‘Fight for Sunlight’ at Brooklyn Botanic Garden

A proposed rezoning in Brooklyn is pitting towers vs. trees.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) staff joined local residents last week to oppose the rezoning of 960 Franklin Avenue to allow for the construction of two 34-story towers just 150 feet away from the Garden’s entrance.
The “Fight for Sunlight” rally addressed the detrimental effects of the rezoning, chief among them blocking direct sunlight for portions of BBG.
“The proposed luxury development with towers rising up to 400 feet tall would permanently damage the garden and surrounding neighborhood,” explained BBG president and CEO Adrian Benepe. “If we had been here at 7:30 this morning with the towers built, there would have been no sunshine in the greenhouses or in this plaza. It’s an existential threat, we wouldn’t exist anymore.”
Benepe added the buildings would also block sunlight in many other locations throughout Prospect Heights and Crown Heights, including nearby Jackie Robinson Playground, Jackie Robinson School (M.S. 375), and the campus of Medgar Evers College.
Ahead of last week’s event, almost 60,000 people had already signed a petition opposing the rezoning.
“You know that song ‘Big Yellow’ Taxi by Joni Mithcell, ‘they paved paradise and put up a parking lot?’” asked Benepe. “Once you take away the sunlight it’s gone, and it’s not coming back.”
Supporters of the rezoning cite the affordable housing units included in the project.
“The so-called affordable units in the buildings are priced for families with incomes as high as $122,880,” countered Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the Municipal Art Society. “I don’t need to tell any of you that $122,000 a year is nowhere near the median income of Crown Heights. It’s closer to $70,000.
“Indeed, fully 80 percent of the units at 960 Franklin would be out of reach for all but the richest people in this neighborhood,” she continued. “Any suggestion by the developer that this project would address the city’s affordability crisis is as ludicrous as it is cynical.”
Another argument in favor of the project is that it will create good-paying union jobs.
“We’ve been hearing a lot about union workers on the other side, but we also have union workers here,” explained BBG gardener Lenny Paul.
BBG was closed to in-person visitors for much of last year due to the pandemic, but staff members such as Paul continued to organize virtual programming. Paul also discussed the work it took to grow plants on site before sending them to nearby schools, a process facilitated by the direct sunlight available to the garden.
Kierstan, a longtime resident of Park Slope and a public school teacher in Bedford-Stuyvesant, explained how the garden was a nice change for students in cramped classrooms.
“It was always one of the students’ favorite places to go,” she said. “It is also one of my favorite places.”
Students from nearby public schools were also present at the rally, including members of the band Control the Sound. The group performed an original song written specifically for BBG, appropriately named “Fight for Sunlight.”
“We’ve been coming here since we were little kids,” explained Elijah Frechtman, the band’s frontman and guitarist. “We just want to preserve and protect this area because it is historic and it means something to us.”
The proposed rezoning of 960 Franklin Avenue must undergo theland use review process, including several hearings before a final vote by the City Council. Community Board 9 has already stated its opposition, releasing a statement in June asking that the land use review process be halted entirely.
“It’s ridiculous that they even contemplate building this monstrosity,” said Marvin, a self-described neighborhood old-timer who attended the rally. “The city invests millions of dollars into the garden, but now they want to destroy it. It makes no sense.”

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