Appellate Division Confirms That Brooklyn Heights Library Redevelopment May Proceed

By Henry E. Myers and David Paget

On May 8, 2019, the Appellate Division, Second Department unanimously affirmed a lower court ruling dismissing a petition challenging the sale and redevelopment of the Brooklyn Public Library’s (“BPL”) Brooklyn Heights Branch. This ruling clears the way for a proposal by the developer Cadman Associates LLC (an affiliate of The Hudson Companies) to construct a new 36-story, mixed-use building on the site. The building will feature 134 condominium units, two retail spaces, and a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics lab operated by the NYC Department of Education. It will also host a 5,000 square foot modernized library, the first new library in BPL’s system in nearly 40 years. As part of the project, Cadman Associates will also construct 114 units of off-site affordable housing. Sive, Paget & Riesel represented the project’s developer in opposition to the petition in the lower court and on appeal.

As previously reported, construction began on the redevelopment project in 2017 following the Second Department’s denial of an earlier petition requesting that the project be enjoined. In the present litigation, the petitioners sought an order to halt construction, arguing that the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability (“MOS”) had violated the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) by failing to take a hard look at the project’s potential environmental impacts. The petitioners alleged that, due to this purported failure, the MOS’s conclusion that the project would not have a significant adverse impact – and therefore, that no environmental impact statement was necessary – was erroneous.

The lower court dismissed the petition, finding that it had not been timely served. In the alternative, the lower court found that the petition lacked merit, and concluded that the City had taken a hard look at all the relevant areas of environmental concern and discharged its obligations under SEQRA.

The Second Department agreed with the lower court on these grounds. The court found that the statute of limitations began running when the redevelopment project was approved by the NYC City Council under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (“ULURP”); it reasoned that, since the petitioners challenged the environmental review process, the statute of limitations period commenced upon “final determination of environmental issues,” which occurred upon the City Council’s approval under ULURP. The court rejected the petitioners’ argument that the statute of limitations did not begin running until a later approval granted for the project because that approval, while necessary for the project to go forward, did not “involve[] environmental review in any way.” The Second Department also agreed with the lower court that, even if the petition were timely served, MOS fulfilled all of its obligations under SEQRA.

SPR wishes to acknowledge the significant contributions of SPR alum Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz to the briefing on this case.