Ulmer Park library tug o’war - Feud over land sparks Community Board 13 meltdown: Brooklyn NY Bay News, 4/5/07

Michèle De Meglio

A simple vote about the future of a Bensonhurst library nearly resulted in a riot at a Community Board 13 meeting.

What was supposed to be a discussion about the Brooklyn Public Library’s (BPL) desire to purchase the 2602 Bath Avenue lot occupied by the Ulmer Park Branch Library quickly turned into a screaming match.

Problems began when board Chair Marion Cleaver announced that BPL’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) application – it’s asking the city for permission to negotiation with the land owner – had been altered to exclude the words “eminent domain,” a term residents fear would allow the city to seize the land the library occupies, which is owned by the Parisi family.

But members of the community board, as well as the Parisi family, seemingly were not informed prior to the meeting that the change had been made, and were unsure as to what it would mean for BPL’s application.

Adding to the confusion was that the board’s Housing, Zoning and Land Use Committee rejected the ULURP application last month because of the possibility that eminent domain would be used.

Generally, community board members vote in accordance with a board’s committee, but in the case of BPL versus the Parisi family, members were voting against the committee’s stance.

That left many CB 13 members questioning what the ULURP application entailed.

When an attorney for the Parisi family offered to clarify the ULURP process, Cleaver asserted that the public was allowed to discuss BPL’s application at a hearing last month and at a meeting of the Housing, Zoning and Land Use Committee, and could not comment further.

The attorney and members of the Parisi family bit their tongues and complied with Cleaver’s rules – but not for long.

After CB 13 quickly voted to approve the ULURP application, the Parisi clan jumped out of their seats and screamed at the board for ruling in favor of BPL.

“This is eminent domain,” shouted a family member as he stormed out of the meeting. “The city’s going to take all your properties!”

At last month’s community board meeting, a BPL rep said that eminent domain would be the next step if the ULURP application is approved by the city and negotiations with the Parisi family prove fruitless.

“The city has the right to condemn the property through eminent domain,” Steven Schechter, BPL’s director of government and community affairs, told residents at the hearing.

But that would be a last resort.

With the community board’s backing, BPL will present its ULURP application to the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA). If approved there, negotiations would begin with the Parisi family.

“We can only pray that a negotiation will be reached,” Cleaver said.

Although BPL and the Parisi family have peacefully agreed to rent the Bath Avenue property to the Ulmer Park Library since 1963, that friendly accord fell apart last year when the family tried to raise BPL’s rent from $15 to $19 a square foot.

Library officials maintain that the money saved by owning rather than renting Ulmer Park Library’s land could be used to serve the public.

Schechter said, “One year’s rent would buy 10,000 more books, 225 new PCs, and allow us to make needed improvements to our buildings.”

Brooklyn NY Bay News: http://www.baynewsbrooklyn.com