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JUMBO DUMBO

The Brooklyn Paper


The DUMBO neighborhood, known for artist studios, stunning Manhattan views and relatively uncluttered streets, may soon more than double its residential population.

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, commonly known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious order, is expected within the next two weeks to submit to the city its plan to build four soaring apartment buildings on an immense plot of land bounded by Jay, Front, York and Bridge streets.

The DUMBO Neighborhood Association estimates that the area currently is home to about 1,500 residents. The Watchtower buildings would house about 2,000 more.

The religious organization, whose world headquarters already lies at the neighborhood’s perimeter, owns the three acre site.

“This huge piece of land is going to be a fortress to the rest of the neighborhood,” said Christy Newberg, who moved into the new 32-unit luxury condominium at 79 Bridge St., across the street from the proposed development, last August.

“It’s not going to provide anything that the neighborhood needs,” she said, adding that she is also concerned about the increased traffic the development will bring.

The Department of City Planning has been working with the Watchtower Society for the past year and a half to develop an appropriate design for the buildings half a block from the Manhattan Bridge overpass.

Once certified, the clock would start on the city’s rigorous land use review process, with public hearings before Community Board 2, Borough President Marty Markowitz, the City Planning Commission and the City Council.

Currently zoned for manufacturing, the Watchtower Society originally planned a printing facility for the site and even began demolition that has left a gaping hole there for the past 12 years.

But the organization this year shifted its printing facilities 90 miles outside the city to upstate Wallkill, N.Y.

At a special presentation to the DUMBO Neighborhood Association Tuesday night, Watchtower Society officials unveiled renderings for the 1,000 units of housing divided between four buildings of 20, 18, 16 and 14 stories. The tallest building would reach 220 feet.

The plans also include a three-story assembly hall with a seating capacity of 2,500, a 1,600-person dining facility and an 1,100-space underground parking garage.

The site has raised concerns among its potential DUMBO neighbors who claim the project is out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood and will create a “dead zone” because it does not include any retail space at the street level.

“At this point we’re waiting to see the final application,” said Nancy Webster, president of the DUMBO Neighborhood Association, which wants the bulk and height of the project scaled back.

Councilman David Yassky, whose district includes the site, said this week he also had some reservations about the development.

“My main focus is upgrading infrastructure,” said Yassky, who wants the Watchtower Society to contribute to the cost of fixing up the desolate York Street subway station.

A group of residents even created 85jaystreet.org to keep each other informed about the development.

In an attempt to ease some of the local concern, the Watchtower Society made minor modifications, including adding entranceways and situating the main entrance on Jay Street across from the York Street F-line subway station, which neighbors have long considered isolated and unsafe.

Keith Cady, an architect and volunteer for the Watchtower Society, said they were looking to “help animate the streetscape” by adding many entrances to their buildings.

“We don’t want this as a barren or foreboding facade,” he said.

In an attempt to blend in with the old industrial character of DUMBO, architects Beyer, Blinder, Belle — famed for their renovation of Grand Central Station — will use brick similar to some of the smaller buildings in the area.

No vehicular entrances will be included on Jay Street to keep a clear path from the subway station to the new Brooklyn Bridge Park along the waterfront.

Fielding concerns about street activity, Devine noted the a new Jehovah’s Witness visitors’ center would also be included at street level. Some 60,000 to 70,000 people visit the headquarters each year.

While members of the DNA steering committee said they were pleased with the changes, they are still concerned about the plan.

“I’m still very concerned about the size and disappointed that retail is not an option,” said Nicholas Evans-Cato, president of the Vinegar Hill Association. The Watchtower project straddles both DUMBO and Vinegar Hill.


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