Advocacy groups, local residents denounce plans to tear down Sunset Park Library for new structure

Sunset Park residents and activists rallied outside the Sunset Park Library on Saturday, July 25 and denounced development plans to tear it down to build a new library. In particular, they argued developers should not erect affordable housing units on top of a proposed new library, and complained that planners have not been transparent about their plans.

About 40 people attended the rally Saturday morning, including representatives from advocacy groups like the Village of Sunset Park and Citizens for Defending Libraries. Local residents held up signs that expressed their various qualms about the development plans while activists spoke.

“I’m just so sad about this, that we’re begging for our library,” Marion Palm, a local activist, said.

The Fifth Avenue Committee, Inc. (FAC), a nonprofit group with a stated mission to develop and manage affordable housing and community facilities, in addition to other social services, would be a developer on the potential Sunset Park Library expansion, along with the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) itself.

The community’s complaints stem around FAC’s and the BPL’s proposals for the library on Fourth Avenue. In an effort to expand the building’s size, modernize it, and make repairs to it, FAC and the BPL want to tear down the existing structure and build a new, larger building of around 20,000 square feet. In addition, they want to construct 49 affordable housing units on top of the new library, nine for domestic violence victims.

The project’s expected cost, if approved, would be $10 million for the new library’s shell—its basic infrastructures—with an additional $20 million needed to fill out the rest of the building, which the BPL will have to fund, said Michelle de la Uz, the executive director of FAC.

According to FAC documents, the BPL would in part fund the new library with $8 million from the proceeds of the Brooklyn Heights Library redevelopment and $2 million in existing capital funding that the BPL previously earmarked for Sunset Park Library repairs.

If given the green light for development, FAC predicts that the project will be completed in 2018, and said the BPL and Community Board 7 (CB7) would identify an interim library within half a mile of the Sunset Park Library.

Most who attended the rally Saturday said the library was in need of repairs, but they condemned how developers would go about it. Christopher Robles, an attorney and co-director for media relations for the Village of Sunset Park, said the project is a rip-off of public resources because the community will not receive a completed library.

De la Uz defended the proposal and said its cost responsibilities are normal for such a project.

“The system that is responsible for the entire Brooklyn Public Library system is committed to the project and has identified ways to fill the gap,” de la Uz said about the additional $20 million the BPL would need to finish the building.

But Robles said that the Sunset Park Library would not be able to fill that gap. “The library has said in the past that they will not have the money for that project,” he said.

Everyone at the rally sounded off about the library’s affordable housing plans but critiqued different parts of it. Some liked that developers might build affordable housing units on top of the library, but complained about their initial numbers; some did not think there should be any units connected to the library; some wanted affordable housing, but argued that Sunset Park residents would not have priority; and some would rather have low income housing.

“We’re not talking about affordable housing; it’s to distract us,” Palm said. “Half of the affordable housing will be for people outside Sunset Park and half [will be] by lottery.”

“Affordable for who? Most people in this area can’t afford it,” Javier Nieves, a former State Assemblymember for Southeast Brooklyn, said at the rally about the affordable housing units. “We don’t have a problem as long as Sunset Park residents get first crack at it and can qualify for the units—which looks like locals cannot because they don’t make enough money.”

“We’re more for the need for low income housing,” Robles said Saturday. “Because affordable housing doesn’t, you know, benefit all; low income, yes.”

FAC documents indicate that Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace residents of varying income levels would get first crack at the units.

According to the documents, anyone who meets eligibility guidelines may apply for the affordable housing units, including those who have “sufficient income and/or access to rental assistance” to pay rent, and those with appropriate family sizes for the apartments. Those with an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), regardless of immigration status, can apply for the units.

New York City Housing Preservation & Development would oversee a lottery for the apartments, with preference allotted for residents in CB7, city employees and people with certain disabilities.
According to de la Uz, the units would be “forever affordable.”

“We view it as a win-win,” she said. “The reality is that by basically combining two public purpose projects, it helps the library expand and keeps its cost down.”

Although there was some variation among the rally’s attendees about the proposed housing units, almost everyone said that the developers have not been transparent about their plans and have tried to stifle the community’s involvement.

“They limit how we can speak and how long,” said Dennis Flores, the co-founder of El Grito De Sunset Park, a local advocacy group. “These developers aren’t making themselves accessible.”

“The Fifth Avenue Committee has not consulted the community,” Richard Villar, an attorney and co-director for media relations for the Village of Sunset Park, said at the rally. “The public libraries have not consulted the community on the design or anything else.”

De la Uz disagrees. “I think we’ve been incredibly transparent about it. We’ve gone door-to-door, had a community meeting translated in many languages. We’ve had thousands of flyers,” she said. “Folks have some concerns that can hopefully be addressed in time, or if they read what’s already out there.”

“The new Sunset Park Library will be a large, modern and comfortable branch that the entire neighborhood can be proud of….It will be better equipped to meet the modern needs of library patrons, including access to technology and open workspaces,” BPL said in a statement to the Home Reporter. “BPL and our local nonprofit partner, the Fifth Avenue Committee, have engaged the neighborhood by presenting at community board meetings and hosting a public meeting on the project.”


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