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Yes on Dock Street

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This newspaper’s editorial board has taken a strong position in support of David and Jed Walentases’ proposal for a residential tower, plus a public middle school and roughly 70 units of below-market-rate housing, on Dock Street in DUMBO.

Nothing we heard at Tuesday night’s well-attended public hearing at Borough Hall changed our belief that the Walentases have intelligently retooled the failed 2004 version of their project into something that will ultimately benefit DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights.

Yes, many of the roughly 60 opponents of the project who spoke on Tuesday made eloquent cases that the residential rezoning sought by the Walentases will ensure a nice profit for the family. And some still believe that the 18-story segment of the project would forever destroy views of the fabled Brooklyn Bridge, despite a Brooklyn Paper investigation that showed only a minor impact. That opponents made their case with flawed and inaccurate mock-ups of the Dock Street proposal — some showed off a 19-story building extending beyond the property line, while others put the Walentas building in the wrong place to emphasize its impact on the bridge — further undercut their case.

Few opponents acknowledged an important fact: the Walentases own the land and could build a tall building as-of-right, though it could not be residential. We have long held that landowners have the right to develop their properties, but if they seek a zoning change to enhance their profits, they need to come to the table and give the community something in exchange.

That’s exactly what the Walentases have done on Dock Street. The inclusion of the middle school is a win for a community that has long argued for just such a facility within walking distance.

For too long, the School Construction Authority argued that a new middle school was not needed in Brooklyn Heights or DUMBO because the city had excess middle school seats district-wide. But now that the agency is finally listening to parents and elected officials about the need for seats locally, some locals want to turn down the Walentases’ offer.

What is often forgotten when passions run high is that David Walentas is not a drive-by developer who wants to destroy DUMBO while grabbing a few quick bucks.

He spent the last 30 years, patiently and meticulously, building modern DUMBO from a warehouse district into one of the city’s most-desirable neighborhoods, maintaining its architectural and historic integrity. He still lives on Main Street with his wife, Jane.

He’s made millions, yes, but we hardly think his opponents, many of them well off residents of Brooklyn Heights, want to make the intellectually dishonest argument that risk-taking, responsible investors should be denied a profit.

And lest we forget, all of the buildings that have earned the ire of DUMBO residents and workers — including the ugly Beacon Tower that destroys the view of the Manhattan Bridge and the 33-story J Condo — were the ones NOT  built by Walentas.

While Walentas was nurturing arts groups and Mom and Pop stores, someone else brought in the generic Starbucks that DUMBO residents love to hate.

Time and time again, David and Jed Walentas have proven to be responsible stewards of their DUMBO holdings. Their Dock Street project should be approved.

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Dave says:
Interesting that you're now reporting "60 opponents" of the project at the BBP hearing. If 85 people spoke in total then how is that your reporter wrote earlier this week that only a "slight majority" testified against the project? You also claim that project opponents have displayed inaccurate renderings -- a charge that has little basis in fact -- but you do not question the pretty entirely hypothetical pictures offered by Two Trees and its paid architects. And you ignore that the 18-story tower would significantly impact the views from the Brooklyn Bridge of Dumbo, Brooklyn Bridge park, and the Manhattan Bridge. Little surprise given that you're a TT tenant.

Your coverage of Dock Street has been laughable and is a disservice to journalists that do their job with integrity. SHAME ON YOU.
Jan. 29, 2009, 7:10 pm
Gersh & Ed are at it again.. from DUMBO says:
I have never seen such adamant defense of any one construction project by any reputable publication or newspaper in my entire life. The motives for such continued one-sided coverage can only make any rational person wonder what this paper, and all the other Two Trees tenants who showed up to speak on behalf of their landlord, have been promised. Your paper has reported inaccuracies and flat out lies to prevent any healthy debate and to castigate those who are against this project, as preservationist zealots or opportunist interested in preserving their own personal views. Such poor, self motivated, anything but objective reporting is quite frankly unsavory and akin to the dirty politics we have recently witnessed in Illinois. Your paper is not ethical journalism, rather, your paper is nothing more than propaganda; a branch of the Two Trees marketing team and pawns of the well paid publicists hired by your landlord… SHAMEFUL!
Jan. 29, 2009, 7:35 pm
A. Stengel from Dumbo says:
Brooklyn Paper and Gersh,

In the words of the Gipper: there you go again.

