CB2 OK’s Watchtower’s
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society moved one step closer this week toward
realizing its vision of a major residential complex for its world headquarters
on the edge of DUMBO.
In a split vote, Community Board 2 narrowly approved the plan 18-15 with
one abstention, at a special meeting at Long Island University on July 14.
The development — on an immense, vacant plot of land bounded by Jay,
Front, York and Bridge streets — would include 1,000 one-bedroom apartments
divided between four towers reaching 20, 18, 16 and 14 stories. The tallest
of the planned towers would be 220 feet. Four courtyards within the complex
would be gated, but remain open during the day.
The plans 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
At a public hearing earlier this month community some DUMBO and Vinegar
Hill residents called the buildings “too tall” and “out of
context” with the rest of the neighborhood and called on the religious
organization to scale them down.
But in its recommendation, CB2 is only asking the Watchtower Society, the
corporate entity of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious order, to shift
some of the height from one building to another.
Nancy Webster, president of the DUMBO Neighborhood Association (DNA) said
the community board’s recommendation did not go far enough. In a deal
brokered by Councilman David Yassky, DNA agreed to throw its support behind
the project, or at least not protest it, providing the religious organization
agrees to renovate the York Street subway station, restore Belgian-block
cobblestones along several local streets, install historic street lamps
throughout DUMBO and renovate a park at Jay Street under the Manhattan Bridge.
Just before the meeting, DNA officials asked the board to include height
caps of 12 stories at Jay Street and six stories on the Bridge Street side.
But that amendment was struck down before the board had a chance to vote
“We were very disappointed,” said Webster.
Aside from concerns about height, Webster and other residents have complained
that the complex will include no street-level retail, creating what they
see as a potentially dangerous vacuum around its perimeter leading up to
the already crime-riddled York Street F-line subway station at Jay Street.
Residents of the condominium apartment building at 79 Bridge St., across
the street from the development, have remained the staunchest foes of the
project, maintaining that the buildings, as planned, are too tall, out of
context with the recently burgeoning neighborhood, will cast shadows and
will clog the streets with traffic.
The plan now moves on to the next step in the city’s rigorous land
use review process, with a public hearing before Borough President Marty
Markowitz. It will then be reviewed by the City Planning Commission and
With its world headquarters just blocks away, the religious organization
is looking to consolidate many of its smaller residential facilities, most
of which are in Brooklyn Heights, and which house thousands of volunteers.
Watchtower owns 29 properties in Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO including 21
residential buildings ranging from brownstones to apartment buildings.
Currently zoned for manufacturing, the Watchtower Society originally planned
a printing facility for the site and even began demolition that has left
the plot vacant for the past 12 years.
But earlier this year, the religious organization moved its printing facilities
to upstate Wallkill, N.Y., and decided to use the DUMBO site for apartments
instead. It currently uses the massive tract of land for parking. And in
April, the Jehovah’s Witnesses entity sold its hulking, 12-story building
at 360 Furman St. at Atlantic Avenue for $200 million earlier this year.
The 1 million-square-foot waterfront property had been used as a book and
video distribution center. The new owners plan to develop apartments there.
In the DUMBO plan, a new Jehovah’s Witness visitors’ center would
be included at street level at the corner of York and Jay streets. Some
60,000 to 70,000 people visit the headquarters each year.
Councilwoman Letitia James, whose district includes the site, held a meeting
with tenants of the nearby Farragut Houses public housing complex to discuss
“Many people hadn’t been informed about it,” said James,
adding that if the project is approved she is looking for an agreement from
the Watchtower Society to hire locally.
©2004 Community News Group