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Sunset Park Locals Blast Plan to Add Affordable Units in Library Overhaul

By Nikhita Venugopal | November 4, 2014 4:58pm
 Dozens of residents voiced their anger against a proposal to demolish the Sunset Park Library and build a new library with affordable housing above it at the site Monday night.
Sunset Park Library
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SUNSET PARK — The Brooklyn Public Library wants to expand Sunset Park’s branch and add affordable housing — but locals are demanding an even bigger library without residential units, which they say “smells like gentrification.”

More than 75 residents attended a meeting Monday with library officials who presented a plan to demolish the current branch, located at 5108 Fourth Ave., and construct an eight-story building with 54 affordable apartments in its place.

Units for the building would start as low as $525 for a studio and $796 for a three-bedroom, according to the Fifth Avenue Committee, a Brooklyn nonprofit that is hoping to form a partnership with BPL to purchase and redevelop the building. 

But the affordable housing plan didn't sit well with many neighbors, who said the need for an improved library space trumped anything else.

“You’re pitting affordable housing against the need for libraries,” said Renee Giordano, executive director of the Sunset Park Business Improvement District, of the plan.

The Sunset Park branch, one of the most visited in the borough, has been in desperate need of renovations and updates for years, BPL officials said at the meeting.

“This is an extremely important branch because it’s so busy,” said David Woloch, BPL’s executive vice president for external affairs.

The Fifth Avenue Committee's proposal, which would expand the library from 12,000 to 17,000 square feet, would also add 54 affordable apartments and one unit for a superintendent to the site at Fourth Avenue and 51st Street. 

Some thought the redevelopment proposal was a sign of real estate interests overtaking community needs. 

“We don’t want 55 more families here,” commented Ray Acevedo, a longtime Sunset Park resident who lives near the library.

"This all sounds like one big sales pitch," said local resident Harry Mena, who said he was "very uncomfortable" with the proposal and recieved cheers from the crowd at his comment. 

"It smells like gentrification," he later added. 

Under the proposal, the building would have 18 studios, 11 one-bedrooms, 14 two-bedrooms and 12 three-bedrooms, according to the presentation, which took place at the library.

Another nine units will be geared toward moderate-income households at 120 percent of the area median income, with studios priced at $1,000 per month and three-bedrooms at $1,595.

After two years of hearing rumblings about the project, Community Board 7 land use committee chairman John Burns said he was in “shock” the plan was suddenly moving so swiftly.

“I would really think that this is a long-term conversation,” he said.  

Sunset Park resident Jovita Sosa collected roughly 800 signatures from those in the community who would only support the plan if BPL added a second floor to the new library, she said. 

Woloch, who said BPL was considering the second-floor request, added that the library and the Fifth Avenue Committee have yet to sign a final agreement and would continue to seek community input.

BPL also has to identify an interim library space before the deal can move forward.

As the plan stands, FAC would develop the site for $24.8 million and build a library core and shell at no cost to BPL.

People who make 30 percent of the area median income —$25,150 — would be eligible for nine units. Those who make 40 percent — or $33,560 — would qualify for another nine units, while those making 50 percent — or $41,950 — would qualify for 10 units. Those making 60 percent of the median income — or $50,340 — would qualify for 17 units.

Area median incomes are based on the 2014 income requirements from the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, according to FAC.

The group plans to primarily use state Low Income Housing Tax Credits to fund the project, guaranteeing the units will remain affordable for a minimum of 50 years. If approved for the funds, it hopes to begin a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure next spring and start construction in 2016.

After construction, which would take at least two years, the city would take back the library under its ownership and FAC would own the rest of the building.

BPL is looking to spend $8 million to outfit the library with program rooms, meeting spaces, technology updates and the continued operation of Workforce 1, a city program for job seekers.

Woloch said the BPL has about $2 million for the project. BPL is considering pulling the rest of the money from the $52 million that the city would receive after the sale of the Brooklyn Heights branch. 

But library officials still have more to do on the ground before proceeding, Burns said.

“If anything is going to come of this," he said, "[BPL and FAC] have a lot of work to do in this community.”