Developers want to build 600 foot towers, beaches, at former Williamsburg Con Ed site

two trees
Developer Two Trees plans to erect two towers 600-foot towers and build a new publicly accessible beach park in Williamsburg.
James Corner Field Operations and BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, courtesy of Two Trees Management

A Dumbo development firm unveiled designs on Thursday for two, massive skyscrapers, along with new beaches and parkland planned for the Williamsburg waterfront.

Two Trees Management — the company responsible for redeveloping the site of the former Domino Sugar factory — wants to erect the 650- and 600-foot towers at a former industrial fuel-oil-storage complex once owned by Con Edison, located on River Street between Grand and N. Third streets, which the firm purchased for $150 million on Wednesday. 

And in place of the current vacant lots there, flashy renderings created by high-profile landscape architects James Corner Field Operations and architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group display an idealized vision of a planned 3.5-acre park, a looping boardwalk, and two small beaches along the shores of the East River. 

The new towers will feature 1,000 residential units, 250 of which will be offered to tenants making 40-60 percent of the city’s area median income — currently pegged at $96,100 for a family of three — under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, according to the development company’s CEO Jed Walentas.

The two towers seen from Metropolitan Avenue.James Corner Field Operations and BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, courtesy of Two Trees Management

The towers will host a YMCA featuring an Olympic-sized pool on the ground floor, and will dwarf Williamsburg’s current tallest tower — Two Tree’s nearby mixed-use skyscraper One South First, which stands at 435 feet tall.

The publicly-accessible park will consist of two beaches — one between N. First and N. Third streets, and another bordering the small city-owned Grand Ferry Park, which borders a natural-gas plant owned by the New York Power Authority between Grand and North First streets, which will remain in operation.

Along the plant’s water-facing side, there will be a host of kiosks for community activities, such as boating and fishing. 

The developers plan to install a 3-acre waterfront park that will include two beaches sheltered by a looping boardwalk and paths leading out to existing pier structures.James Corner Field Operations and BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, courtesy of Two Trees Management

The looped walkway encircles a shallower section of the East River and will connect with a path to two existing cylindrical pier foundations known as caissons, which the developer plans to repurpose as viewing points and outdoor activity stations.

The smaller beach will also have a raised path to a third caisson with water in the middle, which could serve as an outdoor classroom for environmental education.

The two pier structures will shelter the beaches, creating some 3 acres of protected water space.

A birds-eye view shows the waterfront redevelopment and the planned uses for the different sections.James Corner Field Operations and BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, courtesy of Two Trees Management

The park will feature berms, breakwaters, marshes, and wetlands designed to take the force out of storm surges, which will reduce the risk of flooding and provide more room to absorb water, according to the developers.

This will make the section of the waterfront more resilient than a simple bulkhead construction, as was the case with the Domino Park, and all the residential units are built above the 500-year floodplain, according to the developers.

Two Tree’s plans require the City Council rezone the site — which currently only permits commercial and industrial use — to allow mixed residential and commercial use, which will require the developer endure the city’s lengthy land use review process.

A current aerial view of the site.Google Maps

Two Trees bigwigs have presented the plans to city officials and local community leaders, according to Walentas, who couldn’t say when he planned to kick off the public review process, but said that he wanted to get the plans approved within the two years before the de Blasio administration ends and elections shake up City Council.

Building into the waterbody will also require approval by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

The plans include a new YMCA olympic-sized pool at one of the buildings’s ground floor.James Corner Field Operations and BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, courtesy of Two Trees Management

The plans to redevelop the site for large-scale residential use met with opposition at closed-door meetings with local community leaders during the summer.

One attendee said the site be developed as a private park, and complained that the area is already overpopulated, according to a Brownstoner report.

A neighborhood group called Sustainable Williamsburg — formerly Friends of the Northside Waterfront — formed earlier this year to oppose a residential rezoning on the site, which went on sale in 2018, saying the area’s infrastructure could not handle thousands of new residents and that the site should instead be developed under its current zoning to host retail, office, and light manufacturing, the Greenpoint Post reported.

But Walentas argued that it made sense to build residential units, because most of that waterfront is now lined with other projects of that size, adding that a working waterfront is a way of the past and that the residential development would pay for a substantial new public amenity.

“Shipping and industrial uses make less and less sense along our urban waterfronts and things like parks and housing and schools and soft-scale retail make a lot more sense,” he said. “Just like we demonstrated at Domino [Park], without any public money, by using density as a value creating tool, we created 100 millions of dollars in public good, between the parks that we built and all the affordable housing we’ve created.”