A resolution appears to be in sight in the Sunset Park Library saga.
Borough President Eric Adams announced on Thursday, December 29 that he had approved plans for an expanded and renovated Sunset branch at 5108 Fourth Avenue, but under certain conditions.
“My recommendations for the future of the Sunset Park branch, which have been guided by the hundreds of Brooklynites whose feedback I have considered in recent weeks, are a blueprint for responsible community development that puts our children and families first,” said Adams in a statement. “Considering these land use applications has been about more than one site or one institution; it represents an opportunity to evaluate the direction of development in Sunset Park and ensure that basic services are met and enhanced.”
The plan — if ultimately approved by the city — would see the branch become a part of an eight-story mixed-use building with 49 affordable housing units on top.
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.
Recommendations made by Adams include improving both the interim and permanent library spaces, ensuring the permanence of affordability for any new housing units, and incorporating the public library system into the agency structure of the city to ensure better its long-term viability.
Adams expressed concerns about the Brooklyn Public Library’s (BPL) proposed redesigned space of the Sunset branch, specifically how it could inhibit the potential for desired library programming. He has asked the FAC and BPL to revise the floor plans.
As far as an interim library space during construction, Adams agreed with the BPL’s plan to use the landmarked courthouse, 4201 Fourth Avenue, where Community Board 7 (CB 7) is located, as a site. In addition, he recommended the deployment of digital vans or trailers in the model of BPL’s first-ever Techmobile that would provide additional computer workstations, broadband access and printing capability.
“I urge the city to seize this opportunity to resolve the continued fiscal crisis that our libraries face, a crisis with no end in sight, with solutions that guarantee equitable and dependable funding for capital upgrades and branch programming,” he said.
The affordable housing component of the project, a controversial topic over the last two years, was also addressed by Adams.
He stressed the importance that all units associated with the development remaining permanently affordable, regardless of participation in the city’s Voluntary Inclusionary Housing (VIH) program.
On Wednesday, November 16, CB 7 voted in favor of the plan, with certain stipulations including the FAC dedicating its resources to assist undocumented immigrants and other disadvantaged residents within CB 7. Twenty-five members voted in favor, while only three were opposed.
Still, many have been split on the issue.
“I oppose the development of this site as affordable housing,” said former Assemblymember Javier Nieves during a rally outside the branch last summer. “This community is not going to be able to qualify for those apartments that are going to be developed. Who is it affordable for? Not us.”
Others feel an upgrade is necessary.
“I live in Sunset Park and I visit the library three times a week, and I realize that the space we have isn’t that adequate,” said Judith Aguilar during a meeting at Borough Hall on Monday, November 14. “It is very difficult for us to go downstairs [to] the room for the children because the elevator is not really working. It is one person at a time. It’s not safe and it’s also very hot during the summer as the air conditioner isn’t working.”
Councilmembers Brad Lander and Carlos Menchaca also support the project.
“You have here honestly as good a deal I’ve seen coming through the city’s land use process,” said Lander, who led the FAC 15 years ago as director. “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.”
“I am thrilled that the community board came together tonight and did what democracy demands of us,” Councilmember Carlos Menchaca told this paper following CB 7’s vote.
Adams’ recommendations will be considered by the City Planning Commission (CPC) as part of its public meeting on Wednesday, January 3, 2017.