The City Planning Commission (CPC) voted on Monday to certify a controversial Crown Heights rezoning proposal at 960 Franklin Avenue, the Old Spice Factory, allowing the proposal to proceed through the city’s uniform land use review process (ULURP).
The ULURP process requires the approval of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who announced his opposition to the project last month, almost certainly dooming it. The CPC’s certification was expected, and was given based on the proposal’s completion, not its content.
Nevertheless, the certification gives Ian Bruce Eichner of the Continuum Company, the project’s lead developer, the opportunity to make his case before the City Council and local community members.
The rezoning would allow for the construction of two 35-story towers containing 1,578 apartments, nearly 20,000 square feet of commercial space, and about 9,000 square feet for a daycare center. 474 of the housing units would be below-market rate as part of the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, and another 315 would be set aside by the developer for still-undefined “middle-income housing.”
Some community advocates have fiercely criticized the proposal, arguing that its affordable housing set-asides are insufficient and that the shadows cast by the buildings could harm plant life at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden (BBG). The BBG’s leadership itself has called the rezoning “an existential threat” to its 23 conservatories, greenhouses and nurseries.
The developer has not been particularly receptive to those concerns. Last year, William Wallace, Continuum’s senior finance and acquisitions officer, told Gothamist< that the proposed buildings would “create a real spectrum of middle class housing that doesn’t exist in Crown Heights,” and suggested BBG move some of its gardens or use artificial sunlight to address shadow concerns.
Accordingly, the proposal was presented to the CPC largely unchanged from its original form; the initially proposed 39-story buildings were reduced to 35 stories.
Meanwhile, a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) released by the city late last week said the project’s height and bulk could have “significant adverse impacts due to direct shadows effects on open and natural resources in Brooklyn Botanic Garden and on open space resources in Jackie Robinson Playground.”
City planning commissioner Marisa Lago, a de Blasio appointee, echoed those concerns at Monday’s hearing, calling the proposed structures “grossly out of scale” with the surrounding neighborhood. The development would be twice as tall as the recently approved Franklin Avenue rezoning just north of the project site which is bringing two 16 story towers to 40 Crown St. and 931 Carroll St.
“While the Department supports opportunities for housing growth and affordable housing especially, these goals have to be balanced by the appropriate building form and scale for the location,” Lago said.
Another member of the Commission, Anna Hayes Levin, described the DEIS as “a stark, scary description of the open space impacts” on the Garden and on the nearby Jackie Robinson Playground. She also expressed concern about the non-binding nature of the developer’s voluntary middle-income housing proposal.
“But the point of the ULURP process is to let the public tell us what they think before we say what we think,” Levin concluded. “So this is going to be a robust public process.”
The 960 Franklin proposal has been the subject of years of contentious fighting between activists and the developer. The certification had been delayed after the community group Movement to Protect the People sued in November 2020 to stop it, arguing the city did not release required information about the project to the public.
Despite the clear opposition from many commissioners expressed at the hearing, Michael Hollingsworth, a candidate for the local City Council seat who was also a plaintiff in MTOPP’s November lawsuit, expressed frustration that the application was certified at all.
“Those of us who live here have been screaming NO for two years now, y’all just don’t want to listen,” he wrote on Twitter.