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Brouhaha in Brooklyn Heights

Written by Matthew Hall on December 03, 2015

Brooklyn Heights

A 40-story residential and retail tower will fill the sky of Brooklyn Heights – if shareholders from a co-op that owns the site accept a big money proposal from developers.
 
Residents of 75 Henry Street, a prime 33-story co-op with 370 units, received a letter this week from their board outlining the development plan that includes demolition of the Park Plaza Diner (a neighborhood institution) and a row of retail stores that sit on the co-op’s property.
 
According to the letter, the low-rise restaurant and retail buildings would be replaced by a 40-story residential condominium and new retail spaces that would dwarf neighboring buildings.

Even as Community Board 2 gave the green light in July for the controversial Brooklyn Heights Library redevelopment project to move forward opponents heckled and protested. They had nothing to lose anymore. But it looks like it isn't quite over. DNAinfo reports that the redevelopment is now "facing opposition from Borough President Eric Adams, who [this week] released a slew of recommendations for the project, including more affordable housing and local school seats." Although he has only an advisory role in the planning process, he conditionally disapproved the 280 Cadman Plaza West project under the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, DNAinfo reports. Hudson Companies, in partnership with Marvel Architects, "had promised 114 off-site low-income units in Clinton Hill but Adams is pushing to have all affordable housing within the Brooklyn Heights development." Among his many recommendations, Adams is asking that the project address the very issues many of the locals who oppose the move have been highlighting in their protests: that the project address "overcrowding in local schools and maintain all residential units related to the development as 'permanently affordable.'" The City Planning Commission will consider the borough president's recommendations Tuesday, September 22. 

New York's landscape and skyline may be changing at a bewildering pace, but one thing that has remained fairly constant is the way New Yorkers react when something ticks them off. They may be bookish types and they may have known that their protests would not stop Hudson Companies from buying the Brooklyn Heights Library — but they still showed up to watch Community Board 2 approve the library's sale this week. According to DNAinfo, "the general board conditionally OK’d the proposed $52 million sale of the city-owned property at 280 Cadman Plaza West to Hudson Companies in a motion that passed with 25 members in favor, 14 opposed and four abstentions. The private developer in partnership with Marvel Architects seeks to demolish the existing structure and redevelop it into a 36-story tower with a 21,500 square-foot library to replace the old one and 139 condo units on top." Detractors of the project have many concerns, one of them being that the new library space was to be smaller than the existing space. But the sale was approved with conditions, reports DNAinfo, and one of them is that the new branch will have the same usable floor space as the existing branch. While that seems like good news for the existing library, which is reportedly falling apart and in serious need of renovation, opponents are dismayed to see public spaces funded with private developers who are fattening up their wallets by building luxury condos. Not surprisingly, "opponents of the sale heckled, protested, and repeatedly interrupted community board members as they spoke." New Yorkers don't go down without a fight. And at least the city still has that going for it.

Long before Dumbo was even a thing and back when Red Hook was crowned in 1990 by Life magazine as one of the ten worst neighborhoods in the United States, calling it the crack capital of America, Brooklyn Heights was already a pricey and much-coveted neighborhood. Talk about location, location, location: it boasts the promenade overlooking the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline, it's within walking distance of the Brooklyn Bridge, and it offers just about every subway line you'll ever need to get anywhere you want. With the explosion of the luxury market, it's little wonder that prices — and the opportunities to make some serious cash — have skyrocketed. Brooklyn Heights is home to Brooklyn Law School. The school has reportedly been selling a lot of its property. Late this week, reported the New York Daily News, the school put one of its best located buildings on the market. The 12-story rental at 2 Pierrepont Street faces the promenade. According to the Daily News, "the school snagged the building for just $2.2 million 30 years ago and has been using it as student and faculty housing. Now, it could be converted to for-sale homes or even torn down by a developer to make way for some of the borough’s most luxurious housing." Can you say condos? The Daily News also reported that "while no asking price [was] specified, sources said the building could trade for up to $30 million." Sorry, students and faculty. Unless you have the cash for a luxury condo, looks like you will all have to get used to a longer commute.