I'll react to just one of the issues that you present and is false. The as-of-right alternative would not likely be larger, unless it were only a community facility like a hospital, but not a school. (And it is interesting how the paper always rounds up when beneficial, i.e., "roughly 70 units of below-market-rate housing." The developers have said 65 units. Why exaggerate?) This editorial, like the the previous, is built on more fiction than fact.

The developer can build a hotel as of right ONLY WITH AN FAR of 2.0. That's 2 stories on the entire lot, 4 stories on half, 8 on a quarter, and so on.

If an as-of-right community facility were built, the FAR is a bit higher, 4.8. But this higher density use does not allow a school or a hotel. It could be a heathcare facility (which I find doubtful given the developer's specious position that only the current proposal would be profitable).

If they were to combine the two, say a hotel and community facility, the FAR would be 3.0, a possible hotel of 2.0 FAR, and the community facility of 1.0. That would be 3 stories on the entire site, 6 on half, 12 on a quarter. Again, it's highly unlikely.

Below is a breakdown of the three scenarios. Bottom line: a taller building as of right is pure fantasy.

Andrew

1) As of right M1-2 ONLY:

The site is zoned an M1-2, which has a 2.0 FAR. The site is approximately 45,000 square feet, which would generate about 90,000 square feet of allowable floor area. This means that if the entire site were covered by a building - without any exemptions, such as the parking garage that they are proposing, some of which would normally count towards FAR - the site would have a maximum height of two-stories. If half the site were used, it would generate a four-story building; one-quarter of the site, an eight-story building, one-eighth of the site, a sixteen-story building. However, in each case, THE REMAINDER OF THE SITE would essentially have to have NO BUILDING upon it. In the case of the sixteen-story building, were it to be built, it would be approximately 25 feet wide, which would not be economical for Two Trees.

2) Community Facility ONLY:

If the site were to have a community facility located there, the site would generate an FAR of 4.8. However, the building would have to be ENTIRELY used for community facility usage. While schools are prohibited under M1-2 zoning due to its current Use Group, healthcare facilities are not, for example. So, if the building were to be constructed, the site would generate approximately 215,000 square feet. Again, if the entire site were used, that would generate a five to six-story building, half the site, a twelve-story building, etc. I find this scenario unlikely, as there are few entities - particularly in these hard economic times - that would be able to construct something like this.

3) Mixed M1-2 and Community Facility:

If the site were developed as a mixed-use building including M1-2 and Community Facility usage, the site would generate a 3.0 FAR. This is due to a rule that states that if you have a mixed M, R, or C zoning designation which includes a Community Facility, the Community Facility bonus is limited to 1.0 FAR. If any amount is included over 1.0 FAR for the Community Facility, the ENTIRE BUILDING must be used for Community Facility usage. THIS IS FOR EVERY ZONE, which is why the current Dock Street proposal has the middle school limited to 1.0 FAR with no possibility of expansion. They CANNOT expand the school, as they have maxed out their possible FAR for the site for community facility usage.

