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Mayor To Back Library Sale Because of Ties to Condo Developer, Critics Say

By Nikhita Venugopal | December 15, 2015 2:16pm
 Critics of the Brooklyn Heights Library deal say de Blasio will back the plan because of his donor ties to its developers.
Critics of the Brooklyn Heights Library deal say de Blasio will back the plan because of his donor ties to its developers.
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DNAinfo/Rosa Goldensohn

BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — Critics of a $52 million "backroom deal" that will likely lead to the sale of Brooklyn Heights's public library believe Mayor Bill de Blasio will support the proposal because of donations he accepted from the private developer purchasing the property.

The Mayor's Office strongly disagreed with the motivations. "This project is going to result in a new 21st century library for Brooklyn Heights, new and rehabilitated branches across the borough, and more than 100 affordable apartments. That’s why the administration, the local councilman and the Brooklyn Public Library support it,” de Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell told DNAinfo in an email Tuesday.

Citizens Defending Libraries, which has strongly opposed the plan, is calling for transparency in the negotiations that would allow a high-rise condo tower to be built in the neighborhood and reduce library space.

Last week, Councilman Stephen Levin backed a new deal for the library's $52 million sale — one that includes a bigger library than had originally been proposed, though still smaller than the existing one, and a new separate branch on another site in DUMBO or Vinegar Hill.

The new deal emerged from a closed-door meeting last week as members of the public anxiously awaited the start of the City Council's Land Use Committee, which approved the changes. The full City Council is expected to vote this Wednesday.

Under the proposal, Hudson Companies, in partnership with Marvel Architects, will purchase the property and build a 36-story residential building with space for the library.

Once the City Council votes, de Blasio will make his decision on the plan. Michael White, co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries, said the mayor will likely endorse the developer's plan because of contributions he received during his run for mayor.

"Mayor de Blasio has been taking money from the developer and his team while their application to acquire and shrink the library was pending," White's group said in a press release issued early Tuesday.

David Kramer, a principal of Hudson, donated $4,725 in 2011, according to campaign finance records.

Jonathan Marvel, of Rogers Marvel Architects, contributed $175 to de Blasio's campaign, records show. He also contributed a total of $375 to Christine Quinn's campaign for mayor.

Some critics have also argued the sale price is too low for the property. The city Comptroller’s Office has asked for an independent appraiser to value the property, like what has been done for major developments like the Hudson Yards.

"I share the concerns expressed by many stakeholders concerning the potential reduction in the library's usable space and the shift of essential services to less accessible locations,” Alaina Gilligo, the city’s First Deputy Comptroller writes in a Dec. 9 letter to the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development.

The city's Public Advocate also weighed in.

"I am deeply concerned about creating segregated communities by allowing developers to place affordable housing units off-site. I am also concerned about whether the site is being valued accurately and whether New York City is receiving proper compensation from the developer,” Public Advocate Letitia James said in a Dec. 9 letter to the City Council.

White, whose group will gather at 3 p.m. on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday, is also questioning a "commitment" from the Department of Education to acquire and operate a 9,000 square-foot STEM lab in the proposed Brooklyn Heights building. 

In his announcement last week, Levin said he has a "commitment from the Department of Education to acquire the space from Hudson Companies as well as outfit the space with a full modern and advanced STEM lab."

Levin however did not provide the cost of the acquisition or outfitting. The DOE did not respond to request for comment Tuesday.

Wednesday's City Council meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. in Council Chambers and the library proposal is expected to be on the agenda.