We've seen what happens when we try to fund public spaces with luxury buildings. Just take a look at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Barely a hop, skip, and a jump away from there, bibliophiles are fighting to prevent the same thing from happening to the Brooklyn Heights Library. Curbed reports that "an epic hearing over a contentious plan to replace the Brooklyn Heights Library with a new, smaller one at the foot of a wedge-shaped 36-story condo building was, in the end, anti-climactic. After hours of testimony from both sides, Brooklyn Community Board 2 postponed a vote on an application involving the sale of the library property to developer Hudson Companies." Opponents of the plan for Brooklyn to get its very own Flat Iron-like building on the triangular-shaped corner of Cadman Plaza West and Clinton Street are crying foul because the new library space is a third smaller than the current space. Furthermore, according to Linda Johnson, president of the Brooklyn Public Library, "[the proposed space] lacks the functionality you'd like to see in a public library," and the library would also lose all the storage space it currently has below ground. It certainly looks like it is Brooklyn Bridge Park all over again. On the one hand, the library wouldn't be lost forever. In fact, it would replace a building originally built partly as a fallout shelter in 1962 that has a broken air-conditioning system. But at what cost? The library and its patrons seem to be getting the short end of the stick. The community board will cast its final vote next week.

Rendering by Marvel Architects

It's not something you see every day: co-op owners in a building deciding to put the property up for sale. But that's what's happening at a seven-story building in Brooklyn Heights, developed by Francis Greenburger's Time Equities. According to The Real Deal, the co-op's board has put the 20-unit, 20,000-square-foot property at 159-161 Remsen Street, between Clinton and Court streets, on the market for $30 million. "The property has not changed hands since it was converted in 1982. The project [also] marked the first time that Time Equities had converted a vacant commercial building into a residential co-op." That's a long time. Matthew Rosenzweig, who TRD reports handles Brooklyn investment sales at Marcus & Millichap, "is marketing the building as a possible development site for [what else?] condominiums." And for a developer to get the most bang for his or her buck? It means demolishing the existing structure and replacing it with something that takes "full advantage of the 45,000 buildable square feet and 185-foot height limit." Go big or go home, eh? 

Photo by Nicholas Strini for Property Shark 

Buyers pay a premium for a co-op or condo apartment with outdoor space. But what happens when a terrace needs repairs that prevent the shareholder or unit-owner from using it?

That was the question in Goldhirsch v. St. George Tower & Grill Owners Corp.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents — but especially boards this week. A new condo in Brooklyn enhances its appeal and market value by supporting an adjacent park. A notorious Airbnb hotelier takes a fall. Learn what amenities add a lot to the cost of maintaining a co-op or condo building, and which don't. And find who NYSERDA calls New York City's top four engineering firms in helping buildings achieve energy-efficiency. Plus: Condo fire on Staten Island, tips for acing your co-op board admission interview, and the seller of a co-op in the "Ghostbusters building" (above) doesn't get slimed on the price.

Those bright blue bikes are everywhere these days, blocking crosswalks and creating noisy obstacles for pedestrians trying to cross the street. New York City co-ops and condos are protesting bike rack installations that they claim are dangerous and lower their property values. But is there an end to the Citi Bike saga in sight?

When the 25-unit co-op at 105 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights was built, its residents didn't have to worry about an elevator — because there wasn't one. It was a hotel for businessmen — and they must have been fairly fit business types, since the top floor was eight flights up.

Although 105 eventually got an elevator, its current residents are going to get a chance to relive past glories — or simply move out — when the system goes out of commission for six weeks this summer.

The job was a long time coming, says board member Melissa Kelly, who has lived in the building since 2001. "The elevator needs a lot of modernization; it has been breaking down on a regular basis. It's not been modernized at all since we converted in 1980."

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