Residents slam Two Trees tower development at heated meeting

people at river ring meeting
Residents packed into the Swinging Sixties Senior Center in January 2020 to hear about Two Trees’s plan to build two massive towers at the Williamsburg waterfront.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

A Dumbo-based development firm gave a top-notch presentation regarding a pair of 600 and 650-foot skyscrapers and park planned for the Williamsburg waterfront — only for a group of locals angry and fearful over the massive building scheme to tear it apart at a meeting on Jan. 15. 

“A beautiful presentation — I’m totally against it,” said longtime resident Roberto Rodriguez at Community Board 1’s Land Use committee. “You’re not going to see me swimming at that beach.”

Two Trees development is looking to erect the mixed-use towers — which would rise from the base of an industrial fuel-oil-storage complex at River Street — that would host 1,000 units, including 250 apartments priced at below market rate, along with a new YMCA and the waterfront park.

One woman who lives two blocks away from the site confronted Two Trees CEO Jed Walentas at the Wednesday meeting, complaining that the buildings would block her view of the waterfront and asking the firm to wait until they wrap their nearby mega-development on the site of the former Domino Sugar Refinery. 

“You need some visual areas of respite. I’m getting totally fenced in,” said North First Street resident Jenice Malecki. “Why don’t you wait until you see what happens with Domino Park? I say, Walentas can wait.”

This was the second time the developer and his team came before the Williamsburg and Greenpoint civic panel to present their controversial project — a prior information session hosted in a tiny meeting room left many curious residents who couldn’t fit inside stranded at the door of the board’s cramped Graham Avenue office on Jan. 7.

The board scheduled a second meeting with the same presentation at the Swinging Sixties Senior Center on Ainslie Street where it holds its monthly full board meetings, but even that larger venue was too small to hold everybody, and some would-be attendants were turned away. 

A sign outside the Swinging Sixties Senior Center’s meeting room turning people away from the Two Trees presentation.Photo by Kevin Duggan

Several speakers voiced their support for the project, including many who admitted to having ties to Two Trees.

“Any economic opportunity along the waterfront is going to bring more people along there and will be good for small businesses like ours,” said Andy Mullins, of the ice cream company OddFellows, which is a tenant of the developer’s 60 Water St. building and who will add another outpost at Two Trees’s recently opened One South First commercial tower this summer.

One recent newcomer who moved to the to the neighborhood some two years ago said that while gentrification drives out many poorer residents, Williamsburg has become a more welcoming place in recent years thanks to Two Trees’s projects.

“All over this city there’s gentrification and I’m not saying ‘Too bad,’ but I have a lot of respect for Two Trees for what they’ve done with Domino Park,” said Jeff Gross. “I understand that many many years ago it was a very dangerous neighborhood. Now, I have to tell you, I love walking around Williamsburg.”

Renderings of the proposed River Street development.Courtesy of Two Trees

But another woman complained that the influx of residents and visitors drawn to the new development would overcrowd the planned waterfront park, while putting a strain on the area’s infrastructure.

“That doesn’t mean one person per apartment, that’s a lot of people for a tiny, tiny park,” said Zora Rasmussen. “It doesn’t get me excited when I’ll be getting on the L train.”

While emotions ran high at the meeting on Wednesday, some residents said they would withhold judgement on the massive new development, saying there was plenty to like in terms of the new amenities Two Trees promised. 

“I got to say I’m a little on the fence,” said Hugh Patton. “There’s a lot of it that’s very thoughtful and great, even though selfishly, it will cut off a little bit of my view. I can think of a lot worse that can go up there.”

Walentas said that his team will continue meeting with the community over the coming months, adding that he hopes to kickstart the city’s land use review process to get the project approved within two years, before de Blasio leaves office and elections shake up City Council.