Smaller Dock Street project moves forward

David and Jed Walentas say that this schematic view of building heights in DUMBO shows that their Dock Street building is in context with others in the neighborhood.
Two Trees Management

The City Planning Commission voted overwhelmingly to support a controversial tower next to the Brooklyn Bridge — though the building’s 18-story wing will be shaved by one story.

In addition, Jed Walentas’s 325-unit Dock Street proposal — which features a “green” design, plus 65 below-market-rate rentals and a public middle school — would lose two to three stories from a part its 10-story wing that is closest to the bridge.

The vote to rezone Walentas’s lot from manufacturing to residential was 11-2, but despite the landslide, Planning Commission Chairwoman Amanda Burden described the proposal as “the most difficult to come before the commission in many years.

“The height adjustment will better reflect and respect the surrounding buildings in the [DUMBO] historic district,” she added.

Her vice chairman, Kenneth Knuckles, who voted yes, added: “The modifications go a long way in modifying the project in a way that allows it to maintain its virtues and at the same time protect the aura of the Brooklyn Bridge.”

Commissioner Shirley McRae, former chair of DUMBO’s Community Board 2, voted no, saying that even a trimmed building was too tall.

“The tower would still loom over the bridge and significantly obscure views,” she said.

As expected, Walentas disagreed, issuing a statement after the vote that thanked the Commission for its “hard work and thoughtful deliberations.”

“Their support confirms our overall vision that Dock Street is contextual and appropriate, and with its critically important new school and affordable housing, a valuable addition to the community,” he added.

Unlike Walentas, Dock Street opponents weren’t happy with the City Planning Commission’s ruling.

“We are extremely disappointed that Amanda Burden didn’t go far enough [in trimming the building],” said DUMBO Neighborhood Association Vice President Gus Sheha. “The modifications … were quite marginal.

“The bulk and the density of the project will undoubtedly compete with the Brooklyn Bridge and forever change the character of the neighborhood,” he added.

In ordering a height reduction and the cut-out section from a 50-foot portion of the lower area of the building, the Commission seemed to at least be partially swayed by a late push by Brooklyn Bridge historian David McCullough, who visited the fabled span this month to call for the Walentas proposal to not only be halted, but for other buildings around the bridge to be demolished for a national park.

McCullough, author of “The Great Bridge,” has an op-ed piece in Newsweek bemoaning the Walentas building as one that would destroy views of the span — though a Brooklyn Paper investigation revealed last year that the building would have a very small impact on public viewsheds.

The Commission may have also been reacting to a Brooklyn Paper story that revealed secret talks between Walentas and the School Construction Authority, which for months had been saying that a public middle school was not needed in DUMBO.

The school agency still held that position even as it was negotiating with Walentas to build such a school in DUMBO. Internal e-mails also suggest that the agency was unwilling to consider alternative sites once it had decided to partner with Walentas on the still-unapproved project.

Now that the Planning Commission has weighed in, the project will move to the City Council, where its prospects are far from certain. Councilmen David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights) and Bill DeBlasio (D–Park Slope) oppose it, while Letitia James (D–Fort Greene) likes it.

Community Board 2 and Borough President Markowitz both backed the rezoning, though Markowitz called for a slimmer building to reduce what he believes will be an impact on the bridge.

As a result, he was disappointed by the Commission vote.

“The modifications do not go far enough in … ensuring the preservation of the views and the bowl-like feeling around our iconic Brooklyn Bridge,” he said in a statement. “It is my hope that City Council will revisit my recommendation, which does significantly more to ensure views of the bridge are preserved.”

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