Walentas again fights his neighbors over Dock Street apartment tower

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DUMBO real-estate titan David Walentas’s latest plan to build an apartment complex next to the Brooklyn Bridge is once again meeting resistance from residents’ groups in DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights — despite a smaller design and new incentives from the developer.

“It’s definitely a superior project now [as opposed to the defeated 2004 plan],” said Jed Walentas, who is taking a lead role in this project for his father’s Two Trees Management.

“The prior plan had too much bulk near the bridge — which was a genuine design flaw,” he added.

Since the 2004 defeat, the Walentases have acquired a former car part factory directly under the Brooklyn Bridge, allowing them to reconfigure the project so that the tallest segment — the 18-story wing — can be placed further away from the 124-year-old span.

The project, which would be bounded by Dock, Water and Front streets, now includes other sweeteners, including Walentas’s promise to build a public middle school, set aside 80 of the building’s 400 units as below-market-rate rentals, and use an environmentally friendly design that would make the building DUMBO’s first structure certified as “green” by the “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” program.

But that’s not enough for some people. The DUMBO Neighborhood Association has set up a Web site,, to oppose what it calls an “out-of-scale, high density and historically insensitive development.”

In a joint statement with the Brooklyn Heights Association, the group said that the “defects of this new project are essentially the same as those that resulted in the failure of the previous project.”

Both sides are fighting their battle on the Web, where dueling renderings have clouded the issue of just how much of the Brooklyn Bridge might actually be obscured.

For example, on the DUMBO Neighborhood Association Web site, a view of the Brooklyn Bridge from a neighboring tower is entirely blocked by the proposed Walentas building. But that photo rendering appears to have been taken from an affected apartment in the Sweeney Building, one of Walentas’s existing structures — whose owners were told in advance that their views would one day be lost.

“We said all along that two lines in that building — the F and G lines — will have their views devastated [by the new project],” Jed Walentas said. “That’s why we made it page one, paragraph one” of the sale contract.

Another photo rendering, taken from the Brooklyn Bridge footpath, shows the Walentas tower blocking part of the view of the Manhattan Bridge. The same rendering on Walentas’s site shows that the view of the Manhattan Bridge clears up entirely — if you walk a few more steps along the footpath towards Manhattan.

And Walentas’s renderings show that the concrete, warehouse-style building is very much in context in DUMBO, where other 180-foot buildings block myriad other views of the bridges that give the neighborhood its name and its dark, docklands-style feel.

The local objection to Walentas’s “Dock Street” project is not without an additional irony, given that it was Walentas who named the neighborhood in the first place after buying up many of the unused warehouse buildings and converting them to a neighborhood of trendy offices, luxury rentals and artists studios.

Many planners and urban advocates celebrate Walentas’s support for Mom and Pop stores, which he draws to DUMBO with subsidized rents, and his reluctance to rent to chains.

At the center of the opposition is Councilman David Yassky, who opposed Walentas’s 2004 plan after neighborhood groups inundated his office with anti-project postcards. This time, the Walentases have targeted the Brooklyn Heights Democrat with a postcard campaign of their own that tweaks Yassky for his continuing opposition to the project, despite his stated support for a new middle school.

Yassky said this week that he still opposes the “too-tall” building.

“It would still have too big an impact on the Brooklyn Bridge, both to and from the bridge,” he said. “We must take extraordinary care whenever something might have an impact on the bridge.”

Yassky’s opposition is a significant obstacle, given that the Walentases need a zoning change to build a residential tower on what is currently zoned for manufacturing.

But Yassky’s opposition is fraught for the term-limited councilman, as it would put him on the record as opposing a project that includes affordable housing and a middle school that he says he wants.

A Walentas-built middle school would save the city millions in construction costs — and those savings could convince the Department of Education to go ahead, despite the agency’s insistence the DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights do not need a middle school.

In an interview, Jed Walentas also sent a clear warning to Yassky and his other opponents, reminding them that a quirk in the zoning law would allow the Walentases to build a 35-story hotel — without city approval.

“I don’t put that out there as a threat,” he said, sounding a little like a man who put it out there as a threat.

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Reader Feedback

Mr. Dumbo from DUMBO says:

This piece is so lacking in objectivity that I am surprised there is not a Two Trees logo on it. Before you agree to shill you should walk the bridge, take a look at Manhattan and consider the impact that a twenty story building will have on that landmark. It will not be kind and more importantly, it will be permanent.

Next time, maybe you should discuss how ill-suited that location is for a school or how inappropriate it is to sell our public needs for overbearing development.
Dec. 21, 2007, 5:16 pm
Dan T from Park Slope says:
If you just walk a few minutes out onto either the Manhattan or Brooklyn bridges then no building can or ever will obscure the view between the two bridges. No pedestrian or bicyclist strolling across either of the bridges will mind or even notice that they are walking an extra hundred feet before that fantastic view of the East River opens up. Additionally, in a neighborhood where boxy and bulky buildings already block most views of the river and bridges, filling in one more underutilized lot will not change anything.

Isn't one of the wonderful things about DUMBO that usually you don't see the bridges, and then suddenly you turn a corner and a sliver of roadway slices diagonally between two former warehouses? If all the view lines of the river were to be preserved, that would entail removing all development north of Concord village; not something I imagine this building's opponents would be happy with (since they presumably all live in the buildings whose views would be impacted, although they ignore that their own buildings also block the views for people further up hill from them).

DUMBO contains very valuable real estate and it is well served by public transportation (F train and the potential for more regular ferry service). On this basis it is reasonable to build at relatively high density. Besides, if you look at the wide low-rise segment of the rendered building it appears that Walentas's new proposal has a lower FAR than its neighboring buildings. How is that out-of-scale? Old buildings are complimented, not desecrated when modern buildings are built around them at similar scale. Just look at the Richard Meier buildings in the West Village, or the new entrance to the Brooklyn Museum. Modern architecture helps to accentuate the value of older neighbors.

Considering the potential benefits of this development (below market rate units, education facilities, more density for DUMBO - which helps to justify more services and supports more local retail, etc.) it would be a shame if selfish and short-sighted local activism prevents its realization.
Dec. 23, 2007, 2:58 pm
Shan from Brooklyn says:
When will the developers be stopped? Soon, there will be no sky left ...
Dec. 23, 2007, 10:38 pm

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