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Brooklyn Bridge historian McCullough denounces Dock St. project

Historian David McCullough – author of a book about the Brooklyn Bridge – spoke about against DUMBO developer Jed Walentas’s plan to build a residential tower with a public school near the famed bridge. Ironically, the view to the bridge in this picture would not be affected by the development.
The Brooklyn Paper / Ben Muessig

Opponents of a controversial DUMBO development pulled out their wild card on Wednesday — a famed historian who not only opposes the proposed 18-story building near the fabled Brooklyn Bridge, but went so far as to suggest that the city raze other buildings in DUMBO to make room for a national park celebrating the Gothic landmark.

Pulitzer Prize–winning writer David McCullough, author of “The Great Bridge,” visited DUMBO and called Jed Walentas’s Dock Street project “visual vandalism.”

“If you start building all of these things around [the Brooklyn Bridge], you are going to wreck it,” he declared at the press conference, which included a photo op of the writer in front of a view of the bridge that, ironically, would actually not be affected by the proposed project.

The Maine resident — who once lived in Brooklyn Heights — might have surpassed the wishes of even the most adamant Dock Street opponents when he suggested that instead of erecting the affordable housing, middle school and luxury condo development, workers should demolish the low-slung St. Anne’s Warehouse arts center to create more open space around the bridge.

“I would favor taking down [this] building … and turning [it] into a national park,” he said.

McCullough’s comments came as the City Planning Commission nears its April 22 decision on the project — the latest stop on the project’s route through the city’s land-use review procedure, which is triggered whenever a landowner wants a change in zoning.

In this case, Walentas wants a residential rezoning so he can build the 325-unit building, which includes 65 below-market-rate rentals and a public middle school that even opponents of the project say is needed somewhere in the neighborhood.

Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden called the coming Dock Street vote one of the most difficult rulings she has ever faced.

McCullough’s appearance comes on the heels of the revelation that the School Construction Authority held backroom negotiations with Walentas (see sidebar below).

After the Planning Commission votes, the project will move to the City Council, where its prospects are far from certain. Councilmen David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights) and Bill DeBlasio (D–Park Slope) oppose it, while Letitia James (D–Fort Greene) likes it.

Community Board 2 and Borough President Markowitz both backed the rezoning, though Markowitz favored a taller and slimmer building to reduce what he believes will be an impact on the bridge.

For their part, backers of the project say they have been encouraged by their negotiations with the city.

“We’re focused now on the feedback that we got,” said Walentas’s attorney Ken Fisher, himself a former Brooklyn Heights councilman, turned lobbyist. “So far, it has been very encouraging.”

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