So, under this scenario, the M1-2 has 2.0 FAR, and the Community Facility maximum is 1.0, which creates a 3.0 FAR. However, under the M1-2, a school is prohibited.
Jan. 29, 2009, 8:37 pm
Another Falsehood... from DUMBO says:
Thank you A. Stengel for giving the Brooklyn Paper a much needed tutorial on zoning. It seems like the experts they consulted (ahh… Two Trees) have not clearly explained the zoning details as accurately as you did. A second falsehood is the characterization of the community group’s renderings. It seems that the members of the Brooklyn Paper are not only fantastically objective writers and zoning experts but also architectural rendering experts. I would like to know what independent experts they have consulted with to determine the accuracy of the opposition’s renderings. What makes them qualified in determining the accuracy of Two Trees renderings? The only thing they seemed qualified to do is to spread inaccuracies and outright lies in promoting this development.
Jan. 29, 2009, 11:05 pm
the truth from DUMBO says:
The renderings provided by the opponents are not meant to be 100% accurate. How can they be when Two Trees hasn't even finalized their plans? So, yes, the "skinning" of the building is plain and not representative of what it will actually be. But that is not the point. The purpose of the renderings is to show the nearly accurate height and density of the proposed building from angles that Two Trees will not ever provide or offer up themselves because they reveal the true negative impact the building will have on the bridge. The few artist sketches Two Trees has released all show the building from the vantage point of the bridge, so you cannot see how the building itself blocks the bridge. These renderings, on the other hand, don't hide anything. They show you what Two Trees doesn't want you to see.

To see all of these renderings visit:

http://savethebrooklynbridge.org/renderings.asp

And while you are there, read David McCullough's moving testimony against Dock St. DUMBO:

http://savethebrooklynbridge.org/media/David_McCullough_Testimony.pdf
Jan. 30, 2009, 12:22 am
davoyager from brooklyn heights says:
Bravo Brooklyn Papers for a clear eyed well reasoned presentation. It is difficult to hear the ring of truth around this issue what with all the foot stomping and caterwauling that's been going on.
All these people are just doing the "kill the messenger" bit. It would be so easy to cave to the bellicose vitriol but you guys have stayed strong and we thank you for that.

Stengel is presenting a legal argument the validity of which is entirely unknown and hotly disputed. I wish somebody could actually address that issue but I would bet even the city can't give a straight answer as to what it is currently legal to build on that site. There is no reason to believe anyone until the permits are actually issued.

Keep up the great reporting.
Jan. 30, 2009, 1:35 am
just the facts from Fulton Ferry says:
Davo - learn the difference between law and interpretations of law (legal argument). Stengel presented the actual zoning law, and there is nothing to dispute about it. No gray areas.

As for Gersh, he makes FOX News actually seem fair and balanced in comparison.
Jan. 30, 2009, 2:59 am
Ned from Dumbo says:
More shrill shilling from this "pretend" paper. You guys were bought and you can't admit it. We all saw the Full page ads in your rag that Two Trees placed ! You can state your bogus and erroneous arguments all you wish. The paper has lost credibility and even Two Trees won't be able to buy that back for you. You guys remind me of Blagojevich!
Jan. 30, 2009, 10:51 am
ph from DUMBO says:
wow SURPRISE the brooklyn paper supports a project from the same developer that gives it subsidized rent

just for the record i am in favor of dock street, everyone who knows me knows this, but you HAVE to mention that you rent space from Two Trees, which I know for a FACT is below market in keeping with the Walentas Family's brilliant strategy of giving breaks to those who deserve it.

But you need to mention that you are a receipient
Jan. 30, 2009, 11:15 am
Get a Grip from Fort Green says:
Residential tower...YES, that's on their agenda.

School...no. As presented at the hearing, sandwiching a school between the bridge and a garage is grossly irresponsible and exclusively self serving as it imperils the developing lungs of children and will guarantee a high percentage of respiratory and heart issues later in their lives.

That's why California and New Jersey have mandated against placing schools next to major roadways, and the EPA also speaks against that.

Affordable housing? Unlikely. The 80/20 program is on the chopping block. So when the state axes that, two trees will have their rezoning and won't have to provide affordable housing afterall.

So let's call it what it is , a big fat residential tower that serves no one but the developer.

You should check out the Brooklyn heights paper, they must have been at the hearing, as they noted that the speakers were "overwhelmingly" against the project.
Jan. 30, 2009, 11:34 am
Carlo Trigiani from Brooklyn Heights says:
There are all kind of extremes flying around here. The editor has made some reasonable arguments. The opposition has made some arguments to consider.

