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Brooklyn Botanic Garden's 'Fight for Sunlight' protests Crown Heights building proposal

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden opened its "Fight for

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden opened its "Fight for Sunlight" exhibit on Tuesday to bring attention to the shadows a proposed building complex would cast on its plants.  Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is protesting a proposed building complex it says will cast “catastrophic” shadows on its plant collections with a new exhibit inside its conservatory. 

The garden opened the “Fight for Sunlight” exhibit Tuesday to bring more attention to the proposal for the site of the old spice factory in Crown Heights, at 960 Franklin Ave., a block from the garden.

Development firm The Continuum Company wants to build a residential complex with two towers reaching 39 stories that would have about 789 affordable units for various income levels and the same number of market-rate units, according to a Draft Scope of Work.

Current zoning laws limit the height of buildings in that area to about seven stories, in part to protect the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, so an amendment would be needed for the project to move forward.

If it does, the garden says its conservatories — housing an array of plants, including rare and endangered orchids, cactuses and bonsai — “would face catastrophic effects.” 

“New shadows caused by these proposed towers could eradicate many of the rare and endangered plants in our collection,” said Scot Medbury, president of Brooklyn Botanic Garden. “We urge the public to learn more in this new exhibit and take action against the proposed towers.”

A shadow study commissioned by the community group Movement to Protect the People said shadows could cover the garden for between two and four and a half hours a day, depending on the time of year. Another study, by the Municipal Art Society of New York, said parts of the garden would be in shade for one to three hours in the mornings, depending on the time of year.

The garden is asking the public to sign its petition urging City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, who represents Crown Heights, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to oppose the requested zoning changes.

The Continuum Company, however, says a shadow analysis underway was expected to show that the complex will not have adverse effects on the garden.

“Based on preliminary findings, no significant adverse shadows impacts are anticipated on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden,” spokesman Lupe Todd-Medina said in a statement. 

Todd-Medina added that the firm has requested to meet with the garden and has been rejected.

“As neighbors and partners in our community's responsible development, we continue to look forward to sitting down with the leadership of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden,” Todd-Medina said. “We also look forward to working with the community, local elected officials and community stakeholders to present Crown Heights with a union-built project that will provide much needed income-targeting housing.”

The firm has not filed a formal application for the project. When it does, the application will go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which requires approvals from the City Planning Commission, City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Cumbo did not return a request for comment.

Late last year, the City Council approved another contested project just north of the spice factory that will allow for two 16-story buildings.

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