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Did city lie about its Dock Street plans?

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The School Construction Authority was not being honest last June when it stated publicly that it did not “identify a need” for a new middle school in Brooklyn Heights or DUMBO because the comment came while the agency was in the midst of negotiating with a DUMBO developer to build just such a school.

That’s the most stunning news buried in dozens of pages of just-released documents made public by the SCA after a freedom of information request by Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights), who is an opponent of a project by David and Jed Walentas of Two Trees Management to build an 18-story tower and public middle school on Dock Street near the Brooklyn Bridge.

“It’s always troubling when government agencies, which are accountable to the public, are doing one thing in private yet saying something else in public,” said Yassky, referring to School Construction Authority executive Elizabeth Bergin’s comment, reported by The Brooklyn Paper, that the agency saw no need for a middle school even as it was negotiating with Two Trees to build just such a school.

Yassky cited a May 20 letter from Two Trees to the School Construction Authority which provided the development company’s “best and final offer for the Dock Street DUMBO middle school.”

The letter, signed by Jed Walentas, begins, “We appreciate your continued interest in working with us to develop a new public middle school.”

Former City Councilman Ken Fisher, who was hired by Two Trees to help steer the controversial project through the ongoing public approval process, said that Two Trees’ May 20 letter is no smoking gun.

“They said what they said publicly because they were not fully on board with us at that time,” he said. “They were still negotiating with us. They wanted us to give them our best offer and then see if we had support for the project. Only after we had done that, they said OK” in late 2008.

The just-released documents — mostly e-mails from School Construction Authority officials to Two Trees, plus entertainingly candid internal documents — include plenty of less-explosive correspondence that nonetheless bolster a case made by Dock Street opponents that the School Construction Authority did not fully consider alternative sites for a middle school besides the Walentas’s proposal.

The agency has long said that it has fully considered all alternative sites for the school that have been suggested by Yassky, including expanding the current K-5 program at PS 8 on Hicks Street into a K-8 school.

But the documents reveal that the School Construction Authority has only looked at two alternatives: PS 8 and the former police precinct on Poplar Street.

And an internal SCA e-mail dated Dec. 8 casts doubt on the depth of the agency’s analysis of a third site. In the e-mail, from Lorraine Grillo to Kenrick Ou, Grillo dismisses Yassky’s request that the agency consider a newly discovered alternative at 205 Water St.

“David Yassky referred this guy to me because he has property in Brooklyn on Water Street between Bridge and Jay,” the memo said. “Now I know that if we don’t do the Walentas project that we don’t really want to do anything else over there, but I think we have to follow up on this just so we can say that the Walentas project is such a good deal.”

Again, Fisher dismissed the significance of the Grillo memo.

“There are other documents in the package that show that they did evaluate proposals submitted to them and that they rejected them because they simply were not as good as our proposal,” Fisher said.

“It’s disappointing that anyone would say that the SCA hadn’t considered alternatives. They considered them and rejected them. In the case of the Dec. 9 memo, the SCA knows that any other developer was going to charge them for land and for the core and shell of the school. Two Trees is not charging for either.

“That makes all the other alternatives less attractive to SCA than Two Trees,” he said.

Yassky disagreed: “My reading of that memo is that they have no interest in fully considering other alternatives. They have not proven that they have looked seriously enough at Water Street or the PS 8 expansion.”

Yassky was reminded that Two Trees says it offering the school for free — a savings that the SCA has said is equivalent to nearly $50 million in construction costs.

“Two Trees is paying for the core and shell of the school,” Yassky said. “The SCA still has $43 million in its budget for a school. All I’m saying is that if they put out a request for proposals, they might find a developer willing to do it for even less than Walentas.”

The 205 Water St. site is owned by Harry Kotowitz, who has repeatedly declined to reveal the extent of his offer to the School Construction Authority. Fisher said that Kotowitz’s offer would cost the SCA more money because “he’s not offering anything for free like Two Trees is.”

Others pointed out that in 2006, Kotowitz was widely criticized — including by David Yassky and the anti-Walentas DUMBO Neighborhood Association — for tearing down the historic building that once stood at that site.

Will Havemann, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said the agency is “doing its due diligence” at the 205 Water St. site, but added that “at this time, we still believe that the Dock Street project is the most cost-efficient proposal.”

In other interesting news from the document dump:

• The full extent of the Two Trees lobbying campaign becomes a bit clearer. Several times over the past six months, Jed Walentas or Laura Bailyn wrote directly to School Construction Authority officials to urge them to get on the same page as the company.

