Dumbo air rights sale must benefit York Street station: Levin

69 adams street
Rabsky Group’s proposal to build a 26-story luxury apartment and office tower at 69 Adams St. in Dumbo.
Fischer + Makooi Architects/Rabsky Group

The city must divert funds from a multi-million-dollar public air rights sale in Dumbo toward the neighborhood’s ailing York Street subway station, according to a local pol.

Area Councilmember Stephen Levin urged officials to get a better deal for Dumbonians out of a $17.2 million sale of unusable city-owned development rights below the Manhattan Bridge, which would allow a developer of an adjacent lot to add office and retail space to its planned 26-story apartment tower at 69 Adams St.

“I appreciate the need for commercial space, I think that that’s a valiant effort, [but] commercial in and of itself is not a community benefit,” Levin said at a virtual Council subcommittee hearing Monday. “There needs to be much more going back to the community as part of this deal to warrant the sale of air rights, so just want to make that very clear.”

The city’s business-boosting arm, the Economic Development Corporation has applied to hawk 98,446 square feet of air rights below the bridge to borough developer Rabsky Group for its planned building at the adjacent corner lot near Front Street.

Rabsky, which bought the plot next door from the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2016 for $65 million, can already build an all-residential structure at the same height without the sale, but the proposed deal will allow them to add that area as extra bulk restricted to office and retail space, giving them about 63 percent more floor area.

The developers could build the same height without ULURP approval, but with less bulk and all residential.Screenshot/Rabsky Group

The city and the developer have pitched the project as a boon for the local economy, promising to add 438 permanent office jobs, 250 construction jobs, and 30 permanent retail and building maintenance employment opportunities.

Residents, however, have criticized the project for having no affordable housing units — all 225 apartments will be market rate — and said that the added offices were no benefit at all. They fear the added bulk will only bring more commuters to the neighborhood’s sole subway station at York Street that already suffers from dangerous conditions.

The sale has to go through the city’s lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Procedure in which the Council has veto power, and the legislature usually sides with the local Councilmember — in this case Levin.

At the March 22 Council hearing the pol, referencing Brooklyn Paper’s recent reporting, said the city needs to divert funds from the sale to fixing the F train subway station, a busy and bottlenecked stop with only one way in and out.

MTA said last week it is studying adding a second entrance, but has remained tight-lipped about details of their plans. 

An EDC rep said the agency and the developer were willing to divert “a portion” of the proceeds to Dumbo, including supporting the MTA’s efforts, but punted any commitments until the state transit authority reveals more details about its study.

“We believe that the next step would need to be some type of conceptual design, but as you know the city does not control the MTA and so we would need to follow their lead,” said Eleni DeSiervo. “From the EDC’s and Rabsky’s perspective, we are committed to investing a portion of these proceeds back into the Dumbo neighborhood and back into the district.”

However, one local political candidate running to succeed term-limited Levin, said all of the money should go to benefiting the area, and York Street must be on the top of that list.

“This station is a death trap. Every penny from this project – every single penny generated from the sale of air rights toward 69 Adams — should be invested as a down payment in the second entrance at York Street,” said Lincoln Restler at the hearing. “EDC is handing over significant wealth to a private developer and hemming and hawing on what we’re getting in return.”

EDC declined to say in a follow-up request how much of the $17.2 million the agency plans to earmark for the neighborhood, citing ongoing negotiations with the Council.

Levin also urged EDC to work with the city’s Department of Transportation — which currently uses the city-owned space beneath the bridge along with other plots in the waterfront area for storage and parking, and will retain some development rights to continue using the lot — to streamline some of its facilities and open up the properties for public use.

The legislator said these city-owned spaces are only one-fifth occupied most of the time by DOT contractors working on bridge maintenance, but that the agency opposed consolidating their spaces and opening up lots for the public because of potential conflicts with moving vehicles and equipment.

“The company that has the contract on the Brooklyn Bridge can’t share space with the Manhattan Bridge because what if they both need to get out of the parking lot at the same time, who gets to go out first,” Levin said, relating conversations he’s had with DOT officials. “‘We can’t be bothered to share space, we have to be able to offer everybody in their own contract their own space.’ God forbid they have to wait 30 seconds for another contractor to get out of the same parking lot. It’s a ridiculous argument.”

A spokeswoman for DOT did not provide a response to Levin’s comments.

Levin said some of the money could also go to fixing up the nearby Farragut Houses public housing complex or the neighborhood’s public schools.

The Council has until April 30 to review the ULURP application.