders and I have held public meetings and hearings on how to rebuild our aging library,” said Councilmember Carlos Menchaca. “A call for an expanded and modern library that meets local needs such as affordable housing and community space was at the center of this process. Together, we’ve worked to ensure that our residents’ recommendations were heard.
However, Sunset Park residents’ reactions were mixed.
“They took our library away to put in so-called affordable housing,” said attorney Delvis Valdes who is running against Menchaca. “It was ill-conceived and corrupt from the beginning. There was no bid. It was just given to the FAC.”
“I oppose the development of this site as affordable housing,” added Javier Nieves, also running for the same seat. “This community is not going to be able to qualify for those apartments that are going to be developed. Who is it affordable for? Not us.”
Others think an upgrade is necessary.
“I live in Sunset Park and I visit the library three times a week and I realize that the space we have isn’t that adequate,” said Judith Aguilar during a board meeting last year. “It is very difficult for us to go downstairs [to] the room for the children because the elevator is not really working. It is one person at a time. It’s not safe and it’s also very hot during the summer as the air conditioner isn’t working.”
The BPL has already announced that the area’s interim library service will be located in the landmarked courthouse, 4201 Fourth Avenue.