Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Monday, December 28, 2015

“An Open Letter Regarding the Brooklyn Heights Library Project”- Obfuscation From Councilman Steve Levin Concerning His Betrayal of The Community By Approving The Sale and Shrinkage of Our Library

Levin said that 95% of his constituents were against the Brooklyn Heights Library sale and shrinkage.  Then he pushed it through with a backroom deal unveiled at the last minute.  Now, having a great deal of explaining he has produced a letter. . . . and he still has a great deal of explaining to do.
If the truly impressive word count, (3012 words) of his “An Open Letter Regarding the Brooklyn Heights Library Project” (below) is any indication, Councilman Steve Levin knows with excruciating certainty that he has a lot of explaining to do to his constituents about his approval of the sale and drastic shrinkage (down to just 42% of its current 63,000 square feet) of the Brooklyn Heights Library, the central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn . . .

. . . The problem is that Levin’s so-called explanations are entirely inadequate and he mightily hedges in terms of what he ought to be disclosing.

3012 words?: That’s about four times the length of your average New York Times Op-Ed column, and about five times the length of opinion columns you might find in the Daily News!  And this is an elected official writing to constituents on one subject.

Despite all those many words and the six separate subject headings of his opus that arrived in email in-boxes around Brooklyn the evening of December 28th, it is remarkable in what Stephen Levin does not address and outright evades in what he writes.

Levin does not mention or explain why he did not, as he promised Citizens Defending Libraries, demand and insist on transparency from the BPL about:
    1.    Information about the value of the existing library from the public’s perspective.  Instead he refers just once to his own theoretical curiosity about the “value of the project” (not of the library).  He asserts that he “asked about a half dozen very knowledgeable experts whether the public was in fact getting a reasonable deal on this property” apparently without one of those "experts" telling him that the library would cost $120+ million to replace.  Instead, Levin deflects from his obvious duty to consider this from the public’s perspective, saying that a “definitive answer” about the value “remained elusive” and then meandering off to discuss instead, from a developer’s perspective, (under the somewhat deceptive rubric of "Fair Market Value") whether ‘bids’ assured that the price for which the library was being sold was its full “tear-down” value, i.e. a price less than the price of a vacant lot.  It is not a vacant lot.  Levin deflects again from the value of the library by describing it as “built in 1961" (1962) without mentioning that this building, two full stories above ground and two half-floors below ground, was substantially enlarged and fully upgraded at considerable public expense and sacrifice in 1993.  It is one of most modern and best equipped libraries to support computer use in a  system where it is complained that average age of other libraries is sixty-five years old.

    2.    Information about the true and complete costs to the public of selling and shrinking this library as proposed.  Never in the entire length of his letter does Levin mention that what the public gets after selling and shrinking this library (to the extent that it gets anything at all) is only a “net amount” of money after factoring in all the associated expenditures necessary to sell the library and then recover only some of the ground lost after the public sells it.  Never does Levin in his justifications mention this or what the “net” figure is.  We urged him to help us to zero in on and ascertain the number.  After unkept promises, he failed to investigate.  BPL president Linda Johnson has told her board it will be appreciably less than $40 million, but Citizens Defending Libraries believes that the BPL’s math was self-serving to justify the transaction and the actual figure is far less even than that.  Levin never followed through to insist on finding out from the BPL what are all the costs of disruptions and what the public must forgo and bear to endure this transaction.  Instead, as you can see from Levin’s letter the Councilman acting like the developer's sale agent does the reverse, straining and going to great lengths to try to make the stated gross sales price for the library sound better by including the value of various things that still don’t get the public anywhere near back to where we were before a sale.  He includes on the “plus” side of his fudging equation things like there being a very tiny little interim library for the untold number of years during which construction will be underway where the library once stood.

    3.    Information about the “strategic real estate plan” that was formulated going back to 2007.  To date the BPL has released no iterations of this plan all of which would be valuably informative in many ways, including about similar plans for other libraries.  Similarly, Levin did not insist the BPL release the requested “Revson Study.”