On Nov. 24, for example, Bailyn wrote to a variety of city officials to urge the School Construction Authority to publicly repudiate Yassky’s call for a middle school at the PS 8 site.

“The Department of Education and the SCA need to make clear to the community that Dock Street is the only site under consideration … and only because of the Two Trees donation is there even the possibility of the school. … If this is not done, the PS8 or other alternative will gain currency.”

A month later, a Two Trees lobbyist, Joni Yoswein, told Jed Walentas that she hoped the School Construction would “do the right thing and shut down this option publicly.”

Walentas forwarded — most likely by accident — Yoswein’s e-mail to School Construction Authority President Sharon Greenberger, who wrote back, “We have said consistently that we support this project [and that] a K-8 addition at PS 8 is not feasible.”

Then, later in the day, though, Greenberger sent an e-mail to a member of her staff that reflected her frustration with Two Trees’ demands.

“How dare they state ‘the SCA should do the right thing,’” she wrote. “This is their project to carry, not ours.”

The upshot of the massive document dump remains unclear, however. Walentas’s Dock Street project has been generating support during the public review process. It has already been approved by Community Board 2 and Borough President Markowitz, though his support was conditioned on setting back the residential portion of the building further from the Brooklyn Bridge.

The City Planning Commission is expected to approve the project, setting up a frenzied debate in the City Council, where Yassky and colleague Bill DeBlasio oppose it and Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene) supports it.

Updated 1:27 am, March 26, 2009: Updated to include comments from Councilman Yassky and additional context.
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Dave from Dumbo says:
Yes, of course the City and SCA lied about Dock Street. And the Brooklyn Paper was complicit in their repeated misstatements. If the BP were a real newspaper, it, not Councilman Yassky, would have submitted the FOIA request and uncovered the truth behind the Dock Street proposal. But it has been evident from the start that BP hasn't been interested in the truth; only in printing wildly biased articles about why the neighborhood should support Two Trees. Shame on Brooklyn Paper.

As for the collusion between Two Trees, NYC and the SCA, I hope the NYT (a real newspaper) picks up this story.
March 20, 2009, 7:25 pm
Publius from Bklyn Hgts says:
Gersh:

You and the Brooklyn Paper continue to disgrace the news profession.

Not only is your "reporting" wildly slanted in favor of the project, but you continually neglect to cite disclosure in each of your stories that the Brooklyn Paper rents office space from Two Trees and thus has material business dealings with the subject of your "articles."

Your slanted reporting will suit you well for your new master, Sir Rupert.
March 20, 2009, 11:01 pm
freddy from slope says:
uh,

they are moving out next week. gonna be in ratnerville next.
March 21, 2009, 12:56 am
Publius from Bklyn Hgts says:
Then next week they can start sucking up to Ratner.
March 21, 2009, 9:30 am
BklynBridgeGirl from DUMBO says:
The “promised school” was sitting on a five level car garage under the Bridge. Is that a reasonable offer given pollution, highways above and below and other potential concerns associated with the area?
Now let’s find out about the “promised" affordable housing and "promised" union jobs?

What is promised????
Not to renew the lease of the League School” who serves the most fragile and needy children of this city so that more condos can be built…
“Out of scale rents” to a neighborhood that is already struggling in this economy.
“Out of scale buildings” to take away light, air, and open spaces. Shadows cast on the streets and parks. The loss of view plains and and the ability to view the spans of Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges from Brooklyn Heights and the Promenade.
Not to be able to cross the narrow Front, Water and other streets in the neighborhood (with a carriage or toddler ) because there is a 500 car garage located at the primary enterence to the historic district neighborhood.
This project is full of bad promises for DUMBO, Fulton Ferry, Brooklyn Heights and all of New York .
March 21, 2009, 10:38 am
Mike from Brooklyn Heights says:
Dan Kanner is hopeless--can't take this serious
March 21, 2009, 2:42 pm
Carlo Trigiani from Brooklyn Heights says:
The opposition to Dock Street is playing their last card. Nothing of substance here.

Yassky is playing politics as usual. David slaying Goliath (read SCA) is just what a city comptroller should do. Very convenient, don't you think?

