Docked! Walentas in the fight of his life on DUMBO tower

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.
The Brooklyn Paper
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A proposal for an 18-story tower next to the Brooklyn Bridge has bitterly divided Community Board 2 on the eve if its controversial vote on the project — and the fight has riven the community amid charges that each side is lying or intentionally manipulating the facts.

The coming vote follows a 7-6 decision last month by Community Board 2’s land-use committee to reject the project — which calls for luxury and below-market-rate housing plus a public middle school on Dock Street in DUMBO. But central to the battle is a critical piece of evidence that was barred from being introduced at the deeply divided committee hearing, and what some say is an overstated fear campaign that suggests that the building would forever ruin views of the historic Brooklyn Bridge.

Supporters of the project dispute the notion that views of the bridge would be tarnished by a building whose height is comparable to others in the former warehouse district between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges.

They also point out that developer Jed Walentas could build an equally tall, or perhaps even taller, hotel or non-residential building on the site without a zoning change — an assertion which undermines the view argument. And those supporters cite the neighborhood’s need for a middle school and below-market-rate units that Walentas has promised.

Next Wednesday’s full board vote is the first step in a seven-month public review process required whenever a developer seeks a rezoning.

The project is the Walentas family’s second go-round: an earlier, bulkier version pushed by David Walentas failed in 2004 — and many community members are still deployed along the same battle lines, despite a plan that now comprises a less bulky main wing that is further away from the fabled span, a 300-seat middle school, 65 below-market-rate housing units and a “green” design.

The view

Leading the opposition is Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights) and members of the Brooklyn Heights Association and the DUMBO Neighborhood Association, who fear that the building will ruin Brooklyn’s ever-changing skyline.

“The Dock Street tower would impose itself into — or intrude upon — everyone’s view of the Brooklyn Bridge tower,” said BHA Executive Director Judy Stanton, who is not a member of CB2, but whose status as a voting member of the land-use committee swung the vote against Walentas during a rare Saturday morning meeting on Dec. 20. “It’s a shame to wait until things are built to say, ‘Wow, who let that happen?’ ”

But when The Brooklyn Paper repoters walked the streets of DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights, the result was objectively different from what opponents say.

The only direct views of the bridge that would be blocked by the Walentas building are at York and Front streets — a view that is not popular with tourists because Manhattan itself cannot be seen in the distance. The much more crowded tourist vistas from the Fulton Ferry Landing would be virtually unchanged by the Walentas building, which would rise behind the bridge’s spider-like cable array.

Walking on the footpath from Manhattan, the Walentas building is visible to the left, though it is in scale with the surrounding warehouses.

And while pedestrians heading from Brooklyn to Manhattan will have their view of the Manhattan Bridge and East River obscured, shutterbugs need only walk several more feet toward Manhattan and the blocked view clears completely.

When shown the results of The Brooklyn Paper investigation, Stanton and Yassky were unmoved.

“It’s not so much the views of the bridge as it’s the experience of being on the bridge,” Yassky said, likening the Dock Street project to the giant windowless Verizon building in lower Manhattan that shows up in everyone’s pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge. “If there was the tiniest chance that you’re creating another one of those, you don’t really want to take that chance.”

After its rejection of the Walentas proposal, the CB2 committee passed a resolution seeking a 75-foot height restriction on Walentas’s property to block not only the currently-proposed 183-foot structure, but other tall structures that Walentas could build as-of-right. That resolution, which had not been on the agenda for the virtually unattended Saturday morning hearing, passed 10-1.

Jed Walentas said that a shorter building would eliminate the project’s public benefits.

“The 75-foot height limit would mean that we could not build the school and the affordable housing proposed,” he told The Brooklyn Paper.

School daze

The main carrot that Walentas added since 2004 is the free public middle school, an offer that would save the city $50 million in construction costs, though opponents say the city was wrong to put the school into its capital plan before it even crossed its first regulatory hurdle.