    4.    The background communications between the BPL and the Department of Design and Construction based upon which representations about the acceptability and suitability of the air conditioning at the Brooklyn Heights Library were made to Levin’s predecessor in office, David Yassky, before any planned sale and shrinkage of the library.  Levin says that he realizes that BPL’s estimated figure for repair of the air conditioning system (which broke down, right on cue, six months before planned announcement of the proposed sale) “sounds extravagant.”  He then adopts a BPL talking point about government inefficiency being the reason for this.  He says that he “independently confirmed the cost of the HVAC repair” but does not reveal his actual lack of follow-up with the New York City Department of Design and Construction for specific documents we requested.  Information has also been requested and not furnished to the public about the air conditioning repair firm, Performance Mechanical Corporation, that the BPL engaged in an extended multi–year contract for its entire system not all that long before problems with the Brooklyn Heights Library’s and a number of other libraries' air conditioning systems started receiving attention.  Early analysis in this regard about the Brooklyn Heights Library (2007/2008) by Karen Backus and communications with respect thereto have also not been provided.

    5.    Information about the BPL’s communications with the city Landmarks department and commission about which libraries are historic and which libraries the BPL wanted pushed forward into real estate deals avoiding designation.

    6.    Information about the considerable amount the BPL is paying in connection with its promotion of its real estate plans for libraries.  It is troubling that in a time when there is a supposed scarcity of available funds for libraries BPL is spending a considerable amount of money on consultants and lobbyists for this purpose.  The information requested about this has not been furnished.  It is a matter about which the BPL needs to be forthcoming.  That includes monies paid to Booz & Co., Berlin Rosen, WSP Flack & Kurtz, K&K Property Solutions, Ed Tettemer and Mo (Maureen) Craig for branding and PR Advice.

    7.    Information about book counts: what they have been, what they are now and what they are intended to be in the future.  For instance, the BPL and the architect representing it, and the developer in this regard have not been able to state what the book shelf capacity of the entire Brooklyn Heights Library (we are not talking about supposed branch sub-component) has historically been, or what it is intended to be in the future.  In fact, it would have been relevant for Levin to have sought Information respecting the entire system.

    8.    Communications with Saint Ann's School respecting development rights and the Brooklyn Heights Library.  Levin’s letter misleadingly promotes the idea that sale of the library is mostly just cashing in on  "air rights" or “development rights, above the current building at 280 Cadman . . .   worth millions of dollars.”  (Implicitly a 'painless' one?- “a unique opportunity.”)  Levin doesn’t mention the extremely pertinent fact that half the city’s development rights were already transferred to Forest City Ratner in 1986 or that the reason the developer is still able to propose such a tall building under these circumstances is that Saint Ann’s School is the party that is actually painlessly cashing in on the sale of its “development rights, . . .   worth millions of dollars.”   The difference is that Saint Ann’s doesn’t have to tear down its own building or incur a loss to cash in.  Levin never forced disclosure of how much Saint Ann’s is benefitting or whether it will reap more net cash from transaction than the city would get from its  sale of the library.
The above constitutes a good starter list of what Levin should have insisted on as the essentials for basic transparency.

Had Levin forced transparency about these things, brought them into the light, the public and press would have gained what they are entitled to, a much better and far more fair understanding of the sacrifice and plunder the BPL proposes as it proceeds with its plan to sell and shrink this library as a first hand-off to the development community.  That would likely have killed the deal and it must now be asked whether, as it certainly appears, that is exactly the reason that Councilman Levin, privately aligning with the promoters of the sell-off, did not represent the community in these ways that it was his duty to do as an elected official.  At the very least, learning of all the practices BPL had secretly engaged in, how far its plans went back and who was involved (such as the connections between this proposed transaction and the 2007 announcement of the Donnell Library sale) would have engendered deep suspicions about the BPL’s good faith and intent.

Instead, in an effort to snatch his reputation from the free fall it deserves, Councilman Levin is compounding his sins by repeating in his treatise the suspect talking points and falsification of facts the BPL has been selling the public all along.

