Public Letter to President of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

This is a public letter being sent to the President of BBG, requesting that the study (examining developer, Cornell Realty's shadow study) that BBG has promised will be conducted and is performed according to the law. And if their analysis does show that Cornell study is inaccurate BBG will come out against this development and conduct their own Shadow Study, like they did in 1991 when BBG requested height limits that now exist. . There is also information about why the developer's study is wrong and violates the law.

If you are looking all the details about this rezoning proposal just clink on this link.


Directions: Please click on the title to go to that section. If you want to return back to this selection just click on the "go back to top" link on the right hand side.

  1. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden's Public Position
  2. Cornell Did Not Examine All Sites
  3. The FRESH program
  4. Definition of Bulkhead
  5. Bulkhead Controversy - Save The View in Brooklyn Heights
  6. Environmental Assessment Requirements
  7. The Worst Case Scenario Sidestepped by Cornell Realty!
  8. BBG Not Performing Their Own Study
  9. Is BBG Concerned About The Garden's Visual Integrity


The Brooklyn Botanic Garden

1,000 Washington Ave

Brooklyn N.Y. 11225


Dear President Scot Medbury

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden "BBG"Public Position

At the March 8, 2017 meeting with BBG staffers James Harris, Jimmy Thomas and Samatha Campbell, at the Garden, we [community residents] understood that BBG was going to conduct its own Study to assess Cornell Realty's (the developer) shadow study regarding the proposed Franklin Ave rezoning.  It was also stated that by BBG staff that "this study would include a visual markup of what the buildings would look like from the Magnolia Plaza". TV news had also reported that BBG was going to conduct its own study to ensure that Cornell's study results were accurate.

At the Community Board 9 land use meeting, where Cornell did their presentation, Jimmy Thomas, BBG's Community Liaison, stated that the only concern that BBG had is the impact of large shadows on the garden and would object if that were to occur but otherwise BBG does not oppose the development. 

At this meeting, the developers, Cornell Realty presented their shadow study, based upon a maximum height of 175 ft..  That number was arrived at based upon the requested zone change to R8X, with height limits of 150 ft.. plus the Mandatory Inclusion Housing program “MIH” which allows another 25 ft.. Cornell’s shadow study, however, did not take into account a further increase of 15 feet based upon participation in FRESH program that the developers in their application stated they "may" ask for.  Nor did Cornell's shadow study take into consideration the height of bulkheads for their buildings.


Additionally they did not provide any information regarding all 12 lots that could be developed in this rezoning, but instead focused on just 4 lots. I will discuss these issues in detail, because I will assume that you or the general public may not know this information.


Cornell Did Not Examine All Sites

According to the City Environmental Quality Review, "CEQR" all sites that have the potential to be multi developed during a rezoning must be individually examined. (The image on the left comes from the CEQR manual )

The CEQR manual states: The effects of shadows on a sunlight-sensitive resource are site-specific; therefore, the screen assessment and subsequent shadow assessment (if required) are performed for each of the sites where a new structure could be built as a result of a project (e.g. for projected and potential development sites. (emphasis added)


Cornell, however, did not perform a shadow analysis for all 12 lots but simply analyzed their 4 lots, thus cornell sitesincorrectly completing the shadow study assessment. (The image on the left came from Cornell's shadow study).


This has prevented the community and others from seeing the exact impact of shadows this rezoning would have on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the neighboring community, if all of the sites are developed under the new rezoning regulation.




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The FRESH Program

Not only did Cornell not examine all potential development sites that could be developed under the new rezoning, but they did not apply the correct heights to their study as I have noted above. This was done by the omission of the FRESH Program.


According to Department of City Planning the FRESH program  “may, by authorization, allow an increase in the maximum building height, up to 15 feet, to accommodate the additional floor area” This request can be submitted before a building permit is issued and it is the Department of City Planning that provides the certificate and approval for this program. The only requirement is that notification be given to the community board. We currently have a building going up on Lincoln Rd. between Flatbush and Ocean Avenues that is participating in this program. Additionally Department of City Planning has never denied any applications for this program and if later the developer decides not to provide the supermarket they can still gain the extra 15 ft.!

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The Department of City Planning Definition of Bulkhead

However it wasn't just the FRESH program that was not included, in Cornell's shadow study, but the bulkhead as well. A bulkhead is an enclosed structure on the roof of a building that may include mechanical equipment, water tanks and roof access from interior stairwells. It is not counted as floor area and thus is permitted to exceed zoning heights and setback requirements, within limits specified in the Zoning Resolution.

sizesThe Department of City Planning Zoning Resolution (23-62 Permitted Obstructions) states, “where the maximum permitted height of a #building# is 120 feet or greater, such obstructions (bulk heads) are limited to a maximum height of 40 feet. (page 86)


(The building furthest to the right) is the worst case scenario that Cornell Realty was suppose to use in their CEQR shadow study. According to Cornell’s shadow study, BBG will get a few minutes of shadow if the buildings are built at 175 ft..  Thus if you were to add the FRESH program and the bulkheads that is an additional 55 ft.!, which will surely add hours onto those minutes!