But not everyone wants a middle school in DUMBO — at least in Walentas’s Dock Street project.

Two years ago, Yassky created a task force to identify sites for a neighborhood middle school. The panel so strongly opposed the notion of a Walentas-built school that it even considered urging the city to create fifth-through-eighth-grade space in the Brooklyn House of Detention.

More recently, Yassky and the Brooklyn Heights Association have focused their attention on getting the city to expand the currently K-5 PS 8 on Hicks Street into a K-8 facility.

But the city has rejected that suggestion, most recently in a Dec. 19 letter to Community Board 2 — a letter that was not read at the Dec. 20 committee meeting on the Dock Street proposal, despite (or perhaps because of) its power to persuade waffling Walentas opponents.

“We have reviewed proposals to convert PS 8 to a K–8 school facility and have concluded that this idea is not feasible. The site cannot support an addition of that magnitude,” the letter stated.

The letter was not read aloud at the land-use committee meeting because board chair John Dew said he feared project opponents would “automatica­lly assume [that the letter] is being done to promote the project.”

Yassky backed Dew in not reading the letter, saying it is ultimately irrelevant. “If [the Walentas] deal is unavailable, as I think it will be, then School Construction Authority will have to look at other ways to create a middle school and I think they’ll look seriously at our option.”

Anti-project forces will rally on Sunday, Jan. 11 at 10:30 am at the corner of Washington and Prospect streets in DUMBO. The full community board will vote on the proposed rezoning on Jan. 14 at 6 pm at Borough Hall (209 Joralemon Street, at Court Street).

Updated 5:10 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

trace from southampton says:
Isn't is possible to halt review of projects while the builder has outstanding violations on other projects? If the crane operator has been summonsed for safety violations should he be allowed to operate a crame? If the builder consistently violates the ordinances, before, during and after construction, should he be allowed to have additional projects up for review?
Jan. 8, 2009, 12:52 pm
paul from dumbo says:
You guys are so obviously biased and beholden to Two Trees. Very funny and transparent. Why don't you mention that you rent space from Walentas and Two Trees in your article. Probably at a great subsidized rate no doubt. I also wonder if any of you actually live in the Neighborhood. Your motives are questionable and obvious. The people that live here and love this neighborhood have already had a number of crappy towers hoisted on us. We are sick of it. Sick of out of scale development that enriches developers at the expense of all of us. Enough! The proposed building is out of scale and context and will further destroy the quality of the neighborhood and the views of the bridge for everyone. The middle school ploy is slick and in bad taste. The building could be 4 stories tall and still have a middle school! Any one who buys this snake oil is buying it at huge expense. It's interesting that people frequently mention the few local "whiners" who don't want their precious views blocked but no one ever mentions the few local whiners who want a middle school a few blocks from where they live. There are many, many options on where to put a middle school in the precinct. This, however, is not one that is worthy of consideration.
Jan. 8, 2009, 1:08 pm
Irving from Dumbo says:
1)views get lost everyday
2)below market rate housing - yeh right!
3)think of the children (the school to be built)
yeh right!
4)GREEN??? please, what are we idiots? It's like organic - who can prove it?
I've been living in Dumbo/Vinegar Hill for 43 years - build, don't build, why should I care? It's always been a great place -
Jan. 8, 2009, 2:31 pm
al pankin from downtown says:
the brooklyn bridge is a historic site and should not be blocked by any buildings put next to or near it. the proposed building is nothing more than visual polution. the plan should be rejected. put the school and affordable housing elsewhere, brooklyn's a big boro.
Jan. 8, 2009, 3:12 pm
Daniella Montemarano from brooklyn heights says:
Their is only one Brooklyn Bridge and to start permitting high rises to be built close to the bridge would be a huge distraction and would be robbing the natural beauty that many locals, visitors come to see and if it is allowed would that enable similar tracts around the bridge to also be developed into high rises. It is a world known landmark and it should be allowed to have as much space around it to enjoy the beauty. thanks for the opportunity to express my view point
Jan. 8, 2009, 4:56 pm
Cwall from FG/CH says:
I wish the Brooklyn Paper would stop using Two Trees propaganda in their reporting. Two Trees' beautiful renderings of building height comparisons in DUMBO fail to show the proximity of each building to Brooklyn Bridge and the waterfront. Without this information, comparisons are useless. In fact, the proposed Dock Street building is much higher than the buildings near the bridge & at that distance from the waterfront.
Jan. 9, 2009, 12:23 pm
Carlo Trigiani from Brooklyn Heights says:
The views argument is weak. The proposed building blocks a view of a 55 foot southern swath of the ramp of the Brooklyn Bridge, nothing else.

Speaking as a taxpayer and public school parent, if there are existing alternatives that can compete with the financial incentives proposed by Two Trees, they should come forward. Yassky's been saying there are alternatives for two years but not one has surfaced. Obviously, there are none.

Yassky has lamely sided with his cocktail hour donors of the BHA and DNA. Four years ago, he supported Two Trees' bulkier proposal. I know he's a flipper but how about explaining that one Dave.

Maybe if the BHA and Yassky participated in the public school system with their own flesh and blood, they'd see the project for what it is - a smart development that serves the greater good - affordable housing and public education. Unfortunately, I'm left to conclude that he and his donors are practicing segregation in OUR beloved neighborhood in the shadows of OUR Bridge.

Carlo Trigiani
Jan. 10, 2009, 10:03 am
Beavis from Bklyn Heights says:

Your characterization is repugnants of people who care about our historic landmarks and who happen to disagree with you. Can't you possibly state your opinion without name calling? It greatly diminishes your argument and you personally in the eyes of others.

"Cocktail hour donors"? Are you referring to the 8,000 petition signatures of people who are against this project as currently formulated? That's a big cocktail hour, my friend.

Are you the same Carlo Trigiani who is quoted in the paid Two Trees display ads in the local papers? It's beneath me to question if you've been paid by Two Trees for your "endorsement" of the project. That would bring me down to your name calling level. So I won't do it.

The Brooklyn Paper's coverage of this issue has been a travesty of journalism. The Paper's coverage of this has been unusually and blatantly skewed in favor of the developer. The reporter should be ashamed to call this reporting; however, it makes a good editorial in favor of the project. Perhaps it's just bad editing to put editorials on page two and try to pass it off as news reporting. Come on Gersh!

Jan. 10, 2009, 5:33 pm from dumbo says:

view the renderings to see the negative impact on the bridge this proposed building would have. note that the “skin” of the building in the renderings is not accurate since the developer’s plans are not final but the height, size, and density are all accurate.
Jan. 11, 2009, 2:50 am
Justthefacts from Fulton Ferry says:
Carlo, get your facts straight. Yassky did initially support 38 Water 4 years ago, but opposed the project by the time it got to City Council. This may or may not be because contributions to Yassky from Walentas were uncovered.