Remarkably, as long as Levin has made his letter he at no point ever suggests that even one tiny statement or representation by the BPL needs to be corrected or in any way qualified.  Instead, he signs on to all of them.
    1.    Levin adopts the BPL’s play-with-numbers shell games to understate the library’s size and obscure the shrinkage (down to just 42%) associated with the proposed replacement.  He borrows the BPL’s concept of selectively measuring just what it wants to define as public space.  In this regard he doesn’t ever mention the planned shift moving public space underground.  He doesn’t mention that the proposed new library will have just 15,000 square feet above ground.  Currently approximately 37,703 square feet, of the Brooklyn Heights Library (59%) is above ground, and none of the space underground is space that the public visits.  Not that the book storage space underground isn’t valuable or that it doesn't serve the public to having books at the ready.  Levin obfuscates manipulating with figures the way that the BPL plays with them asserting that the current library is has only “32,431 sq. ft. . .above ground, with 27,222 sq. ft. accessible to the public.”

    2.    Levin suggests that BPL’s cry of a capital crisis isn’t suspect and that it is a valid reason to sell and shrink libraries.  He ignores that New York City has a huge budget surplus with Crain’s recently reporting that the city Independent Budget Office estimates de Blasio will have an additional $1 billion above the $3.5 billion he stowed away unspent this year.  Libraries are an infinitesimal portion of the city’s budget.  How is it Levin promotes the notion we should sell them off for a minuscule fraction of their worth in a time of plenty and increasing use?  Levin also ignores the fact that, according to BPL minutes, the capital crisis is apparently by design with the deferral of capital repairs being planned concurrently with he proposed library sales.  On top of that, he also ignores evidence that the needs, like the air conditioning costs, are deliberately exaggerated.  Finally, Levin ignores the fact that there is no assurance that funds from a library sale, however big or small the net, (remember he didn’t want to talk about what the “net” was) will go back to libraries.  Even though Councilman Brad Lander pressing hard for library sales makes similar arguments that libraries should e sold, Lander has said flat out that you cannot obligate administrations or the City Council with respect to future budget expenditures, that its “unconstitutional” to seek to do so.

    3.    Levin adopts language in his letter that seems, like the BPL’s own, infected with a disdain for the value of the books that should be available to the public at a central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn like the Heights library. Such disdain for books is unsuitable to the BPL when its core mission should be books, not real estate.  It’s unfortunate to see a councilman sign on to this rather than protect the public, but after the City Council’s vote Levin admitted not paying attention to the question of the library’s capacity to meet these needs.
Much of what doesn’t comes out of the murk of Levin’s letter concerns the changes to the original sale and shrinkage proposal that were only unveiled at the very last minute as part of pushing the deal through.  Levin refers to them as “the improvements to this project that I announced” and they were no doubt intended to confuse the public and make him look good as he rammed through an exceptionally unsavory deal which he previously said 95% of his constituents opposed.

Levin says that he “went back and forth on whether to approve the proposal up until the final few days” but that he was also working “with the de Blasio administration, DOE, SCA” and the developer on what was produced.  While that makes it sound as if he was considering this from the community’s perspective it is unlikely and it is hard to pair these `negotiations’ up with his representations even right at the end that there was no compromise deal in the offing.  The BPL trustees were told that de Blasio administration, having "adopted" the deal, was very involved and that there were days of negotiations at City Hall.  It hardly seems as it it was all done at the last minute and the commitment of Department of Education funds to the black box “STEM” facility portion of he deal is just one aspect that should not have been casual or last minute.

It cannot be overemphasized that none of Levin's backroom deal making was previewed or in any way shared with the public beforehand.  Not only isn't that fair, its doubtful that the public would agree these were truly "improvements" as described by Levin rather than the opposite.  Even at this late date, the public at least deserves a full and truthful blow-by-blow accounting of this back room deal making.  All pertinent dates should be furnished by Mr. Levin and the other public officials who participated.

Levin’s letter doesn’t mention one thing the BPL trustees were told and that Levin has never yet publicly admitted to: That Levin negotiated an intercept of some of the limited library sale proceeds to support a development plan for the Greenpoint Library in his district.

One actual revelation that comes out of Levin's attempting to convince us that he actually was negotiating at this time is that Levin says that he did not want to insist that the new library “be greater than 26,500 sq. ft.” because that would have “put the project `out of scope’ and thus requiring another new rezoning application.”  Given that the public had never been allowed input about the shrinkage of the library that was exactly what most constituents would have wanted, but not, apparently,  the development-promoting Levin.