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Bulk Head Controversy - Save The View in Brooklyn Heights

You may recall in 2015 a Brooklyn Heights organization called “Save the View” did a major campaign against a developer who had height limits of 10 stories/100 ft., but whose 30 ft. bulkhead, created and blocked the fabled views of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Promenade.

According to a New York Times article, the Brooklyn Height Association had worked out a deal, back in 2005, with the developer to have 100 ft. height limits agreeing that height would not block the view.  According to the Brooklyn Heights residents the 100 ft. limit was suppose to include the bulkhead. Sadly the Courts did not agree and now this view is blocked forever.

The basic rationale is that bulkheads are not calculated in height limits. For the most part there is normally no controversy over this, except when the issue of view blockage (as in Brooklyn Heights) and or shadows as is the case for BBG. This is why CEQR requires that bulkheads be apart of the shadow study assessment.


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Environmental Assessment Requirements

According to the law, every proposed development that seeks permission to change the existing rezoning laws, must conduct an environmental impact assessment statement. In this statement the worst possible scenario must be entertained, regardless of the stated intentions of the developer.  For example, whether the developer takes advantage of the FRESH program or not, the fact they are eligible to participate in this program, makes it mandatory for them to include it in their study.

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The Worst Case Scenario Conveniently Sidestepped By Cornell Realty

It is clear from the information I have just given you that Cornell Realty pointedly did not employ a worst case scenario. That means anyone affected by these proposed changes has a legal right to challenge this development.  But it also means when BBG conducts its own analysis of Cornell's study, the worst case scenario should be the measuring stick that is used.  Cornell's study should have been based upon 230 ft, (the worst case scenario). Rezoning to R8X allowing 150 ft., plus the MIH program of 25 ft.., plus the FRESH program of 15 ft., plus the bulkhead of 40 ft..  This adds up to 230 ft. and NOT 175 ft..

worstAdditionally BBG's study examination must be conducted within the entire envelope of the proposed property.  For example, the bulk head can be placed anywhere on the roof, so their shadow study must take all possible positions into consideration!


This illustration is taken from the City Environmental Quality Review “CEQR” manual. As you can see it clearly shows how the worst case scenario for a shadow analysis must be calculated.


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BBG Not Performing Their Own Shadow Study. 

The last thing the community, visitors from around the world and BBG members would want is for an agreement to be made or a rezoning not challenged, that would have tremendous negative effects upon the garden on a permanent basis.


It is BBG's position not to conduct its own shadow study (because it may be expensive) but simply to analyze Cornell's study. However, BBG has also stated that it will not condemn the development unless there are shadows that may last for over an hour.


At this point we are perplexed about how BBG will make that determination if they do not conduct their own shadow study, but simply may have a negative assessment on Cornell's study. If Cornell's study doesn't accurately depict the shadows, then how will BBG be able to judge the shadow impact on the garden?


It is clear ONLY a shadow study that takes into consideration all possible scenarios will ensure that the BBG is making decisions based upon the awareness of all possible outcomes and thus able to protect the garden from this development before this rezoning request is granted.


Is BBG Concerned About The Garden's Visual Integrity?

We are also concerned about BBG's backing out of an agreement to do a mark-up of the visual impact that this development will have on the garden. During our meeting with your staffers, one stated that "What the study [BBG's study] is going to include is a mark-up of what the buildings will look like from the Magnolia Plaza."This was to address the issue of a wall of sky scrapers adjacent to the Garden destroying the view of air, light and sun that is so precious as tall towers are decending upon the city everywhere.


Now we are being told that this mark-up is not going to take place, as if the visual integrity of the garden is not an issue or concern for BBG.


As you can see from this accurate rendition that was done by a professional urban planner, Fernando Canteli de Castro MS, who has a Masters degree in Urban Planning, the visual integrity of the garden will be destroyed.


We have been in touch with over five hundred people who have signed our petition (so far) and I can assure you that all of them are concerned about the garden's visual integrity. We have also an online petition which has gotten over 3,750 signatures in less than five days, may of which belong to your members!


We the community would hope BBG’s would view this issue very seriously and understand the deep negative ramifications this requested rezoning would have on the Garden. That BBG will do all that it can to ensure the Garden is protected - both in regards to shadows and its visual integrity.


We would hope that the current guardians of BBG are as committed to the Garden as the forefathers who conducted a shadow study which enabled this entire area to be protected with height limits.


At this point we are asking for a sit down meeting with you so that we can discuss these impeding issues that pose a serious threat to one of most sacred and honored public spaces.

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FLAC - Flower Lovers Against Corruption