Small Victory for Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in Battle with Developers

Months-long fight with false information about affordable housing leaves residents enraged; developers unmoved

Brooklyn Botanical Garden Photo by Samography from Pexels

(BROOKLYN, NEW YORK)— It seems utopian to envision the potential victory a scrappy group of activists fighting for Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, who are up against Cornell Realty and Carmel Partners, real estate developers valued at multi-millions of dollars each. However, a Judge has dealt them a small victory in chastising the developer for proceeding with construction without permission, Brooklyn Paper reports.

There are three keys megaprojects set to rise in Crown Heights near the attractive Botanical Gardens: the 39-story development at 960 Franklin Avenue, 40 Crown Street, and 931 Carroll Street. 960 Franklin Avenue is the primary villain; the other two are the site of the minor victory at hand. While developers were hit with a temporary restraining order that halted development in April 2019, they were recently caught engaging in “preliminary construction work” (soil excavation, in preparation for the pouring of cement) at 931 Carroll Street, according to Brooklyn Paper. After the activists filed charges of contempt against the developers, the judge issued a temporary bond injunction (a somewhat stronger restraining order). “The city and the developers are not above the law,” Alicia Boyd told Brooklyn Paper.

The original suit was brought against both the developers and the City of New York by Alicia Boyd, an anti-gentrification activist and founder of Movement to Protect the People. The suit claims that the City did not conduct a thorough enough environmental review process when seeking rezoning for the new development. Namely, that the shadow cast by the towers would likely destroy the beloved Brooklyn Botanical Gardens (BBG) exotic and sensitive plants (gardening experts concur; proponents of the development say it doesn’t sound plausible).

The BBG suit echoes a suit brought in Inwood earlier this year. Despite the fact that developers are subjected to a lengthy and tedious environmental review process, the process is mostly bureaucratic: many developer-led requests for rezoning are approved. Now, more activists are claiming these environmental review processes are biased and inadequate. Is the Uniform Land Use Review and Procedure (ULURP) actually fulfilling its function of protecting the people, or merely protecting the city and developers from criticism?

While the suit focuses on BBG, Boyd is a longtime anti-gentrification activist whose core goal is to halt the acceleration of gentrification in the community. Boyd is hated by local officials, and even some potential allies, for her abrasive resistance tactics. However, her lived experience of gentrification is undeniable. While De Blasio’s counterarguments, as well as many pro-development proponents, have hinged on affordable housing, many anti-gentrification activists have questioned how “affordable,” that housing really is.  “Affordable” housing rarely helps longtime residents, who are more often than not displaced by new developments. Median rents might rise by hundreds of dollars for those unprotected by rent control or stabilization. Echoing the opposition of many before and after him, Richard Hurley, the president of the Crown Heights Community Council, told the Village Voice, “I cringe at the thought of 20,000 people moving into Crown Heights. People that have been living here for 30 or more years, we haven’t had services. Now that gentrification is happening, now they want to give certain services? Affordable housing? Affordable for whom? The people coming in.”

News stories about the development are swimming with misleading and contradictory information, especially around Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo. Despite reports from Councilwoman Cumbo that she had negotiated “miracle” numbers of affordable housing in the unit before casting her vote to approve rezoning in the neighborhood in late 2018, in September 2019 a lawsuit spearheaded by an anti-gentrification activist revealed that she was unable to produce any record of the deal. In between her statement and the suit, in March 2019, Cumbo apparently went back on her approval for the project, railing against the proposed “cookie-cutter luxury product,” and siding with community groups like Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and Movement to Protect the People—whose founder Alicia Boyd brought the September lawsuit.

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