Levin says that he instead came up with the idea of an additional very small library in DUMBO (also in Levin’s district).  The problem is that the BPL minutes say that this library, a proposed model for ultra-small libraries in the future, was conceived of in 2007, the same time the sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library sale and Donnell Library were being conceived and implemented.  Another glitchy aspect to this is it isn’t revealed how much this will cost (or how it will be done) and therefore how much money from the sale will be intercepted by this project . . . .

. . .  That is sort of the same problem as not knowing how much of DOE’s money will be intercepted for the ill-defined "STEM Lab" facility or whether DOE even wants it or thinks it’s a good idea.  Investigation will probably disclose that DOE, if it were forced to take the 9,000 sq ft underground space (and benefit the developer) as proposed, would probably have preferred a gym.

When Levin’s last minute backroom deal was unveiled, his so-called “improvements” worked out with the de Blasio’s Deputy Mayor for Development Alicia Glen (from Goldman Sachs), Citizens Defending Libraries responded to it with the following statement (below), including discussing what's treacherous about Levin’s window dressing “profit sharing” agreement with the developer.  But selling a four floor, recently expanded and fully upgraded library as if had no more value than a vacant lot, taking a huge loss, cannot be dressed up with a “profit sharing” agreement where the public potentially gets back a tiny amount the developer is taking home as he cashes in on the the willingness of de Blasio and Levin to take a huge loss. Our previous statement also addresses using so-called "affordable" ("poor door") housing a guise for taking public assets.
Thursday, December 10, 2015, Citizens Defending Libraries Statement in Response To Councilman Levins' Decision To Approve Sale and Shrinkage of Brooklyn Heights Library (stated by BPL president Linda Johnson to be a "model" for future NYC library deals).
Unfortunately, what Steve Levin approved is now considered the model for library deals throughout New York City.
Before Steve Levin revealed the backroom deal he had been working on Citizens Defending Libraries produced this video (link below).  In it you can hear Levin say that 95% of his constituents oppose the library deal, hear BPL president Linda Johnson talk about libraries and real estate and how this is a model for future library deals throughout the city and hear Councilman Brad lander say that developers must make a profit on these deals.   Unfortunately, Citizens Defending Libraries now believes that at the time it made this video Levin was long since on the other side working to push this deal through against the community's wishes.
Video (click through for best viewing): Will Steve Levin Save the Brooklyn Heights Library?

Here is Levin's December 28, 20015 open letter.

Dear Friends,

Earlier this month, the New York City Council voted to approve a modified version of the plan put forward by the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) to sell the land and development rights at the Brooklyn Heights branch to Hudson Companies for condominiums and replace the current branch with a new branch in the base of the new building. This has been one of the most, if not the most, controversial issues that I have encountered in my six years as your Councilmember, and I went back and forth on whether to approve the proposal up until the final few days. Ultimately, I decided to support the proposal. I have heard from some of you who are disappointed and unhappy with my decision. However, I honestly believe that this was the right decision and I would like to tell you why.

I want to assure you that all of the improvements to this project that I announced will be legally binding and enforceable through the contract between the New York City Economic Development Corporation and Hudson Companies until closing and in the deed of the property thereafter. Where commitments were made by the City of New York, we secured a written confirmation from First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris that they will be honored.
The Case Made by BPL
When BPL first approached me about this proposal in 2013, I was dubious. I thought it was a very drastic move to sell off land that is owned by the City of New York, the public, to a private to developer in order to plug long-standing budget gaps. I remained skeptical for the duration of the process. However, there were several facts that made BPL's case compelling.

1) The overall capital needs for BPL for the entire system are extremely high- $300 million. Even after Mayor de Blasio and the City Council added $100 million for BPL over the next ten years, there is still $200 million outstanding with no sources of funding to meet those needs.

