960 Franklin: A Bad Deal for the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and for Crown Heights

Daniel Brenner is a Brooklyn native and has lived in Prospect Heights since 2001. He is currently pursuing a master's degree in Public Policy at NYU.

A hanging scrim shows the proposed towers and their size relative to the conservatory buildings. Via BBG website.

In July the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (BBG) opened a new exhibit in one of their many conservatories. What made this exhibit different was that they were not showcasing exotic flora. Its purpose was to present impact of the proposed development of two 39-story high rises at 960 Franklin avenue. The buildings are adjacent to the garden and will cast a shadow that will endanger many of the garden’s most precious exhibits of plants. As a result, the continued survival of this treasured institution in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, will be in peril.

Along with other developments planned for construction in the next several years, 960 Franklin represents a complete transformation of this section of Central Brooklyn. In addition, 960 Franklin towers will contribute further to the rapid gentrification of a historically working-class, residential area.  Compounding that with the disastrous effect the high rises will have on BBG, it is imperative that this project be blocked or, at the very least, revised. 

Too Tall, Too Much Shade

For starters, the main towers that are a part of the 960 Franklin project are simply too tall. For them to be built, the developers Continuum Co. and Lincoln equities are trying to push rezoning through the city council. They are following the footsteps of other developers nearby who successfully lobbied the council last December to rezone a nearby street to construct a 16-story building. Current zoning laws near 960 Franklin set height restrictions to seven stories. Now they are requesting to raise this limit dramatically, to 39 stories, or 420 feet. Not only will this severely alter the character of the neighborhood, it will place added stress on the locale’s already strained transportation system.

As a result of its enormous height, 960 Franklin will limit the hours of sunlight that the garden’s plants need to survive. As described on the BBG website, their plants stand to lose at least three hours of sunlight per day, detrimental to numerous areas of the garden. 

Gentrification on Steroids

These towers will also speed up the already ferocious pace of gentrification in Crown Heights. This could mean higher rents and further displacement of low-income residents. In recent years other real estate developments in the neighborhood have soared, and the trend in rental prices has not boded well for working people. Crown Heights’ rents increased by 35% between 2010 and 2018, among the highest in the city, according to Curbed New York. A study done by the City Council in 2018 revealed that the neighborhood also has some of the highest eviction rates across Brooklyn. Another city government study found that 55% of residents of Crown Heights South, the area closest to the garden, are rent-burdened –  paying more than 30% of their monthly income towards rent.

With the influx of new developments set to hit the market in the next five to ten years, developers would like us to believe that increased supply will limit soaring prices. But with a development as large and transformational as 960 Franklin, it is more likely that the neighborhood will head in the direction of even higher rents. 

Affordable for Who?

The developers claim their project will be a benefit to the neighborhood because it will include units which are “affordable”. But in New York we’ve all seen this movie before. Developers hide behind the term “affordability” to push their projects through.  They’re able to use this tactic because the city’s classification of what is affordable is quite loose. Under the current terms, half of the units at 960 Franklin will be labeled as “affordable” or below market rate. Of these, 60% will be available to those earning at least 80% of AMI (Area Median Income) or $53,480 for a single person, and $83,440 for a family of four. The other 40% of the “affordable” units will be reserved for those earning at least $73,100 and $95,030 for a single person and $104,000 and $135,000 for a family four, respectively. Since AMI is set by the federal government for New York City as a whole, it does not reflect the income levels of individual neighborhoods. Meanwhile, in Crown Heights South, the median household income is $51,072. The per capita income is only $29,469. So, do the developments include affordable apartments? Technically, yes. But will they serve the needs of vulnerable, rent-burdened residents in Crown Heights? The answer in unequivocally no.  

The opposition to the 960 Franklin project is two-fold. First is that due to its height, it will block sunlight from the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens’ most exquisite plants and potentially cause long-lasting harm to this beloved institution. Second, the building contributes further to the gentrification, overcrowding, and potential displacement of Crown Heights’ residents. As it stands today, we must oppose this project wholeheartedly and continue to fight for the survival of this community and its resources. 

To show your support for BBG, visit their website and sign their petition to help save the garden!

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  1. I belonged to the BBG as a kid and grow many crops there… I took care of my garden plot and another boys plot because he couldn’t stay for the harvesting (he had to go with his parents somewhere)…. at harvest time I took home NINTY FIVE (95) green tomatoes and ripened them in paper bags on my windows… I also gave much to my neighbors…they really LOVED and appreciated them too !!! Jeff Swanson…I lived at 864 Nostrand Ave and 1115 Carroll St I truly LOVED going to the BBG sooo much !!! What else can I do to help the BBG now please…Thank You

  2. I don’t understand why there is so much nimbyism towards this project. In a city with such a massive housing shortage and such limited buildable space, our only choice is to build density or turn away potential new residents. If the city’s housing shortage starts forcing people to leave the city, the city’s strong economic growth will soon follow.

    The proposed location of these towers is close to Brooklyn’s largest park, two transit lines and many great civic institutions. It’s hard to imagine a more suitable location for this type of density anywhere in the city.

    The argument the BBG presents about shadows seems to have some merit, until you look at the map and realize that the buildings are both a block south and a block east of the greenhouse in question. At worst the buildings could cast a shadow for a couple hours in the morning.

    It would be far easier for the BBG to move its greenhouse farther west, than to depress the housing development in it’s surrounding neighborhood just to save a few hours of morning sun.

  3. This relentless pursuit of wealth for some does not have to be the story. You can take the high road and work to change this paradigm. Set an example. Do the right thing. Please. You will be surprised at how much more fulfilled you will feel.

  4. The project could change people’s lives and the neighborhood would benefit as well. I love the BBG but i’m pro this project too. You can be both.

  5. @ Arman Negahban you cannot just “move” greenhouses. These structures have been apart of BBGs architecture for a hundred years… It is also very costly to “move” a greenhouse… That is NOT possible for the organization.

  6. I’m pretty sure the green house that is the focus of this shadow casting debate is not a hundred years old. It looks like it was built around the same time as the javits center.

    Prospect park is an amazing asset for the city of Brooklyn. The location of these proposed towers is one of the best places to build density near the park and be close to transit lines. The BBG cannot hog neighborhood on the East side of the park just to save a few hours of morning sun for one of its greenhouses.

  7. This development must stop.

    It is zoned for eleven *^#$*&^$# floors and it must remain at eleven &*^%#$(* floors!!!!

    That’s all there is to it. Build whatever you ^&%#$ want, but it has to be 11 stories. OK? Got that? End of discussion.

  8. It is one thing to build towers on the already foul stretch of Flatbush Avenue Extension in Downtown Brooklyn and call it part of a “Business District.” It is quite another to hijack a whole neighborhood that has had a pretty good run of social, economic and architectural/historical cohesion and hammer a 39 story monolith into the middle of it and fill it with… who? People who are all 39 or younger? People who don’t know Brooklyn except as a “brand”? People who know nothing about urban life, who have never sat on a stoop and talked to their neighbors? People who have never been to a block party because they’re up on the 39th floor watching Netflix and eating from Seamless? Big Box buildings will be more than a shadow on plants, they will be faceless shadows on the community that used to know what it was. Brooklyn is being bought and sold, people. If that’s OK with you, then clap your hands for the bid-rigging developers and the self-aggrandizing Mayor who spouts “affordable”. If not, then make your plans to GTF out.

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