Levin OK’s Dumbo air rights sale after city agrees to divert $7m to York Street subway stop

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

Dumbo Councilmember Steve Levin will vote to approve a contested public air rights sale that paves the way for a 26-story tower at 69 Adams St. — citing promises by city officials to spend most of the profits from the deal in the neighborhood, including a large chunk on the ailing York Street subway station.

“I’m not enthusiastically supportive but I have come to the conclusion that it is about as good as we were able to get it and I’m comfortable voting in favor of it,” Levin said at a virtual Council committee hearing on April 21.

The city plans to hawk 98,446 square feet of air rights from atop an adjacent lot — which are unusable due to the overhead Manhattan Bridge — to Rabsky Group, allowing the developer to add extra bulk to their planned mixed-use tower near Front Street.

The proposal is nearing the end of its lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, which includes a binding vote by the Council. The city legislature usually sides with the local councilmember on land use issues in an unwritten rule colloquially known as member deference, meaning Levin’s decision all but green-lights the proposal. 

“I encourage everybody to join me with a ‘Yes’ vote,” Levin said at the meeting of the Council’s subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Sitings and Dispositions last week.

Rabsky plans to turn the lot once owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses into a tower with luxury apartments, offices, and retail. 

Without the sale of the city-owned air rights, the developer would still be able to build an all-residential tower at the same height, but the deal allows them to add about 63 percent more bulk, which they will use for office space. 

The Williamsburg-based developer pitched the 69 Adams St. plan as a local job booster, but locals criticized the project for containing no affordable housing — as all 225 apartments will be market rate. Many others also questioned the need for added office space, given the area’s wealth in office buildings, and more people working remotely due to the pandemic.

The city plans to sell the air rights for $17.2 million, of which $10 million will go back to Dumbo, according to Levin.

The pol previously pushed officials with the Economic Development Corporation — the city’s quasi-public business-boosting arm managing the sale — to divert the funds back to the area rather than just keep it in a citywide pot. 

The largest chunk, $7 million, will be restricted for the York Street F train station, a dangerously narrow stop with only one way in and out via a 250-foot sloping tunnel.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in the coming months plans to study the feasibility of adding a second entrance, possibly at the corner of Sands and Jay streets at the foot of the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge’s pedestrian path, which is near the subterranean platform’s southern dead end.

Some $1.5 million of the money would pay for a design study and the remaining $5.5 would be a downpayment for the upgrades. If the MTA finds a second entrance to be unfeasible, that money could also go to other improvements, such as moving the existing turnstiles, Levin said.

Since York Street is not in the transit agency’s 2020-2024 capital plan, major upgrades would likely have to wait until 2025, however MTA has not committed to including that beleaguered stop in the future plan either, according to the lawmaker.

“The goal in all of this is to make this project as far along as possible — a second accessible entrance to the York Street station — so that the MTA would see it as a good and expeditious and worthwhile project to pursue in the next capital plan,” Levin said.

The remainder of the Dumbo-directed funds will go toward local public housing and the area’s public school.

Residents of Farragut Houses will get to decide on how to spend $1.5 million to fix up their housing project, while the principal of PS 307 will get to allocate another $1.5 million for the educational facility’s needs.

As part of the deal, the city will also open up one of its storage lots in the neighborhood at Washington and Prospect streets in two years, after contractors doing repairs on the Brooklyn Bridge wrap up work there, Levin said.

One member of the neighborhood civic group the Dumbo Action Committee said she was glad the community was able to move the project’s selling points from simply more office space and a street-level coffee shop to millions in funding for local needs.

“We were happy that we were able to have our voice heard on the York Street station and gather some momentum and steam on that,” said Suzanne Quint. “We’re not quite at a firm commitment [from the MTA], but there’s a commitment on the feasibility study and that this money will be set aside for improvements at the station.”

The 69 Adams St. proposal will head before the full Council for a vote on Thursday, April 29, before Mayor Bill de Blasio gets a chance to sign off on it.