2) There are significant capital needs in the Brooklyn Heights branch itself, most urgently the HVAC, or air conditioning system, which no longer works and needs to be replaced. Over the past few years, the Brooklyn Heights branch has had to cut hours during the summer because of the HVAC system and the cost of repairing it would be $3.5-5 million. I realize that this number sounds extravagant, but this would be a City capital project, which are generally around double or triple the cost of a private project. Early in the process, I independently confirmed the cost of the HVAC repair with the New York City Department of Design and Construction.

3) The Brooklyn Heights branch presents a unique opportunity for the BPL system in that, while it is zoned for a high-rise residential development, the current building is only two stories. That means that the "air rights," or development rights, above the current building at 280 Cadman are worth millions of dollars. This money could be used to meet some, though not all, of the $200 million in outstanding capital needs in other neighborhood branches throughout the system. If the current building were to stay as is, there would be no way to realize the value of those development rights. In addition, while I am no great fan of high-rise towers, the location of the Brooklyn Heights branch is in the vicinity of several other high-rise buildings along Court Street and Cadman Plaza West, so a new high rise would not be "out-of-context" along that stretch. 
Library Space and Level of Service
First, it is important to take a moment to talk about the current library, which was built in 1961. It is a handsome building that was designed by Francis Keally, one of the architects of Brooklyn's central branch library. However, it is unlikely that the library would be considered by the Landmarks Preservation Commission for landmark status any time in the near future. The building itself can be divided into three parts: the Business and Career Branch, totaling 14,960 sq. ft., the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood branch, totaling 17,471 sq. ft., and the two cellar floors, which were originally constructed as a fallout shelter, and which are currently used for storage of mostly non-circulating reference books and other miscellaneous books such as those that were donated but have not yet sold at the BPL book sale. The two cellar floors are not publicly accessible, and it is reasonable to believe it would cost millions (perhaps many millions) of dollars to make this space suitable for any meaningful public access. Therefore, while the entire building is, according to the City Planning Commission, 59,146 sq. ft., only 32,431 sq. ft. are above ground, with 27,222 sq. ft. accessible to the public (the rest being utility space and staff office space), and it would be very difficult to envision a scenario in which all 59,146 sq. ft. could be made publicly accessible. Based on this set of facts, I made the decision that a square foot for square foot replacement of the publicly accessible space would require a new library to be roughly 32,000 sq. ft., because that number more accurately what the public experiences when they use the library.

When BPL first presented the plan, they proposed a 21, 000 sq. ft. neighborhood branch, which would in fact be an increase from the current 17,471 sq. ft. neighborhood branch. They also proposed moving the Business and Career branch to the Central branch, leaving the overall Brooklyn Heights facility with a decrease from 32,431 sq. ft. to 21,000 sq. ft. Like many of you, I found this proposal unacceptable, and I insisted that there be no net loss of publicly accessible library space in the neighborhood.

During the course of discussions with BPL, Hudson Companies, and the de Blasio administration, they proposed to increase the size of the new Brooklyn Heights branch to 26,500 sq. ft. with roughly 24,000 sq. ft. of it publicly accessible, which represented a decrease of 5,931 total sq. ft. and about 3,222 publicly accessible sq. ft. for the overall facility. I responded to this proposal by saying it was not good enough. At this point, however, the Department of City Planning advised us that, due to technical zoning regulations, the new library could not be greater than 26,500 sq. ft. without putting the project "out of scope" and thus requiring another new rezoning application. I remained adamant that there not be a net decrease in publicly accessible space, but we hit a bit of a roadblock in that discussion.

By the next meeting, BPL proposed a solution to this issue, which was to find roughly 5,000 sq. ft. of rental space in the DUMBO/Vinegar Hill/Farragut communities for a new neighborhood branch. There is precedent for both rented library space and successful branches of roughly that size in the BPL system, and this would represent the first new branch in the BPL system since the Cortelyou branch opened in 1983. In addition, the new 5,000 sq. ft. branch, when combined with the 26,500 sq. ft. already committed to the expanded Brooklyn Heights branch, would bring the total sq. ft. in the community to 31,500 sq. ft., with about 28,000 sq. ft. of that publicly accessible. This would mean a slight decrease in overall useable sq. ft. (32,431-31,500=969 sq. ft. decrease) but a slight increase of publicly accessible sq. ft. (28,000-27,222=778 sq. ft. increase).

