Protect Brooklyn’s Garden: Join the Fight for Sunlight
Protect Brooklyn’s Garden: Join the Fight for Sunlight
“Today I am voicing my opposition to the proposed 960 Franklin Avenue development in Crown Heights that would harm the research and education work carried out by one of this city’s prized cultural institutions, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and is grossly out of scale with the neighborhood.”
—Mayor Bill de Blasio, December 21, 2020
Despite widespread opposition, this project has been certified into NYC’s public review process (ULURP). The Fight for Sunlight is on! See below.
The Existential Threat
Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s plant collections are under serious threat from a proposed massive development complex of four buildings, including two 34‑story towers at 960 Franklin Avenue just 150 feet from the Garden. Towers of this size would block hours of sunlight to the Garden’s 23 conservatories, greenhouses, and nurseries, which grow plants for the entire 52-acre Garden site and its community programs.
Current zoning protects the Garden’s access to sunlight by capping building height at this location. These laws must remain in place to prevent irreparable damage to the Garden.
This is Brooklyn’s Garden, a vital educational and environmental resource for our community, and it’s up to all of us to protect it.
“The Department does not support this application.”
—Marisa Lago, director of NYC Department of City Planning, February 1, 2021
“The Council is disappointed that Continuum continues to advance this proposal despite widespread opposition in the community, as well as the clear danger posed to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s conservatory greenhouses by the shadows that would be cast by these huge towers.”
—New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, February 1, 2021
Sign and sharethe Garden’s petition urging officials to protect the irreplaceable assets of Brooklyn Botanic Garden and oppose high-rise construction at this location. The Garden plans to deliver the petition at the first public land use hearing, coming up soon. Add your name now!
ContactCommunity Board 9 and the Brooklyn borough president, who will hear the proposal first in the land use review process. Tell them you stand with BBG in the Fight for Sunlight! Find tips for effective advocacy letter-writing below.
Join us in a show of strength at upcoming public hearings. The first of these is a Community Board 9 hearing coming up soon. There BBG staff and supporters will testify to the permanent damage the shadows cast by the project would do to the Garden’s collections.
Update: In early March, the public review process was paused when Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Katherine Levine issued a temporary restraining order. The TRO will remain in place until the justice is satisfied that mechanisms have been created that demonstrate that everyone who wants to participate in public hearings has an opportunity to be heard.
On February 1, the City Planning Commission certified the 960 Franklin Avenue Rezoning application, officially beginning the land use review process, or ULURP. The Commissioners made quite clear that while they certified the proposal as a technical matter, they do not support the project.
This is the moment we have been anticipating over the last two years of the Fight for Sunlight, and we are ready to win this fight! New advocacy tools for our supporters are available below. Follow BBG on social media to join us in sharing why BBG needs to be protected.
We are not letting down our guard, and with your support we aim to stop this harmful rezoning.
NEW! Advocacy Toolkit
How do I contact officials to advocate against rezoning?
The first two stages of the land use review process include public hearings by the local community board and the borough president. BBG recommends writing to these decision makers by physical mail:
In your letter, start with a direct statement that you are seeking their support against the 960 Franklin Avenue Rezoning application, describe your relationship to this matter (where relevant, include the neighborhood you live in, any constituency you are a member of, your relationship to Brooklyn Botanic Garden, etc.), and speak from your own experience to assert why this zoning should not be changed (perhaps include a personal story). Be sure to include your name, address, and phone number, and be professional—your correspondence is part of public record.
We need a show of strength from Fight for Sunlight supporters at the upcoming public land use hearings. The first is a Community Board 9 hearing. There BBG staff and supporters will testify to the permanent damage the shadows cast by the project would do to the Garden’s collections. Please make your voice heard by attending these virtual meetings and offering public testimony if you can.
Learn more about the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, the system that zoning change proposals must pass through in New York City. Thank you to the Center for Urban Pedagogy for their excellent ULURP primer!
Community Training Videos
This series of webinars delves into the problematic details of this rezoning proposal.
This recording of BBG’s December community training event takes a first look at the plans developers submitted to the City, introduces the steps in ULURP, and offers tips on how to craft effective letters and testimony opposing this rezoning. 12/2/20
Zoning & Public Review Overview
Copresented with the Municipal Art Society, this training goes deeper into aspects of large-scale developments (LSD), important zoning concepts like Floor Area Ratio (FAR), and New York City’s ULURP process. 2/17/21
Environmental Impacts Overview
This community training, copresented with the Municipal Art Society, takes a deeper look at the City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) process and the developer’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and helps translate technical details into plain English. 3/16/21
City Planning Commission Review Session
The February NYC Department of City Planning meeting included a presentation by the developer seeking the rezoning package as well as deep concerns voiced by Commission members. 2/1/21
FAQ: About the Threat
What is the proposed project?