Yassky and his staff have been working on solving the middle school problem for years. He didn't know the SCA was negotiating with TTs? Where was the good councilman? A fundraiser?
March 21, 2009, 8:01 pm
Dave from Dumbo says:
Carlo -- Now I see what a Two Trees shill you really are. What the FOIA documents show and what the pro-Dock Street crowd should have known (but chose to bury your heads in the sand about) was that SCA wasn't really interested in building a school in the neighborhood; only in helping TT with their precious development project You too chose to ignore TT's fraud and collusion with SCA, and now you're embarrassed for your cupidity. What a moron.
March 21, 2009, 10:36 pm
Carlo Trigiani from Brooklyn Heights says:
Wow Dave. Little testy there don't you think. It's a big jump to fraud and collusion. I'm only embarrased that I live in the same zip code as you.
March 21, 2009, 11:22 pm
No One from BH says:
"He didn't know the SCA was negotiating with TTs?"

No one knew. Don't you *get* it?
March 21, 2009, 11:26 pm
Beavis from Bklyn USA says:
Carlo:

You're free to move from the zip code at any time. Don't let the moving truck door hit you.

Nice to see you crawling out from under your rock to apologize once again for Two Trees duplicity. Please continue to discredit yourself on blogs.

My only satisfaction from all of this is that once Walentas gets his way, you'll be quite disappointed that he f's you and anyone who actually believes a school will be built at Dock Street. High probabilty that won't happen, since NONE OF THESE PROMISES ARE IN WRITING--anywhere. Big mistake.

Maybe you can then plead with Jed to let you have the League Treatment School after he's kicked them out by denying them market rate rent.

Then we'll all lose except Walenta$.
March 22, 2009, 12:19 am
The Truth from DUMBO says:
Maybe it's time for a history lesson for Carlo. Read this 1985 article in New York magazine for an idea of what the Walentases are all about.

http://books.google.com/books?id=ybUBAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA32&lpg=PA32
March 22, 2009, 1:20 am
Carlo Trigiani from Brooklyn Heights says:
You guys crack me up. There is fluff. Believe what you want. Have your truths. Conspire against all you consider evil. You protectors of the people.

Oh and while you're at it, enroll your kid in a public school. Pick up some trash in your local park. Pay some taxes. Share your neighborhood with others. And read your offering memorandums.

Offer something better than Walentas. You want to put him out of business, build a better building on land you own.

If I'm a shill for Walentas, then you are gullible Yasskyphiles!
March 22, 2009, 9:30 am
A. Stengel from Dumbo says:
Reality Check on the "Savings" for a Core and Shell (Hint: it's a distraction from the real issue.)

It's clear that SCA failed to consider any EXISTING buildings, other than PS 8, which was handed to them. So, SCA considered a total of two alternitives.

Ken's attempt to spin the issue of improper due diligence fails. ("In the case of the Dec. 9 memo, the SCA knows that any other developer was going to charge them for land and for the core and shell of the school.") The core and shell of the school is moot if a number of existing buildings were considered. That didn't happen.

Many of the options that were NOT examined by SCA are existing structures, e.g., 360 Furman, St. Charles, etc., which defies Ken's point when he compares his cost savings only to alternate new development sites. It's the difference between consumption of existing inventory/supply vs. new supply.

The difference between an existing building and new construction is even more important today than it was only four months ago with the condition of the economy. Even when presented with evidence that something is rotten in SCA-land, the pro-Dock St. crowd is content to leave all its chips on something that MAY be built (where is the capital?) instead of (there I go again) an existing building.
March 22, 2009, 11:57 am
Gersh from Park Slope says:
Hi everyone:

As Editor of The Brooklyn Paper, I'm enjoying the debate, but I am sick and tired of this ongoing lie about The Brooklyn Paper and its soon-to-be-former landlord. As such, as a service to those who seek to cast doubt on our honest reporting, I will repost a lengthy statement furnished by our former publisher, Ed Weintrob. His comment is just as relevant now as it was a month ago.

GERSH KUNTZMAN
Editor
The Brooklyn Paper

Here's Ed's post from two months ago:

A few posters who oppose the Dock Street building have alleged that The Brooklyn Paper is a "shill for the developer," that our reporting is "editorializing" and "a travesty of journalism," and that we are "obviously biased and beholden to Two Trees" because we rent an office in a Two Trees-owned building.

We don't expect everyone to agree with the emphasis of some of our stories (about Dock Street or anything else), and since we clearly know how to dish it out, we're not going to grumble about "taking it" in turn.

But do regular readers of The Brooklyn Paper REALLY believe we are "shills" for developers? Please!

As for Two Trees, it is no secret that we are rental tenants in one of Two Trees’ DUMBO buildings (we've mentioned this in the past, and several posters have pointed it out on our own Web site — so, no secret). As far as we know, our lease terms are in line with those of comparable tenants. We PAY for our space.

