A New Leaf

Tree removal at Brooklyn Heights library begins, paving way for 36-story tower

Development East
Tree removal at Brooklyn Heights library begins, paving way for 36-story tower. (Audrey Wachs / AN)
Tree removal at Brooklyn Heights library begins, paving way for 36-story tower. (Audrey Wachs / AN)

A controversial project in Brooklyn Heights sparked protest yesterday morning as developers cut down trees to make way for a condo tower on the site of a former public library.

The project in question is the Brooklyn Public Library’s (BPL) former Business and Career Library. Last year, developer Hudson Companies won a $52 million contract to replace the library’s building at 280 Cadman Plaza. Hudson Companies’ plans to redevelop the site includes a 36-story tower with 114 units of off-site affordable housing. As part of their deal with the city, the developer would build a new, 27,000-square-foot library located at the base of the new building.

Fast forward to yesterday morning when contractors arrived to cut down several trees on the property in anticipation of demolition. Michael D. D. White of Citizens Defending Libraries was there, along with three fellow members, to protest the tree removal in the context of the library’s sale and conversion to luxury condos. “First, [the city and the developers] take something valuable, then they trash it, then”—White gestured to the tree crews hacking away—”they drive away the constituency in all ways they can.”

(Audrey Wachs / AN)

Two London Planetrees along Clinton Street were removed yesterday, paving the way for the library’s eventual demolition. (Audrey Wachs / AN)

As The Architect’s Newspaper reported last November, Hudson Companies filed plans to demolish the library in early November, even before they closed the deal for the site. Department of Building (DOB) demolition permits have been filed, though their final approval is pending.

A spokesperson for the developer confirmed that the tree removal was permitted and lawful. Hudson is removing five trees total: four within the perimeter of the property and one street tree on the Cadman Plaza West sidewalk for which it paid restitution to NYC Parks. “The construction team will be taking measures to prune and protect the remaining trees on the sidewalk during construction,” the spokesperson said. “At the project’s completion, Hudson will plant new trees on the sidewalks per NYC requirements.”

(Audrey Wachs / AN)

The entrance to the library is filled with piles of trash and organic debris. (Audrey Wachs / AN)

As the building inches towards demolition, site conditions have deteriorated in some areas. A recent visit revealed a pile of leaves and trash that has accumulated around the library’s former entrance, which is visible from the sidewalk but encircled by a metal security gate. Debris from the construction site has been the subject of ongoing community concern, especially since asbestos removal began in October of last year.

When reached for comment on plans to clean up the mess, the Hudson spokesperson released the following statement: “Our crews make sure that all public areas around the site are cleared and free of debris at the end of each work day. We also expect them to keep the site itself as clean as possible, and will ensure that they adhere to that standard.”

The ongoing development begs a final question—what’s happening to the art on the library facade?

The Brooklyn Heights Library main entrance sports six bas reliefs by artist Clemente Spampinato on its limestone facade. (Ehblake / Wikimedia Commons)

The Brooklyn Heights Library main entrance sports six bas reliefs by artist Clemente Spampinato on its limestone facade. (Ehblake / Wikimedia Commons)

Working with an as-yet unnamed building conservation and repair company, Hudson has plans to remove and store the panels, while BPL is developing plans for the panels’ eventual placement.

Correction: This article initially stated that demolition permit approvals were pending the site’s transfer of ownership from the city to Hudson. The permits’ status is independent of the deal closing.

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