Brooklyn Paper = Fox News = NY Post

And to those who don't understand the view issue, we are not talking solely about the view of the tower. The view encompasses the entire "bowl" effect that is seen surronding the bridge on both sides -- Fulton Ferry and DUMBO. A 180' building destroys that symmetry and walls off DUMBO from Fulton Ferry. Check the view as you walk down Old Fulton Street from the BQE towards the river: the view under and through the BB of open sky and the Manhattan Bridge beyond is priceless, and most of that view would be gone as well.
Jan. 11, 2009, 3:30 am
da from brooklyn heights says:
Once again the rich and the racist are rising up to deny the poor and middle class the slightest opportunity to better their quality of life. It's very telling that there are 2 high quality private schools in the neighborhood (home to Yassky's kids by the way) and no public middle school. And when the first chance in decades to fill that need comes the rich rise up in unison and say protect this or that and put it somewhere else please. The need is real, pressing and a solution is long overdue. I disagree with the Brooklyn Paper's use of the term "tower" This thing is a lousy 18 stories tall. Since when in NYC is 18 stories a tower. the impact on views to and from the bridge is minimal, and the needs for affordable housing, green construction and the long sought public middle school serve the greater good. Share your wealth you dumbo-ers and heights-ers. these neighborhoods are not just for the well heeled. Share your streets and share your views. Give public school kids a taste of the good life you enjoy and give us all a brighter future.
Jan. 11, 2009, 3:57 pm
justthefacts from fulton ferry says:
I resent the racist allegations being hurled, and the classism as well. This project was opposed 4 years ago without the school, and before 70 Washington Street was converted to condos. Wealth had nothing to do with it then, and nothing now. 180' is too tall when compared to the surrounding 4-5 story buildings. Even Sweeney, further away from the Bridge, only rises to @135'. And don't forget the congestion that this oversize project will bring to narrow Dock and Water Streets -- 327 apartments and 465 space garage -- and all of the cars exiting the garage will have to turn left on Front Street and drive east before they can turn around and head back to Old Fulton.
Jan. 11, 2009, 4:20 pm
Carlo Trigiani from Brooklyn Heights says:
Sorry Beavis. Were you the guy who accused me of being on TT's payroll on Hicks Street about a month ago? I'm feeling a little frisky lately. Or are your Beavis of Butthead fame?

The view argument is weak. It blocks 70 Washington views and a 55 foot southern swath of the ramp of the Brooklyn Bridge.

327 apartments - what's that - 600 people. Wow that congestion will really inconvenience you.

I agree with DA. Unfortunately, I am left to conclude that this is about not wanting low income housing and 13 year olds not from your neighborhood in your neighborhood. Welcome to America 2009.

The BHA and Yassky's actions speak louder than words on this one. No kids in public school. Sorry Beavis, but you're asking for it.

Introduce yourself sometime. I'm the angry Italian who looks like Edward G. Robinson.

Jan. 11, 2009, 6:38 pm
bob from bklyn hts says:
My guess is most of the "upscale" residents of BOTH Brooklyn Heights AND DUMBO don't want a middle school. Hiding behind an inflated controversy over views of the Brooklyn Bridge, they're determined to kill the Walentas school in DUMBO. They know full well that such a school would NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER EVER get placed in Brooklyn Heights.
Jan. 11, 2009, 7:59 pm
da from brooklyn heights says:
you can resent all you want "justthefacts" but the truth is the overt racism has been in evidence by some of the comments by the entrenched opposition to this project with code phrases like "imported teens" and the like. But there is also the covert racism the underprivileged often face where their critical needs are discounted by the well to do as not that important.
That the tiny snippet of view which is impacted by this project is more important than giving public school kids a world class school in this wonderful location which is now exclusively the playground of the rich is racism and classism in it's ugliest form.
The project 4 years ago was entirely different and needed to be stopped. This version has addressed those issues and seeks to do public good as well, public good desperately needed by the poor and underprivileged in our community.
I actually think Two Trees would have faced less resistance this time if they had omitted the public school.
Jan. 11, 2009, 9:07 pm
Beavis from Bklyn Hgts says:
Most everyone on the preservation side gives the pro-Dock St development people the benefit of the doubt. Aside from Two Trees, which we know is in it to make as much money as they can, we believe you passionately care about your children and others children and you want to see a middle school built in the district. If there was no middle school offered in this deal, many of you would likely be against the development since you'd have no dog in the race. But since you do, your mental calculus is to discount the diminishment of the bridge in favor of the school. All of your opponents understand and even respect this point of view, though we respectfully disagree.

No one has questioned your motives other than wanting to help your children.

That's why those of us who oppose you on this issue find it so repugnant that some on your side, including Mr. Trigiliani and "da", do not offer the same debate courtesy and benefit of the doubt that we provide to you. Instead of believing that the 8,000 people who have signed the anti-Dock Street petition truly care about the bridge (including many parents of elementary age children that could benefit from the building of a public middle school), instead, because they oppose you, they must be "classist" and/or "racist", or anti-public school, or anti-child.