So there is no conspiracy or secret payback here. We are not business partners with Two Trees in the sense that the business fortunes of Two Trees do not affect our bottom line (unlike, for instance, the New York Times, which has a business partnership in its Times Square building with Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner).

While our coverage is honestly motivated, we accept that people with equally honest motivations might choose to approach the story differently, and that is why this comment space is open to all reasonable parties.

Ed Weintrob
Publisher (now former)
The Brooklyn Paper
March 22, 2009, 3:38 pm
A Stengel from Dumbo says:
Ed,

While it's nice that you've posted the note here in the comments section, you have a much greater obligation to inform readers of your relationship with the developer you write and editorialize about.

It's the paper's responsibility to disclose the financial relationship, e.g., tenant, with the subject of news stories and editorials--in those very news stories and editorials. Not in the comments section of the paper's website.

You write "our lease terms are in line with those comparable tenants." Do you mean comparable tenants of the developer? Or comparable tenants that pay a fair market rent in Dumbo? If you're willing to make that statement, why don't you disclose the terms of your lease, cost per square foot, term, etc.?
March 22, 2009, 5:30 pm
freddy from slope says:
i'd buckle up gersh. gonna get bumpy from here on out.

your new employer's(and your) objectivity, always in question till now, just took another hit with the murdoch thing.

we all know that many of the things predicted as outcomes will actually come to pass. the only question when they do is whether you/your paper will be roasted on a spit during a slow news week.

the blood is in the water folks. won't be long now.
March 22, 2009, 5:42 pm
Publius from Bklyn Hgts says:
Gersh:

Sorry your feelings are hurt.

But perhaps you were absent that day in journalism school when they tought that *each time* you report on a subject or person with whom the reporter or the publication has business dealings (and yes, renting your office from the entity you report and editorialize on is a business dealing, and a material one at that), you must disclose the business relationship.

The Brooklyn Paper continually neglects to do this. Each time, Gersh, each time.

Then each of your readers can make up their own mind if you're ruggedly independent in your reporting and editorializing, or a shill for your landlord.

Hope you'll enjoy working for News Corp.
March 22, 2009, 10:58 pm
Ed from Brooklyn Heights says:
Instead of trying to intuit The Brooklyn Paper's motivations, why not discuss the issue at hand? Either you like the Dock Street project or you don't; either you favor the proposed school or you don't.

The Paper's relationship with Two Trees (as tenant) is well known and does not need to be restated every week. Just as The Paper's future relationship with Forest City (as tenant) is (or will be) well known, and will not need to be restated every week.

On Dock Street, The Paper's editorial board repeatedly expressed strong support for the Walentas' latest proposal. On its own merits.

Is it possible that our view was colored by our tenancy? Conceivably -- but only insofar our first-hand experience led us to view the Walentases as good landlords, and good stewards of historic DUMBO.

News coverage, while managed by some of the same people who craft The Paper's editorials, is a separate matter. Does anyone honestly believe that the story to which these comments are attached is a Walentas puff-piece?

Ed Weintrob
Former Publisher
The Brooklyn Paper
March 24, 2009, 8:17 am
Publius from Bklyn Hgts says:
Mr. Weintrob:

If you feel that readers of your publication don't need to be informed whenever you report on an entity or person with whom you have material business dealings, that's your prerogative. However, many people feel that it diminishes the credibility of your (now Murdoch's) newspaper.
No one is saying every week to state the relationship. But if you read reputable papers, or watch or listen to reputable news shows, each time they report on a subject or person with whom there's a material business relationship, it's disclosed to the public. Each time. Why does the Brooklyn Paper not adhere to this simple journalistic standard?

The public can't be expected to notice that you disclosed it once sometime in the past. There are news consumers who come to you or any other news organization each day who are new consumers, or who simply don't follow your publication on a regular basis to know that one or two times in the past you may have disclosed this business relationship.

I also find your self-answered rhetorical question above mildly amusing and somewhat of a non sequitur. You say it's possible that your view was colored by your tenancy, but can't conceive that your belief that the Walentases "as good landlords, and good stewards of historic DUMBO" that would color your support of the project.
As a participant in the CB2 meeting in December and the Borough Hall meeting in January, I personally saw many of Two Trees tenants who got sweetheart deals on their rents come out strongly in favor of the project. This was clearly a "thank you" and payback to Two Trees for their personal business relationships, and perhaps the desire to see more foot and vehicular traffic in the neighborhood to support their individual businesses. In the past other Two Trees tenants have said they felt pressured by their landlord to support previous real estate projects and to state so publically.