Real estate developers have filed plans to build a complex that includes two 34-story towers on the three-acre spice factory site at 960 Franklin Avenue, just 150 feet from Brooklyn Botanic Garden. These towers, located between Montgomery Street and Sullivan Place, would rise over 460 feet each, posing an unprecedented threat to the Garden. For context, the proposed towers would be over 100 feet taller than the existing Tivoli Towers on Crown Street.
How would shade from this project affect BBG’s plant collections?
Plants need sunlight! The loss of up to four hours of sunlight a day to the Garden’s nurseries, conservatories, and greenhouses threatens to harm many of BBG’s plants, including endangered orchids and hundreds-year-old bonsais. And these buildings are where plants for the entire Garden are propagated and grown, so blocking sunlight to the conservatory complex threatens the entirety of the collection, both indoors and out.
Isn’t this area zoned for low-rise buildings?
Yes, zoning in the area where this project is proposed, bordering BBG near Washington Avenue, is now capped at 75 feet (approximately seven stories). These parameters were established in 1991 in order to prevent shadows on BBG’s conservatory complex.
Why is the conservatory complex location important?
The Garden’s greenhouse facilities were intentionally situated on its easternmost border because the area gets more sunlight than anywhere else on the campus. This conservatory complex and the rest of the Garden comprise a world-renowned institution that has become an anchor of the surrounding Crown Heights neighborhood. Shade on Garden facilities would compromise our ability to offer free workshops to community gardeners and to serve Brooklyn’s youth (more than 200,000 of whom visit each year) with free, year-round STEM educational programs.
What is the Garden’s position on the project? How are they taking action?
The Garden’s position has been consistent: Brooklyn Botanic Garden will strongly oppose any changes to zoning that will negatively impact the Garden’s living collections and the many community programs that depend on them.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden has a 100-year history of providing respite to New Yorkers and free education to schoolchildren. Its compromise would be a loss to all New Yorkers. The Garden respects the City’s land-use process and will continue to participate factually and respectfully in it while asking policy makers to protect these 52 acres from development that would do it lasting and irreparable damage.
Does BBG oppose other developments in the area?
The Garden pays close attention to all proposed developments in the neighborhood and has not opposed proposals for shorter buildings farther from the Garden that we have determined will not significantly impact our collections. The spice factory development is dramatically different because of its size and location. This is simply the wrong place to build towers of the size proposed.
Is the Garden opposed to affordable housing?
Categorically not. The Garden is keenly aware of the affordability crisis faced by New Yorkers, including many in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods like ours, Crown Heights, where median incomes would not qualify most residents for even the lowest tier of the affordability index used for the proposed development. We would be thrilled to see development of affordable housing within the guidelines that were set to protect the Garden’s conservatories and collections.
Once the project is certified, doesn’t that mean it is a done deal?
No. Certification means project has entered the formal public review process the developers must follow to seek zoning changes with city officials.
Once certified, the project enters the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP)—a lengthy process that includes several opportunities for the public to weigh in on the applicant's plans. This is the time BBG and our community’s voices can best be heard! The Garden is convening virtual events to train and support volunteers in speaking out. To receive updates on these trainings, please join our email list or the Fight for Sunlight Facebook group.
Is BBG working with other community groups in the Fight for Sunlight?
The Garden is partnering with a wide coalition of community-based, local, and regional groups to bring attention to the gravity of the impact of the proposed rezoning and share information about the threat it poses to this beloved green space, its plant communities, and its educational programs.
I signed the petition; what else can I do?
Consider writing a letter to the elected and community officials who are decision makers in the rezoning process (see above in the Advocacy Toolkit). Then stay tuned for updates about the dates of the public review process: At those critical junctures, you can sign up for a speaking slot to give testimony in opposition to the project. BBG can share its expertise and concern; it is community members like you who will carry the day.
When will the petition be delivered to elected officials?
BBG plans to deliver the petition at the first hearing in the land use review process, the Community Board 9 hearing coming up soon. Over 50,000 have signed the petition so far, and we want to make as big an impact as possible when it is delivered. If you have not signed it already, please do so. If you have signed it, thank you!, and please encourage your friends and family to also add their names.
If you have further questions on how to partner with BBG in our Fight For Sunlight or wish to be added to our email list, please contact email@example.com.