City Planning Must Reject the Dangerous Franklin Avenue Rezoning

Testimony to the New York City Planning Commission

July 28, 2021

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. For more than two years, the Municipal Art Society of New York has analyzed the development proposed for 960 Franklin Avenue. There is no doubt that this luxury condo tower (cloaked, absurdly, as an engine for affordable housing) would have devastating impacts on the neighborhood of Crown Heights.

The project’s shadow will have vast and irreversible effects on Brooklyn Botanic Garden, particularly its conservatories, greenhouses, and nurseries. At the height of the summer growing season, some areas of the Garden would lose more than four hours of sunlight during the day.

The darkness cast would be so vast in fact that nearby Jackie Robinson Playground would experience year-round shadow impacts, including being cast completely in shadow in periods throughout the months of March, September, and June. On some of the coldest days of the year, nearby streets and sidewalks would receive zero hours of sunlight.

Furthermore, the so-called affordable units in the building are targeted to “accommodate” families with incomes as high as $122,880 per year, in a neighborhood where the actual median income is closer to $70,000. Indeed, fully 80 percent of the units at 960 Franklin Avenue would be priced for households wealthier than the neighborhood median. Any suggestion by the developer that this project would address the city’s affordability crisis is as ludicrous as it is cynical.

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Conservatory at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with proposed super-tall buildings at 960 Franklin Avenue in background

It is telling that virtually every public official with a say in 960 Franklin Avenue’s approval has expressed deep concern about the project—this Commission included. More than 50,000 New Yorkers have voiced their opposition as well by signing BBG’s Fight for Sunlight petition against the project.

This is not a proposal that can be tweaked on the margins and made palatable—even the 34 story alternative proposed by the developer does vanishingly little to mitigate its impacts.

Safeguarding light and air is the origin story of zoning as a practice—it’s also the origin story of this specific zoning regulation. Nothing offered by the 960 Franklin project is valuable enough for the City to lift the established, intentional, and well-considered zoning that this Commission put in place all those years ago, to protect this area from just such a development.

This all might seem esoteric, but the truth is, we know the value natural light instinctually. We seek it out in the homes we live in and the places where we gather. We know that an urban neighborhood is made up of more than just steel and concrete.

960 Franklin is a nonstarter. We urge the Commission to reject this application.