CB2 panel says no to Walentas

Vote is ‘docked’! Big crowd delays CB2 vote on Walentas tower
Beyer Blinder Belle

A proposal for an 18-story residential building near the Brooklyn Bridge in DUMBO — a project that includes a coveted public middle school and dozens of units of below-market-rate housing — was dealt its first setback on Saturday morning when a community board committee voted against it on the grounds that it would block some views of the historic span.

By a vote of 7–6, Community Board 2’s land-use committee rejected developer David and Jed Walentas’s request for a zoning change so the pair could build the rental building along Dock Street on the western edge of the former warehouse district that David Walentas converted, one building at a time, into one of Brooklyn’s most desirable residential and artistic communities.

To get their needed zoning change, the Walentases offered to build a middle school at no cost to the city and include 65 units at below-market rates.

But that wasn’t enough of a sweetener for the majority of land-use committee members.

“It’s too tall — that’s the only problem, it’s too tall,” said board member Sophie Truslow.

In a second motion, the board voted 10-1 to recommend that the site actually be rezoned to only allow a 75-foot tall building, instead of the proposed 183-foot structure. It is unclear whether that previously undisclosed proposal could survive a legal challenge from the developer.

If protecting views of the Brooklyn Bridge was the committee’s goal, the vote is confusing, given that the current zoning allows the Walentases to build a far taller building — such as a hotel or other non-apartment building. The developers were seeking a zoning change so the site could include housing, including below-market-rate units, and the middle school.

The Walentas’s construction of the middle school — two floors of raw space — would save the city roughly $50 million in building costs.

That part of the proposal earned the support of another CB2 committee on Thursday, when the youth, education and cultural affairs committee unanimously approved a middle school at the site, if the Walentas’s building eventually gets built.

An attorney for the project, former city councilman Ken Fisher, said after the meeting that the committee’s second resolution — the 75-foot height limit — would make the project “completely unfeasible.”

“It is more likely that we would have to consider a commercial property and there would be no school,” Fisher said.

But Jed Walentas said he would consider slightly redesigning the building within the original rezoning proposal before the full board meets next month.

“If the community asked us to make the building a little shorter, we’d be happy to consider it before the application completes the process,” he said.

The rejection by the CB2 land-use committee sends the proposal to the full board with its first rejection of the city’s uniform land-use review procedure, a winding seven-month process that developers must undergo when seeking zoning changes.

The full community board will vote on the proposed rezoning in January. After that, the project gets reviewed by the borough president, the Department of City Planning, the City Council and the mayor’s office. Three “no” votes and the project is defeated.

City Councilman David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights) opposes the project on the grounds that its height threatens the Brooklyn Bridge. In the council, members typically defer to the councilmember in whose district a project is proposed.