In addition, I was very concerned about the level of service that would be offered in the new branch. As many of you know, over the past few years, the level of service at the Brooklyn Heights branch has been significantly wanting.  In particular, the library was closed for much of the summer due to the broken HVAC system, which led to a thermal heat index temperature in the building that was so high it violated union rules for employees. As a result, the library was not open 7 days per week during any season and the level of programming was lower than many other neighborhood branches.

Therefore, I secured a commitment from BPL that the level of programming at the new Brooklyn Heights branch would be equal to or greater than any other neighborhood branch in the system. Also, BPL committed to the condition that the Brooklyn Heights branch would be open 7 days per week so long as the Kings Highway branch, which serves as the main branch for South Brooklyn and is therefore open 7 days per week, maintains those hours.
Fair Market Value
Another major point of concern for me was the value of the project, and whether the public is getting a fair price at $52 million for the development rights at 280 Cadman Plaza West. This turned out to be a more complicated question than I anticipated, and I asked about a half dozen very knowledgeable experts whether the public was in fact getting a reasonable deal on this property. Unfortunately, a definitive answer remained elusive.  On the one hand, there was a competitive process in which Hudson participated and bid against other potential developers. Also, a NYC EDC sponsored appraisal determined that the value of the development fights was found to be approximately $36.1 million, significantly less than the $52 million sale price. On the other hand, the market in the neighborhood seems to be attracting much higher prices-for example the TD Bank property at Court and Montague is on the market for $200 million.

One aspect that I had not previously accounted for is that the price of $52 million accounts for the cost that the developer would have to bear in order to build the required affordable housing without any city subsidy which, between the land price and the cost of construction, would cost roughly $32 million, not to mention the cost of the "core and shell" of the new library space, the cost of the interim library, and "soft costs" of the City during the process of the sale. 

Since it was not immediately apparent what the free fair market value of the property would be, and since it is impossible to predict exactly what Hudson Companies profit on this project will be in 4-5 years, I made the decision to follow the recommendation made by Borough President Adams and pursue some type of profit "recapture" or "participation," by which BPL or the City can ensure that, if the Hudson Companies makes a significant profit, BPL is able to recapture a percentage of that profit. This model has already been successful at Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Eventually, we were able to reach a consensus of what that "participation" level should be, based on an Internal Rate of Return (IRR), which, according to the experts I spoke to, is reasonable for a developer building a condo project in downtown Brooklyn at 18-22%. Therefore, we agreed that if Hudson makes a profit over 19%, BPL will recapture 25% of that profit. That means that if, as many fear, Hudson makes an enormous profit (which would mean an IRR of 25-30% and that perhaps the $52 million sales price was undervalued), the public and BPL will be able to recapture 25% of that profit over 19% IRR.  Since this project is condominiums, this "recapture" will only happen one time, which is when Hudson sells the condominiums around 2020-2021.

We did include the caveat that the first $1.5 million in recaptured funds would be used to make the AMI's on the affordable units lower, from a maximum of 165% of AMI to 125% of AMI.

As with all of the provisions of this project, this agreement will be recorded as part of the deed for the property and will be legally enforceable on any future developer.
It was also very important to me to ensure that there were some public education resources included in the project. We all know the significant public education needs of Brooklyn Heights and the surrounding neighborhoods. P.S. 8 is significantly overcrowded and we are facing a serious lack of school space in Downtown Brooklyn to accompany the staggering amount of new residential development occurring as a result of the 2004 Downtown Brooklyn rezoning.

My initial feeling was there needed to be additional school seats, either elementary or middle, as part of this development, just like there was at Dock Street, where there will be 330 seat middle school opening next fall. My thinking was that a school could be sited on floors two and three of the building, above the new library. I contacted the School Construction Authority (SCA) about the site and the feedback from them was that siting a school in this building would be virtually impossible given the configuration of the building and the requirements that siting school seats would entail, including adding 5,000-10,000 sq. ft. of self-contained school lobby space on the ground floor (which was already fully planned with library and residential lobby), a self-contained elevator bank exclusively for the school, and enough space for a school on 16,000 sq. ft. floor plates. After speaking with SCA, I realized a new school there would not be possible.