When all is weighed, Dock Street makes sense. Knock a couple floors off so we can all get along.

Jan. 30, 2009, Noon
Question for Carlo... from DUMBO says:
Carlo,
Why is it that you refuse to consider other locations for a school. As you heard at Marty's public hearing, another developer is willing to give space for school in DUMBO. There is also 1 Brooklyn Bridge Park or the old police precinct on Polar, which are existing structures and would be quicker to get schools up and running there. If you were assured that a school would be placed in one of these locations would you still support a structure that rises above the bridge roadway at Dock St.? Just curious...
Jan. 30, 2009, 1:19 pm
Carlo Trigiani from Brooklyn Heights says:
I'm happy to consider other locations. We will need more public schools in our neighborhood as the progress of PS 8 continues and more folks like me choose to enroll their kids in the system.

1 BB Park may work for a high school. The park would be ideal for fields and a track that can be used by the school and public. The developer should come forward with a proposal. I understand that his sales are slow and he may have space available. Perhaps he could use the Dock Street model - hard $ contribution and condo interest to the DOE.

72 Poplar (the old police precinct) was studied by the SCA. As I understand it, the site is too small to reconfigure for a school use. On the financial side, the city sold the property to a private investor for $9 million. I understand he now wants $14 million. Perhaps there is a use that will work - early childhood development center, assisted living for the elderly?

I support Dock Street as proposed today because I feel it works and I'm assuming it will be negotiated to a lower height.

We have a great opportunity to make a lasting impression on New York - changing public education for the better. Let's work together.

Thanks.
Jan. 30, 2009, 2:17 pm
Daddy Mack from DUMBO says:
Carlo, you did not answer the question. If One BBP offered the same size vanilla box for a buildout by the DOE, would you still want to see Dock St. built? And BTW, the Brooklyn Paper is a farce. Any credibility they may have had at any past point in time is long gone.
Jan. 30, 2009, 3:58 pm
davoyager from BH says:
this discussion is just a distraction. why would one BBP offer anything? It's already built and there is no motivation for them to give away their property.
Personally I'd like that building torn down. My house would be ever so much more valuable without one BBP standing in the way of the iconic views of New York's great harbor.
Jan. 30, 2009, 5:35 pm
Baffled from DUMBO says:
I've never seen a newspaper come out so adamantly in support of a real estate development project. This is the second editorial in favor of Dock Street, and it's full of hare brained ideas and blowhardism.

The notion that David Walentas is some kind of community builder is absurd. He's a real estate developer and everything he did and does is calculated to do one thing: make money for his privately held company. To give him leeway simply because he's been here for a few year is ludicrous.

Evaluate this project on its merits not based on your business relationship with Two Trees.

The most absurd part of the piece is where the writer states that Walentas didn't build Beacon or Jay Street Condo. Oh, okay. So that means it's okay for him to build a different monstrosity? It's akin to saying "that criminal didn't rob those two old ladies, so let's look the other way during this mugging."

The most sickening part of the Dock Street proposal is their flagrant use of the school to curry favor. It's OBVIOUSLY a carrot, and all the idiots are falling over themselves because it is something for nothing. But you get what you don't pay for--namely a school in a terrible location.

Shame on you BROOKLYN PAPER. You've just successfully sullied a hundred years of newspapermen who stood up for the common man, for decency and for what is right.
Feb. 3, 2009, 8:54 pm
trace from park slope says:
I still don't understand why a developer with numerous outstanding zoning violations is allowed to have any new project proceed without resolving old issues. And that should be resolving them not just on paper. And as far as I am concerned, that should include the numerous violations in Southampton. I know East Hampton is refusing to review Bruno's new subdivision until his destruction of the precious double-dunes is resolved.
Feb. 4, 2009, 2:41 pm

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