Civic gurus reject Dumbo air rights transfer for 26-story tower

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

Civic gurus with Community Board 2’s Land Use committee rejected a city scheme to hand over government-owned air rights to a developer looking to build a bigger mixed-use tower adjacent to the Manhattan Bridge — saying the 26-story building would add even more stress to the notoriously clogged York Street F train station.

“The F train is a disaster, everyone knows it’s a disaster,” said Dumbo resident Ivo Stranic at the civic panel’s virtual meeting on Nov. 18. “The [Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s] budget issues mean that it’s never going to be fixed, nowhere in the immediate future. So ,what the hell are we doing, it’s kind of crazy.”

The committee unanimously cast an advisory vote to reject the proposal by the city’s business boosting arm, the Economic Development Corporation, to sell off 98,446 square feet of unused development rights beneath the bridge to Williamsburg-based builder Rabsky Group — allowing the firm to add around 63 percent more bulk to their planned structure at 69 Adams St., which would be used for office space. 

Dumbo residents, however, contended that the plan was impractical, as the neighborhood was struggling to fill the existing offices in the area.

“The neighborhood is filled with underutilized commercial space already,” said Callie Katt. “There’s no benefit of additional commercial space in a neighborhood that already has plenty of vacant space in it.”

CB2 members slammed the developer for including no below-market-rate housing — which Rabsky isn’t legally mandated to do, as the building would not require a rezoning. 

“It just seems perplexing to me, even though it may not be required, that in 2020 in the environment we’re in, not to offer affordable housing which would be a benefit to the larger community, the Brooklyn community,” said Suzanne Quint.

Securing the air rights would allow for Rabsky to construct the building with 225 market-rate units, office space, a 90-car parking garage, and retail space on the ground floor. 

Without the transfer of development rights, though, the developers would still be permitted to erect a structure at the same height — but the building would be slimmer, and contain only apartments, according to reps.

The developers could build the same height without ULURP approval (left), but with less bulk and all residential.

Under the proposed scheme, the Department of Transportation, which currently owns the lot and uses it for storage, would retain a small amount of development rights in case they want to use part of the lot — but the developer would own the majority of the air rights, which aren’t usable because of the bridge overhead.

The agency and the developer pitched the project as a boon for job growth amid rising unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At a time where it’s 14 percent unemployment in both the city and the borough, every opportunity to add potential jobs I think is meaningful,” said EDC rep Ricky Da Costa at the Wednesday meeting. “From our perspective this is a good opportunity to realize value from otherwise unusable development rights from those lots.”

While offices are not currently in high demand due to people working from home during the pandemic, the tower wouldn’t open until summer 2023 — when Rabsky reps forecast that workers will be flocking back to commercial spaces.

“This project will be coming online in the second half of 2023, where we should be in a post-COVID environment where people are back to sort of normal routines,” said Stephen Hayes. “I don’t mean to sound insensitive to the horrible situation we are in at present, but certainly indicators are showing vaccines and progress happening next year.”

The proposal garnered the support of local business boosters such as the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, the Dumbo Business Improvement District, and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership — but concerns from residents over both public transit overload and an overabundance of Dumbo’s commercial space swayed the committee to give their collective thumbs down. 

As the air rights transfer would constitute the sale of public property, the project will have to go through the city’s lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, which collects purely advisory votes from the full community board and the borough president, along with binding decisions by the City Planning Commission and local Councilman Stephen Levin.

Borough President Eric Adams will hold his virtual hearing on the project Nov. 30 at 6 pm. For more information, see the Beep’s website here.