Council panel troubled by Dock Street project

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

Widely hyped concerns that a controversial residential tower and middle school on Dock Street in DUMBO would block views of the Brooklyn Bridge took a back seat at a City Council hearing last Thursday, where politicians focused on charges that the School Construction Authority improperly colluded with the project’s developer.

Councilmembers slammed the city’s school building agency over internal e-mails that cast doubt about whether or not the city actually considered other sites for a public middle school, which is a key component in David and Jed Walentases’ proposed 18-story, 300-unit building in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Queens) attacked SCA Vice President Ross Holden over a Dec. 8 e-mail sent from Lorraine Grillo to Kenrick Ou that seems to indicate that the agency was only humoring Dock Street opponent Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights) when the politician suggested an alternate site for a public school at 205 Water St.

“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,” the memo said.

Gioia pounced on it. “I have to say, this is the most disturbing document or e-mail that I have seen in my eight years in Council,” he said.

“This is not how government is supposed to work,” he added.

Holden maintained that the document needs to be taken in context with other SCA memos, but he was unable to immediately provide the Council’s Zoning and Franchises committee with those e-mails.

He also disputed allegations that the agency did not investigate other sites.

“We prepared our alternative site analysis as we would anywhere else,” said Holden. “No one at all came to the SCA with a recommendation that would provide us with the … school at minimal costs.”

But when asked how much money the city would save by taking a floor in the Walentases’ pre-built “core and shell” on Dock Street, Holden was unable to give an exact figure.

Historian David McCulloch doesn't like it.
The Brooklyn Paper / Ben Muessig

That answer didn’t please Yassky.

“This is a betrayal of the public interest, and I think reason enough alone to disregard the schools argument here,” he said.

The five-hour long hearing before the Council committee also drew scores of project supporters and opponents who rehashed familiar arguments for and against the proposed development.

Opponents objected to the development’s location below the Brooklyn Bridge and claimed that the 18-story portion of it would forever mar views of the fabled span, while supporters touted the Dock Street project’s proposed units of affordable housing, public middle school and parking.

Before the lengthy hearing, some 50 supporters of the project rallied on the stairs of City Hall with project booster Councilwoman Leticia James (D-Fort Greene).

“I’m not a pro-development person, but I have weighed this project … and come out in support of it because of the greater good,” said James.

The rally came two days after Dock Street builder Jed Walentas countered the growing list of celebrity Dock Street opponents including Ken Burns, Gabriel Byrne, Helen Hunt, Gary Sinise and David McCullough by issuing a public letter in hopes of making the stars “aware of some of the objective facts it appears [they] may not have been provided about the project.”

After the hearing, Walentas told The Brooklyn Paper that he believes his project will pass a full Council vote — the final hurdle hunt in his hunt for a zoning resolution that would allow him to build residential apartments on a site currently reserved for manufacturing or hotels.

“It went fine,” said Walentas, whose project has already gained the support of the Borough President Markowitz (who called for a taller and thinner building) and the City Planning Commission (which suggested a slightly shorter building with other minor alternations). “We have been, and we continue to be, very confident about the outcome.”

A review by The Brooklyn Paper earlier this year revealed that very few public views of the bridge would be obscured by the tower.

Councilwoman Leticia James does.
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan