In what activists hope is not a foreshadowing of the fate of the Sunset Park Library, the Brooklyn Borough Board voted on Tuesday, March 1 to support the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library despite a pair of rallies held outside Brooklyn Borough Hall in a Hail Mary attempt to derail the proposal.
“We thank the Brooklyn Borough Board for its support of the Brooklyn Heights Library project,” a Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) representative told this paper. “Thanks to the board’s leadership — and thousands of Brooklynites who wrote and called in support — we can create a better library system not just for Brooklyn Heights but for communities throughout the borough.”
Under the approved proposal, Hudson Companies plans to build a 36-story tower with a new, but smaller library branch. The sale is expected to cost approximately $52 million, and, the BPL promises, the sale not only benefits the Brooklyn Heights branch, but others as well.
“By generating needed funds through the sale of the land, BPL will also be able to deliver much-needed funding for other branches in disrepair,” said the library spokesperson. “We look forward to bringing this important development to fruition.”
However, despite the enthusiasm of BPL officials, the decision has many Sunset Park residents worried that their library — also poised for development — will be negatively impacted.
“A lot of the same things are happening here with this library which is a couple of years ahead of the process of where our library is,” said Christopher Robles, a co-counsel and legal representative for the Village of Sunset Park, who stressed, “There’s no transparency. This library in Brooklyn Heights is being sold and they’re saying they’re going to take money from that project and spread it throughout other projects, including Sunset Park.”
But, he added, “They keep changing what they’re doing.”
The BPL’s plans redevelop the Sunset Park library include a new 21,000-square-foot branch with 49 units of affordable housing.
While the plan would entail the library’s temporary closure, “They still don’t have the answers about an interim library,” said Ray Acevedo, president of the Village of Sunset Park. “The last meeting that they had, they said they were going to get a mobile bus. We’re one of the most used libraries in the entire city of New York and you’re going to put us in a bus for how many years?”
As far as the affordable housing component is concerned, Sunset activists are no more enthusiastic. Noted Robles, “We need low income housing but all of these plans that are being put on the table do nothing to get homeless people off the street.”
Maria Roca, founder of Friends of Sunset Park, added that the space would be best suited for educational purposes. “What we need is an educational complex. We don’t have a seven day community center or any of those institutions that immigrant communities traditionally have,” she said. “Make a three-story library and, above, a building that would be alive seven days a week, you would have it open all day for the community.”
One of the rallies’ organizers, Michael White, co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries, also opposes the sale of the Sunset Park Library.
“It was our job to let the community know that there were things going on they didn’t know about so the community could react,” he said. “We care about preventing the shrinkage and sales of libraries, and turning them into real estate deals around the city.”
“This is just a way to fleece our city of our public assets,” added Acevedo.