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Sunset Park Library and affordable housing units vie for space

The Sunset Park Library – the borough’s fifth busiest branch per square feet – may expand, but only if the space above it is sold to a developer and transformed into 54 units and seven stories of affordable housing.

The housing plan is a joint proposal by nonprofit affordable housing developer Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC) and the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), which presented the plan’s details to a crowd of over 100 residents inside the library’s main room on Monday, November 3.

The plan expands the library from 12,000 square feet to over 17,000 square feet, on the ground floor of a new, eight-story building that would have a more efficient layout, new heating/cooling and electrical systems, and new technology.

It also would create 54 apartments (18 studios, 11 one-bedrooms, 14 two-bedrooms and 12 three-bedrooms), at least half of which would go to applicants who are current Sunset Park residents. Rent would be between $500 and $1,500 per month.

The project would cost $24.8 million – none of it paid for by BPL, according to BPL Executive Vice President for External Affairs David Woloch.

However, BPL would be responsible for $8 million in costs to furnish the library with books, tables, chairs, computers and more. That money would come from $2 million in the current BPL budget, plus $6 million from the sale of the Brooklyn Heights library – which will bring in about $52 million and fund library improvements across Brooklyn.

“[BPL is] in a financial pickle, but we have a great opportunity to expand this branch – an opportunity we don’t necessarily have in other communities,” Woloch said.

If approved, the library would temporarily relocate to an as-yet-to-be-chosen site until construction is complete. An optimistic timetable, said Woloch, would see the library closing in summer of 2016 and reopening two years later in 2018.

News of the proposal – rumored for months – drew mixed reactions from residents who said both housing and community space are needed, but should not be pitted against one another over limited resources.

“No one is saying no to housing, but we do need to service community needs and this is a community that pays a lot of taxes with very little service,” said Javier Nieves. “Billions of dollars are going into the waterfront when we need it here.”

“We have a huge shortage of elementary school seats and no seats for hundreds of pre-k students. Why? Because all these years, our public land has been passed on to private owners,” stated Maria Roca. “The mission of a library is to educate. Why not build a school on top? Or pre-k classrooms?”

Or perhaps a compromise, suggested mom of three Jovita Vergara Sosa, who presented BPL officials with a petition of over 800 resident signatures demanding a second floor. “If this project is to take place, we need to have a second floor for our library,” she said, noting the shortage of computers and too-small children’s reading space.

Lifelong Sunset resident Ramon Acevedo agreed. “The community will chip in and buy it,” he exclaimed. “We’re willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen.”

Some residents were more circumspect.

If they do this, “they need to look at seniors (for studios and one-bedrooms) and families (for two- and three-bedrooms),” said Marcela Mitaynes, who works daily with residents pushed out of or struggling to find affordable housing. “Affordable housing is needed and the community now needs to decide how and where that happens. We need to work together collectively.”

The next step, said Woloch, is for BPL to review the plan and “figure out how to include more library space in a manner we can afford.”

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