However, I spoke with local education leaders about other educational needs in the community and one idea appealed to me: the development of a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) lab for students K-12. The NYC Department of Education does not currently have any stand-alone facilities like this, but we all know that an innovative STEM curriculum with a brand new STEM lab could be transformative for our children. There are so many interesting K-12 STEM learning environment models in places like Minnesota,  Atlanta, and Palo Alto that we can learn from- why not search out what is working best across the country and give educators the tools to implement those practices here?

Therefore, I worked with the de Blasio administration, DOE, SCA, and Hudson Companies on an agreement whereby DOE will lease 9,000 sq, ft. from Hudson in the first cellar, with the option to purchase the space after a set number of years, and site a fully built out STEM lab there.  We look forward to working with everyone in the community, particularly those with an interest in STEM education, on developing this potentially transformative space.
Affordable Housing
The original proposal contained 114 units of affordable housing, to be located off-site in Clinton Hill, ranging in affordability level from 60% Area Median Income (AMI) to 165% AMI (AMI in NYC is $86,300 for a family of 4), with 23 at 60% AMI, 38 at 80% AMI, 29 at 100% AMI, and 24 at 165% AMI. Under this scenario, the 60-80% AMI units were required under the Inclusionary Housing Program, while the 100-165% AMI were not required. I heard from many of you that this issue of off-site affordable housing is disturbing and should not be allowed as part of this project. Also, many of you said that the AMI levels were too high to address the real affordable housing crisis in our communities.

I was very concerned about these issues as well. We found the off-site issue difficult to resolve. First, under the current Inclusionary Housing Program, off-site affordable housing is allowed. This may change with the Inclusionary Housing reforms being contemplated right now, but the current law allows it. Also, if we were to require the affordable housing to be built on-site, it would inevitably drive down the purchase price of the of the development rights at 280 Cadman, which would mean significantly less money for the BPL system as a result of this sale. In addition, I heard from leaders in Clinton Hill that they were very happy to have 114 units of affordable housing in their community, which desperately needs it. Therefore, I decided that while I am not enthusiastic about the off-site affordable housing, I would allow for that portion to go through in this particular instance.

I did have a significant concern about the AMIs, because I strongly believe that units at 165% AMI should not be considered "affordable" since they are for families making $142,395 per year, which I believe is close to, if not at, market rate. Therefore, I worked with Hudson to develop a new affordability framework that I believe more effectively addresses the needs of working families in our communities: 23 units at 60% AMI, 60 units at 80% AMI, and 31 units at 125% AMI.
After over two years of discussions, debates, hearings and testimony, I believe that this project has had a thorough vetting and that the public has been able to develop a good understanding of all of the issues involved in this proposal.  While I understand that not everyone will be happy with the final project, I believe that it is a significant improvement over both the status quo and the original project as proposed two years ago.  

During the final weeks of this process, after hearing from hundreds of community residents both for and against this project, I had the opportunity to speak with two librarians that work at the Brooklyn Heights library: Uldis Skrodelis and Rachel Teimann. They both expressed their support for the project, in the most un-political way possible, because, ultimately, they believe strongly that a new library in Brooklyn Heights and in DUMBO, complete with both books and 21st century technology, will be the best way ensure that future generations have access to the full educational potential that our libraries provide.

It will be several years before the public will begin to see the benefits of this project-the new library in Brooklyn Heights, the new library in DUMBO/Vinegar Hill/Farragut, the new STEM lab, the new affordable housing, and potentially additional revenue through the profit recapture. However, I believe that when these new benefits are realized, the public will recognize that its interests were advocated for and protected throughout this extensive and transparent land use review process.


Stephen T. Levin
Council Member, 33rd District

Ninety-nine percent?  Ninety-five percent?  Doesn't something seem rather distorted here?  The window of Councilman Levin's Atlantic Avenue District Office says "We Support the 99%."   Levin said 95% of his constituents opposed the library sale and shrinkage.  But Levin engineered a backroom deal unveiled at the last minutes to push through the sale and shrinkage of the library?

No comments:

Post a Comment