Community Board 7 backs Sunset Park library redevelopment

A draft: The latest renderings of the redeveloped library and low-income housing.
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They’re lending their support.

Members of Community Board 7 voted in favor of the controversial Sunset Park library redevelopment on Nov. 16. The city aims to sell the aging Fifth Avenue book-lender to developer the Fifth Avenue Committee, which will replace it with an eight-story low-income apartment building and lease the ground-floor commercial space back to the library system. Critics say the city should not sell public land, but supporters say a new library and nearly 50 below-market-rate apartments were too good to pass up.

“There is a strong need for a library expansion and affordable housing in this community. And we believe this can be the kind of win-win situation that can be a model for others,” according to board member Pat Conway, who said the project “will be a community asset for generations.”

But the city has no business selling off public land, according to one of a handful of detractors.

“Let me start by saying that public assets — because that’s what this library is — should not be up for sale. It’s not good public policy, it’s not good public planning,” said member Maria Roca, who voted not to support the plan.

Members of the Carpenter’s Local 926 and 157 also came out against the development, because the Fifth Avenue Committee does not plan to use union labor or pay the so-called “prevailing wage” — a state-determined rate for contractors on public works projects.

“I am not anti-construction, I am not anti-library, but what I am for is good jobs — jobs that lead to entry to the middle class for minority workers like myself,” said Ruben Colon, a union member and lifelong Sunset Parker.

The Fifth Avenue Committee has said it could not finance the construction with union workers, because they are too costly.

For its part, the community board is supporting the plan without a project labor agreement, because fully low-income developments are so rare, the group’s leader said.

“What we’re doing is dealing with a real-estate market that gives us very few chances to develop true affordable housing,” said chairman Dan Murphy. “Let’s not get caught up in the weeds.”

Community Board 7 voted to approve the plan with 25 members for the project, three against, and five abstaining. The plan will move on to Borough President Adam’s office for the next step in its public review process. The Beep — who has previously indicated his support and even pledged $500,000 from his budget toward the project — has 30 days to approve or disprove the plan.

Council has the final say. If the plan gets the green light, developers plan to break ground in the summer and reopen the library by 2020.

A temporary library will operate nearby in the interim, though locals may be without a book lender for a few weeks while librarians move books and computers to the alternate site, officials say.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.

Updated 5:20 pm, November 22, 2016
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