So when you ask, "Does anyone honestly believe that the story to which these comments are attached is a Walentas puff-piece?". The answer is Yes. Not as much for the above piece, but especially for previous “news stories” and editorials run in the Brooklyn Paper I suspect it, and so do others in the DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights area with whom I've spoken about Dock Street/DUMBO and the general news coverage of the story.

The New York Times ran a fair piece on the Dock St./DUMBO story. Perhaps you read it?
March 25, 2009, 1:06 am
Carlo Trigiani from Brooklyn Heights says:
Dear Editor and former Publisher,

Rest assured that many of your readers appreciate your reporting on this very important issue.

And to the Dock Street opposition, thanks for constantly reminding us that anyone or group that disagrees with your position is, in your opinion, incapable of journalistic integrity or independent thought.

Please give your neighbors a little credit. Are we to assume that Mr. Stengel, a Yassky appointee to the community board, is incapable of taking his own position? Are we to question the path to his appointment?

I hope not.

Sincerely.
March 25, 2009, 9:40 am
freddy from slope says:
Dear soon-to-be former Editor and former Publisher,

Now that you mention it i do(or did of you) expect that you follow basic journalistic standards. since you felt a driving need to take up residence in the walentaworld i expect that you will mention, EVERY TIME, when you are doing a story that is impacted by or impacts you landlord. duh.

do your job. or someone else will do it.

you are in ratnerworld now. i expect it to be on the homepage daily. oh yeah, how many articles lately about ratner?
March 25, 2009, 8:15 pm
The Truth from DUMBO says:
Hey Ed,

On CNBC, *every time* one of their anchors mentions the price of GE stock, or a story about GE, they remind viewers that GE is the owner of their parent network. Why is that?
Doesn't everybody know that?
March 27, 2009, 10:04 am
Carlo Trigiani from Brooklyn Heights says:
Dear Truth,

CNBC's guest commentators disclose conflicts as well. I'm sure it's a legal defense more than anything.

Wouldn't it be fair if those opposing Dock Street give their names, addresses, disclose whether they are losing views, have children and whether those children are enrolled in public school?

Seems fair to me.

I'm all for
March 27, 2009, 10:35 am
Beavis from Bklyn USA says:
I think it would also be fair for Carlo to disclose if his rabid advocacy for Two Trees stems from either a direct or indirect business relationship with said firm, since Carlo is a VP of a commercial real estate investment trust(and the Walentas' are in the commercial real estate business).

Or if Carlo just wants future potential business contacts to Google his name and see him associated with this commercial real estate investment project.
March 28, 2009, 1:21 am
Eazy G from East New York says:
Yo dogs, someone tell those Walentas fools that if they want to build those apartments and classrooms, I got some nice weeded land off New Lots Avenue with scenic views of abandoned cars and boats floating through Spring Creek. F views of the bridge. I'll sell you one for fitty cent.
Let's make a deal boys.
March 28, 2009, 3:43 am
john from brooklyn Heights says:
We are the only city in the world that is fighting a free school building in favor of spending a few hundred million.
David Yassky forget that we pay taxes and are currently in debt big time. OH I forgot the council is all about grandstanding and campaign contributions
March 28, 2009, 9:04 pm
Carlo Trigiani from Brooklyn Heights says:
Beavis,

I'm a lowly vice president for a publicly traded Real Estate Investment Trust. I work in asset management and am proud to say I'm just a regular guy trying to better his community. I'm far from a CEO and have not received TARP funds (or matching campaign funds like Yassky.) I live in a COOP, mommy and daddy didn't co-sign the loan or give me the down payment, ie no trust fund here Beav. My wife and I work hard, save our money and try to provide the best we can for our children.

David Walentas wouldn't know me if I slapped him in the face. I've talked to Jed Walentas four times in my life. The gist of those conversations were him thanking me for my support and me thanking him for the generous middle school offer. Got it Beav? No conflicts. No dirty deals.

How about you? Do you have a real name? Are you a BHA or Yassky operative? How much have you and the BHA/DNA given to Yassky's campaign? Do you hate kids or just certain kinds of kids? Are you man or woman enough to tell us who you are? Where you live? What you'll be losing if Dock Street is built? Can you be honest with us?

If you prefer, stay the coward you appear to be. Hide behind your cute name or trust fund or ideals or whatever it is that makes you Beav.

Sincerely.
March 30, 2009, 10:09 am
Dan from Park Slope says:
It's amazing that the Post was fairer than the Brooklyn Paper on this story and reported the truth

http://www.nypost.com/seven/04012009/news/regionalnews/dumbo_stumble_162375.htm
April 2, 2009, 12:31 am

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