Local board votes in favor of new Sunset library-affordable housing plan, with conditions

The saga continues.

After several meetings and public hearings, Community Board 7 voted in favor of plans for an expanded and renovated Sunset Park Library, under certain conditions, during its highly attended monthly meeting on Wednesday, November 16.

The plan — if ultimately approved by the city — would see the library, located at 5108 Fourth Avenue, become a part of an eight-story mixed-use building with 49 affordable housing units on top.

“I am thrilled that the community board came together tonight and did what democracy demands of us,” Councilmember Carlos Menchaca told this paper following the vote. “We heard from every corner of this community and the concerns, and they’re making this project better every single time, so I’m proud of this community board and we have more work to do to find other ways to make it better.”

The Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC), a local nonprofit organization that specializes in developing and managing affordable housing, would develop the housing project as it has received an allocation of Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LITHTC), which will provide over half of the $25 million development costs.

According to Chairperson of the board’s Land Use and Landmarks Committee John Fontillas, funding for the library construction is coming from the sale of the Brooklyn Heights library branch, which is also being transformed in a similar way with the city giving that land over to build a housing tower and library branch.

Fontillas also discussed both opposing and supporting views from residents.

“We’ve heard the current library has significant infrastructure problems,” he said. “There’s no air conditioning, low electrical capacity, little room for events and activities. The way the library is, it’s difficult to reconfigure for contemporary needs.”

Those opposed to the plan raised concerns such as the need for more schools, funding for the facility and possible delays, and who would benefit from the affordable housing.

“A housing lottery often rewards those who do not live in the community and especially those most in need, undocumented immigrants or those disadvantaged residents are forced in our neighborhood into substandard housing,” Fontillas added when voicing others’ concerns.

Though, the FAC countered that a minimum of 50 percent of the apartments would be reserved for CB 7 residents.

Councilmember Brad Lander, who led the FAC 15 years ago as director, also supported the initiative. “You have here honestly as good a deal I’ve seen coming through the city’s land use process,” he said. “Most of the deals we get at the council are about 25 percent affordable and if they’re really good they’re maybe 50 percent affordable. They are almost never 100 percent affordable.”

Before the vote, Fontillas read eight recommended stipulations to the proposal, that were eventually supported by the full board. Some conditions set included that FAC must dedicate its resources to assist undocumented immigrants and other disadvantaged residents within CB 7 to attain eligibility status for units in the development, as well as work with the city to explore all opportunities and measures to provide preference to Sunset Park residents for occupancy in the development.

While the current branch would be demolished and rebuilt under the plan, officials urged that the area’s interim library would relocate to the Sunset Park courthouse, formally occupied by the police department, during construction.

At the start of the meeting, however, several construction workers took the floor to discuss their concerns about the building’s potential construction and what it means for local unions. “The only people making out here are the owners and developers,” said Laura Jackson of Carpenters Local 157. “The very workers who build these projects can’t afford to live in the same affordable housing that was built by their blood, sweat, and tears. These projects should not be allowed to go forward unless they are tied to good paying jobs.”

“I am not anti-construction or library,” added carpenter Ruben Colon. “But I am for good jobs that lead to entry into the middle class for minority workers like myself. I’m Puerto Rican and I was raised in this community, but I can’t get a job down the block. It’s not right or fair.”

Lander warned that a vote to have only union workers on the construction may put the entire deal in jeopardy. “I’m a big union supporter and I would like to see all jobs be a union one,” he said. “Having said that, getting union construction on 100 percent affordable housing is extremely difficult.”

A motion to leave construction to only unions failed to pass as it had 15 in favor, 15 against, and three abstentions. However, only three voted against green-lighting the project with stipulations. Twenty-five voted in favor.

Board Chair Daniel Murphy defended FAC’s intentions throughout the evening.

“The FAC has been before us a lot,” he said. “We’ve taken them to task for a lot of things. This isn’t Toll Brothers coming in here. Keep things in mind.”

The proposal will now go to Borough President Eric Adams.

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