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Sunset Park Library Redevelopment Plan Includes Less Affordable Housing

By Nikhita Venugopal | December 2, 2014 4:58pm
 The Sunset Park branch of Brooklyn Public Library located at Fourth Avenue and 51st Street.
The Sunset Park branch of Brooklyn Public Library located at Fourth Avenue and 51st Street.
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DNAinfo/Nikhita Venugopal

SUNSET PARK — A modified plan to redevelop Sunset Park’s public library will include fewer affordable housing units to accommodate a larger library space due to residents' demands, officials announced Monday night.

The Brooklyn Public Library’s Sunset Park branch — one of the busiest in the borough — would be rebuilt and expanded to 20,000 square feet with 49 affordable housing units on top of it, according to the proposal.

Officials first shared details of the proposal last month with residents and Community Board 7. The initial plan called for 54 affordable housing units and a new 17,000 square-foot library in the first floor and cellar of the building.

But after the community demanded a larger library space, officials modified the plan to encompass a portion of the second floor for the new library.

“The demand is so high,” said David Woloch, BPL’s executive vice president for external affairs. “We want to find a way to make it bigger and better.”

The project for the library, currently 12,200 square feet with 9,000 square feet of usable space, is being proposed through a partnership between BPL and the Fifth Avenue Committee, the site’s nonprofit developer.

The library is currently “bursting at the seams” with a poor layout and no room for a children’s area or additional technology, said Woloch at the Sunset Park Recreation Center.

The plan would allow FAC to purchase the site at 5108 Fourth Ave., which is owned by the city, and construct the new building, along with the library’s new core and shell at “minimal cost” to BPL.

The nonprofit developer would then hand the new branch back to the city and retain ownership of the rest of the building.

While the new branch has not yet been designed, BPL would spend an estimated $10 million to fit out the space and create a revamped library with more room for computers, new heating and cooling systems and program rooms, Woloch said.

The proposed eight-story building would include 50 units — 49 affordable and one superintendent’s unit — that would be “deeply, deeply affordable” based on the area media income of Sunset Park, said Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee. 

Under the proposal, nine studios would have an average rent between $550 and $790 per month, 12 one-bedrooms from $575 to $850, nine two-bedrooms from $700 to $1,025 and nine three-bedroom units from $825 to $1,190. Ten units of various sizes will be priced at higher rents but still below market rate.

People eligible for the units are those who make 30 to 40 percent of the area median income — $20,001 to $40,000; 50 to 60 percent of the AMI — $40,001 to $60,000 or 80 to 90 percent of the AMI — $60,001 to $100,000.

According to FAC’s presentation, eight units will be set aside for very low-income families who make $20,000 or less — below 30 percent of the area median income.

This week, FAC will apply for Low Income Housing Tax Credits that would allow the organization to partly finance construction, if approved. While the credits ensure the units will remain affordable for 50 years, FAC has guaranteed permanent affordable rents, de la Uz said.

The units will be allotted through a city housing lottery with a minimum of 50 percent of units for Community Board 7, which includes Windsor Terrace and Sunset Park.

If FAC receives financing by spring next year, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure process will begin soon after with construction slated for 2016 and completed in 2018.

However, agreements between the city and FAC have not yet been finalized and BPL has repeatedly promised that construction won’t go forward until an interim library space is found.

Despite the amended plan, some residents who spoke at the community meeting still demanded an entire second floor for the library and a greater share of affordable units for Sunset Park residents. 

A vocal group of residents, who have previously spoken against the project, felt the development was a threat to longtime residents who could be pushed out of the neighborhood.  

But several residents mostly showed support for the project.

“Our community desperately needs more library space,” a member of Community Board 7 said. “And we desperately need more affordable housing.”

Mothers and children lined up during a question-and-answer session and spoke of the crucial need for a library in the neighborhood.

Maria Martinez, who lives in Sunset Park, said her children’s school doesn’t have a library so students rely on the public branch.

Her daughter Giselle Torres, 10, who also spoke at the meeting said kids in the neighborhood needed more books and computers at the library.

“[Children] should read a lot of books so they can learn something,” she said.

Eight-year-old Karla Falfan echoed that sentiment.

“We want books, computers and dictionaries.”