Constant gardener: Bruce Eichner pursues new project by Brooklyn institution

Developer hopes 14-story project will grow on locals, Botanic Garden

Bruce Eichner’s Continuum Company Still Wants Housing Near Brooklyn Botanic Garden
From left: Brooklyn borough president Antonio Reynoso, City Council member Crystal Hudson, Continuum's Bruce Eichner with Brooklyn Botanic Garden and a previous rendering of the proposal (Getty; Illustration by Kevin Rebong for The Real Deal)

The Knicks weren’t the only ones doing battle at the Garden lately. 

Developer Bruce Eichner is trying for a second time to rezone a development site near the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in Crown Heights. But he will have to prove his green thumb to walk away with a win.

“I know that the community was up in arms about the former proposal for the two 39-story towers and so was the Garden,” said City Planning Commission mayoral appointee Gail Benjamin last Monday, prior to a vote that sent Eichner’s new, smaller proposal — a 14-story, mixed-use building with 475 apartments and 100,000 square feet of commercial space at 962 Franklin Avenue — into the city’s land-use review.

The vote starts the clock on a seven-month process in which developers parade their proposal before the local community board, borough president and City Planning Commission before negotiating with the local City Council member, in this case Crystal Hudson, to win approval from the 51-member body.

Still, Eichner’s earlier plan for 1,500 apartments, rejected in 2021 for possibly casting shadows on the Botanic Garden from a larger tract of land that included the lot next to 962 Franklin Avenue, remained fresh in the minds of community leaders who met following the Commission’s vote.

“Any project that is detrimental to the Garden is a no,” said City Council member Crystal Hudson at a community board meeting last Wednesday, days after the Commission’s vote. “Nothing has changed.”

“For those who were here last time, our position has not changed,” echoed Ethan Lustig, the director of government affairs at the Botanic Garden. Nonetheless, Lustig left open a sliver of hope for Eichner, who seems intent on conquering the process known as Ulurp, which needs the Garden’s blessing in this case.

“The developer did float this other design,” said Lustig. “We’re still looking at it.”

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Eichner’s Continuum Company has come up with a shadow-minimizing design that bears little resemblance to the 39-story, two-tower plan that made him Public Enemy No. 1 in Crown Heights four years ago. And the City Council leadership and mayor have made adding housing supply a priority.

The design includes step-downs to allow more sunlight to pass by the building and onto the Garden, according to a person familiar with the proposal. The Continuum Company did not respond to a request for comment.

Hudson has expressed concern that no legal mechanism exists to force the developer to stick to a Garden-friendly design if the rezoning were approved. She also has a long list of her own requirements for developers seeking to rezone in her district. 

The Adams administration, for its part, is looking for a way to get housing on the site. That is also a change from Eichner’s prior proposal.

Bill de Blasio and Eric Adams, as mayor and borough president, respectively, rejected that earlier proposal over concerns that its shade would damage the garden, killing Eichner’s plan before it even reached Hudson’s predecessor, Lauri Cumbo. As Adams’ cultural affairs commissioner, Cumbo now presides over institutions such as the Garden but has no formal role in the land-use process.

Eichner bought 962 Franklin Avenue in 2017 for $33 million, but his initial rezoning attempt’s failure cost him the chance to own 960 Franklin next door. Another developer has since scooped up that parcel and scored $75 million in construction financing to build 300 condos, requiring no political approval.

Before voting to send Eichner’s proposal into the land-use review process last week, Benjamin floated one way to possibly secure support from the local community and achieve a rezoning to allow for new housing.

“Arrange the bulk [of the building] in the best location, to [shorten] the period of time the sun is not available to the gardens,” said Benjamin, “and then maybe we can back our way into a zoning that has more flexibility in its design to allow that to happen.”

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