A Ratner in the Stacks: Library To Sell Forest City-Adjacent Branches

library heights eagle file A Ratner in the Stacks: Library To Sell Forest City Adjacent Branches

Photo courtesy Brooklyn Eagle, Bob Scott

The Brooklyn Public Library is looking to sell off two of its branches near downtown Brooklyn to developers, the New York Daily News reports, and what do you know—both of them are right next to Forest City Ratner-owned properties.

The first library on the block is the Brooklyn Heights branch, a squat 1960 building. It sits on a triangular parcel directly north of Forest City Ratner’s One Pierrepont Plaza, a late ’80s skyscraper that pierces the Brooklyn skyline with its green faux-mansard roof, virtually indistinguishable from those of la Ville-Lumière.

Lawyer and urban planner Michael White pointed out the coincidence on his blog, Noticing New York:

“Brooklyn development, especially when government officials are involved, is considered Forest City Ratner’s turf, to the virtual exclusion of all others. Whether by coincidence or not, both of these sites (library sites are unfortunately city-owned) are immediately adjacent to property the government has previously put in the hands of Forest City Ratner pursuant to no-bid deals and with special terms and subsidies.”

While it would be hard to manage with the current zoning, Mr. White claims that Brooklyn Public Library spokesman Josh Nachowitz has been telling some people that a tower of up to forty stories could rise from the ashes of the old Brooklyn Heights branch (see update below). Whoever ends up developing the site would have to set aside at least 15,000 square feet for a new library, down from the current branch’s 60,000 square feet (though less than a quarter of this space “currently operates as the library”).

Mr. White also claims that librarians have been bribed with offered free parking spots should the redevelopment plan go through (because librarians have a say in the sale of city-owned properties?).

On the other side of downtown Brooklyn, the branch at Pacific and Fourth avenues is also up for sale. This one features a much more attractive pre-war structure, but is still under-built according to the zoning code—a full 7.2 floor-area ratio is possible on the parcel if the developer takes advantage of the affordable housing bonus, with the library only occupying a small fraction of the zoning envelope. Forest City Ratner already owns or has dibs on much larger plots than this 9,500-square foot slice of Brooklyn, though, so a library land grab near Atlantic Yards sounds far-fetched. The buyer would not have to rebuild a library on the site, since Two Trees will include one in its BAM project just down the street.

In earlier posts on his blog, White outlines a grand conspiracy on the part of the administration to leverage libraries and schools to help politically-connected developers like Forest City Ratner and Two Trees. Some of his musings are a bit feverish—Ratner buying the Pacific Branch site and shutting down more of Pacific Avenue, for example—but then again, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

Update: A spokesman from the Brooklyn Public Library has contacted The Observer to dispute Michael White’s assertion that Josh Nachowitz has said to anyone that a building on the site of the Brooklyn Heights branch could reach forty stories. Regarding the height of any potential building, he said that discussions are not that far along. The current zoning of the site would allow for a floor-area ratio of 12 (with the affordable housing bonus)—assuming the site were built out to its maximum zoning capacity, a building taller than about twenty stories seems unrealistic to us.

ssmith@observer.com