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Despite Opposition From All Angles, Crown Heights Rezoning Moves Forward

The proposed 400-foot towers at 960 Franklin Ave face resistance from Brooklyn Botanic Garden, major city officials and community members.

The City Planning Commission (CPC) voted Monday to certify the rezoning application for the controversial proposed development at 960 Franklin Ave in Crown Heights, officially beginning the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

The proposal from Manhattan developer Ian Bruce Eichner of Continuum Company calls for the construction of two 35-story residential towers rising above 400 feet, and has drawn the ire of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, elected officials and members of the surrounding community.

With this certification, the application will undergo the lengthy ULURP process, where it will be reviewed for approval by Community Board 9, Borough President Eric Adams, and the city council. If it were to reach the end of the review process, Mayor Bill De Blasio, who came out in opposition of the proposal in December, would then have veto power.

It is considered a long shot to get approved under its current design.

Despite the decision to certify the application, CPC Commission Chair Marisa Lago called the proposal "grossly out of scale with the surrounding context." In the residential Crown Heights South neighborhood the proposed towers would dwarf their surrounding buildings.

"Department staff have repeatedly conveyed these concerns to the private applicant throughout the precertification process," Lago said.

Among the chief concerns are the shadows the proposed towers would cast on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) and Jackie Robinson Playground. "Plants can't live without sunlight and this development would block hours of sunlight each day to the Garden's conservatories, greenhouses, nurseries, and plants and trees growing on the grounds," Adrian Benepe, President of BBG, said.

"It threatens to irreparably harm the plant collections of this living museum, which include endangered orchids, hundreds'-year-old bonsais, desert and tropical rain forest environments, and thousands of other plants," he said.

Shadows cast by the towers onto the Brooklyn Botanic Garden are among the major concerns. Photo: screenshot.

The BBG's Fight For Sunlight campaign, which began in 2019 as an exhibit at the garden, has garnered over 50,000 signatures for its online petition opposing the development, according to Benepe.

City Council leadership has been among those critical of the rezoning application. "The Council is disappointed that Continuum continues to advance this proposal despite widespread opposition in the community," Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, who's district the proposal falls under, and Speaker Corey Johnson said in a joint statement.

Continuum argues that the towers would bring much needed middle class housing to Crown Heights. The towers call for the construction of 1,578 apartments, 474 of which would be below-market rate due to city regulations. An additional 315 units are being classified as "middle-income housing."

The plan also calls for commercial space and a daycare center. Despite these assertions from the developer, critics have contested that even the affordable units will still be out of reach financially for many area residents.

Representatives from the development company did not respond to inquiries at time of publish.

960 Franklin Ave is currently the site of the Golombeck Spice Factory. Photo: Google Maps.

"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.

Despite their opposition to the project, members of the CPC said that the decision to certify the application was rooted in a desire to hear from the public.

For some, this reasoning rings hollow. Tenant activist and city council candidate Michael Hollingsworth, who has been among the most active voices of opposition against the project, called the decision "downright insulting."

"For two years, those of us who live in District 35 have clearly stated our opinion. No to 960 Franklin," he said.