While there were plenty of topics on the agenda during the highly attended Community Board 7 meeting on Wednesday, November 19, the one on top of most attendees’ lists was the controversial Sunset Park Library proposal by the Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC) and the Brooklyn Public Library, which includes an expansion from 12,000 to 17,000 square feet and an affordable housing component.
Board members as well as elected officials and longtime Sunset residents spoke out about their concerns and unanswered questions regarding the plan.
According to some attendees, who included local teachers, enough isn’t being done to ensure the new library plans suit the needs of residents. “We need a state-of-the-art library. Coney Island just put up a new library. They made every effort to make sure that it’s a very special place where we all learned and lived together,” said teacher and community activist Rivera E. “We need a media center, an early childhood center, a place for senior citizens. For us to limit ourselves to the minimum that is being offered is a big mistake.”
Residents also contended that they are being left with more questions than answers. “I’m very concerned that this whole process is really being done behind closed doors and the community isn’t really having any kind of say or knowledge,” said longtime Sunset resident and attorney Christopher Robles. “Most deals in the city are done in the open. There’s an open process for bidding and a public comment period. There are a whole bunch of procedural things that are not happening with this library process and I think it’s very unfair to the community.”
He said that his office is applying for a Freedom of Information Law request (FOIL) to uncover more answers. “They’re obviously not coming here and giving us the information,” he said.
Recently, Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, who also attended the meeting, wrote an open letter regarding his opinions and ideas. “We all share the goal of developing a library that meets the needs of our growing community, and serves the core mission of building neighborhood literacy,” he wrote. “When we build a brand new library, we have the opportunity to identify the best ways to optimize space and ensure that as much square footage as possible is usable for all of us. “
He also touched on the affordable housing plan, which is proposed to include 54 units and seven stories. “I see this project as an important step in addressing the need for genuinely affordable housing,” wrote Menchaca. “First, this project is 100 percent affordable – substantially below market rents, with rates affordable to existing Sunset Park residents. Second, FAC has committed to permanent affordability – an important concept for Sunset Park, as this neighborhood has recently lost affordable housing developed 30 years ago.”