Sands Street shuffle: Do-good developer buying Dumbo tower from builder that purchased it from Witnesses last year

Inn with the new: Developer of below-market-rate housing Breaking Ground is in the works to buy the tower at 90 Sands St., which it plans to transform into apartments for low-income and formerly homeless individuals.
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

This hotel checked out.

A builder of so-called affordable housing is working out a deal to buy a now-vacant Dumbo hotel from the developer that just last year bought the property from the Jehovah’s Witnesses as the religious group unloaded the last of its local real estate.

The new owner of 90 Sands St., homeless-services provider Breaking Ground, plans to fill the property with below-market-rate units and apartments dedicated to formerly homeless people, in order to get some of Brooklyn’s most vulnerable back on their feet.

“Breaking Ground’s mission is to help people rebuild their lives,” the organization’s president Brenda Rosen said at Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee meeting on Wednesday.

The 30-story tower between Pearl and Jay streets will be the social-services provider’s sixth facility in the borough, where it already operates four similar housing developments and is constructing a fifth, when the ink dries on its deal with developer RFR Realty.

RFR bigwigs shelled out $135,000,000 to buy the 1992 building from the Witnesses in 2017, after a deal to co-purchase it with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kusner’s family firm reportedly fizzled out, and planned to transform it into a luxury 600-room hotel before putting it back on the market.

A Breaking Ground spokeswoman wouldn’t comment on the purchase price, and said the sale is expected to close later this summer.

The do-good developer plans to create 508 apartments, 202 of which will be so-called affordable units that include studios that start at $492-per month and one-bedrooms with a maximum rent of $1,955-per month, according to Rosen, who said the remaining 305 rentals will be designated for formerly homeless people — except for one reserved for an on-site superintendent.

The new building will be equipped with security cameras and staffed 24-7, and feature a public plaza, a community or commercial space at the corner of Sands and Jay streets, a fitness room, and a so-called digital library, Rosen said.

And Breaking Ground officials will team up with leaders of social-services provider the Center for Urban Community Services to provide 90 Sands St. residents with employment opportunities, as well as medical and other programs, she said.

Bigwigs hope to start construction in early 2019, but first need the Department of Buildings to green-light residential use for the lot, since it is currently zoned for manufacturing and commercial use.

Breaking Ground leaders, however, are hoping officials will approve their scheme because the Jehovah’s Witnesses used the building as an extended-stay hotel for its members for years, and because officials already okayed two similar hotel-to-housing conversions by the developer in the outer borough of Manhattan, according to another staffer.

“Our expectation is the DOB will grandfather the use as permanent housing,” said David Beer. “There’s a precedent for that, we operate two Manhattan hotels.”

And if the Buildings Department does not approve the transformation, the builder will apply for a zoning variance with the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals, Beer said.

The community board’s land-use gurus voted unanimously to write a letter in support of the project, despite the objections from some residents of the nearby Adams Street co-op building Concord Village, who expressed concerns about the proposal to the civic leaders at the meeting.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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