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Concern about rising DUMBO

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A series of high-rise residential buildings under construction or planned in DUMBO have residents concerned that the city and local government has been too lackadaisical in assessing the impact of project-specific zoning allowances.

Foundation work has begun at 85 Adams St. for a 30-story tower that will become the first skyscraper in DUMBO’s relatively low-rise, 10-story warehouse district.

The mixed-use building, called Beacon Tower by developer Leviev Boymelgreen, will bring 79 one- and two-bedroom luxury condominium apartments with private terraces, as well as three-bedroom penthouses, a rooftop garden and 3,700 square feet of ground-floor retail.

But as construction commences, members of the same groups of residents that vehemently fought much lower-rise buildings than the 297-foot tower under construction are left shaking their heads, and without recourse to block the as-of-right building.

“It certainly represents a failure on the part of Vinegar Hill and DUMBO to not have opposed them,” said Nicholas Evans-Cato, an area artist and president of the Vinegar Hill Association, who apologetically explained that he was not the president of the organization when the zoning for the building passed the city’s land use review process.

“That was a big screw-up,” Evans-Cato said at a meeting held by the two neighborhood groups earlier in December. The meeting was called to address the City Planning Commission’s approval of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society’s proposal to build four 14- to 20-story dormitories on an empty lot bounded by Bridge, York, Front and Jay streets, a block away from the Adams Street development.

Since the meeting, the city has approved Watchtower’s plans.

The same group of local homeowners and renters were the thorn in the side of David and Jed Walentas in their plans to develop a 17-story tower at 38 Water St. That plan was defeated largely due to the mixed-use building’s proximity to the Brooklyn Bridge overpass, views of which would have blocked.

But the height allowance for the Boymelgreen building, which abuts the less beloved Manhattan Bridge overpass, was approved by Community Board 2, the first step in its city review, mainly because it was not the first skyscraper to receive such a variance in the neighborhood.

According to Ursula Hahn, a longstanding member of CB2’s Land Use committee — she is not a board member — the committee had no reason to disallow a zoning variance at 85 Adams St. when it came up for review in 2003, because a variance had been granted in 2001 for 100 Jay St., on the other side of the Manhattan Bridge, for a since defunct proposal to build a luxury high-rise called “Light Bridges,” which had promised spectacular architecture and ground-level retail in what was then a largely barren area.

“Light Bridges was rezoned a couple years ago,” Hahn said, and had been brought to the CB2 Land Use committee in a model presentation by Cara Developers and their architects, Sharples Holden Pasquarelli (SHoP).

“They showed this dazzling, undulating light tower, and I think we noticed that this was going to be very high, but we were also very enamored with this building,” she said.

In January 2002, 100 Jay St.’s rezoning was approved by the City Council, the final step in the review process.

At the time, according to reports in The Brooklyn Papers, the two tall buildings proposed to span the block bounded by York, Pearl, Jay and Front streets were going to stand 18 stories and sit on a common base, and while then-DUMBO Neighborhood Association president Rachel Demarest Gold told The Papers that her group had been concerned about the height, she also said, “Everything else is positive.”

That plan never broke ground.

What is planned for the 100 Jay St. site now is a 31-story, box-like building with a wall of windows on the east-facing facade.

“The new building is taller, but it’s also a less interesting building” than Light Bridges, said Nancy Webster, president of the DNA.

According to filings with the city’s Department of Buildings, 100 Jay St. will stand 337 feet tall, and offer 260 apartments, 268 parking spaces and possibly retail and offices on the first four floors.

Now neighbors want the City Planning Commission to “make a pledge” to disallow any more site-specific rezoning “before a comprehensive rezoning that the community can be involved in,” said Webster. “We want to preserve the contextual historic character of the neighborhood.” .


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