Disgraceful. You diminish yourselves and your arguments in the eyes of your entire community when you stoop so low.

Your name calling, race baiting, and poor manners indicate the level of desparation on your side. Remember that whoever "wins" this issue, we all will be living as neighbors afterwards and there are many other issues that affect us.

Mr. Trigliani, sir:

You clearly missed the point in my previous post, which was to show how those on the anti-Dock St side do not question your motives, but you sir, and some along with you have questioned our motives, which in your eyes can't be as pure as yours--there must be some ulterior hidden motive such as racism. So when I simulated giving you a taste your own medicine, you were too busy tearing your shirt off to brawl, that you appear to have missed the point.

I'm "asking for it"? Is that a physical threat? If it is, make sure your first shot takes me down. I saw you at the LIC CB meeting, and I think Judy Stanton could take you.

It appears we need to build a school just for Mr. Trigliani and "da" so they could learn the manners regarding civil discourse that they've apparently never learned in their formative years.
Jan. 12, 2009, 1:08 am
da from brooklyn heights says:
oh please. Stop making this personal. i've watched the wall of Trump go up on the west side of Manhattan. developers rule this city. if this project doesn't get done something far worse will be built by someone with far more political clout than two trees and nobodies gonna like it and there still wont be a school. You don't know a good thing when you see it, or more likely, you don't care cause it aint a good thing for your personal bottom line. Be honest. If you were, you would admit that you don't care about this beautiful bridge and honoring it's story by creating a great school, a middle school, the Emily Warren Roebling Middle School for Environmental Arts and Sciences in the shadow of this great bridge as a gateway for the children of today to tackle the problems of tomorrow in honor of this amazing women and the bridge she helped create.
Jan. 12, 2009, 3:40 am
Carlo Trigiani from Brooklyn Heights says:
Sorry Beavis. I didn't realize you are a preservationist.

I'm off to the gym now.
Jan. 12, 2009, 1:35 pm
ilovemyhometown from downtown brooklyn says:
How are people proclaiming to be about good civics as they argue to hand a very important national landmark over to developer with a questionable history to make a basically super LUXURY rental building with just enough required affordable housing and the offer of a small school to get it past lawmakers and gain the backing of some earnest folks who don't seem to question what this school may end up as or WHEN and since when is public schools for OUR children another business deal for businessmen to negotiate and play like a bargaining chip in exchange for special consideration, SO THAT THEY CAN "MAKE ENOUGH profit" on their favorite site of the moment? Why doesn't Two Trees open their books and let the public see how much "not enough" profit would be without turning this into just more traffic jams and another ugly tower...... Do we really know this is best for district 13, the future of residents in the city, or mostly good dealmaking for big business.
Jan. 13, 2009, 9:01 am
da from brooklyn heights says:
Not to mention that the building will be built with sustainable green technologies for environmental certification and provide much needed jobs during this severe economic crisis.
Since schools of around 300 seats are being built all over the city using this same kind of public/private partnership.
Since the DOE has determined that 300 seats is the ideal size for schools rather than the old warehouse type Robert Moses era concept which has been largely discredited by educators all over the country as unworkable and unmanageable.
Since we're not going to get a school any other way.
And since all the overblown rhetoric about handing over a national landmark to the evil developer is disingenuous and a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts largely perpetrated by the monied interests in and around Dumbo who seek to maintain or improve their own financial portfolio.
That's since when.
Jan. 13, 2009, 3:59 pm
steve from Dumbo says:
I think you owe it to your readers to disclose that you are a tenant of Two Trees and therefore beholden to them. You have a responsibility to your readers to report your conflict of interest and recuse yourself from the debate.
Jan. 13, 2009, 9:31 pm
teachertom from cobble hill says:
such a sham- of course, we'll get a school the fair way-
are these arguments made up during your summers in the Hamptons while the rest of us "monied" Brooklynites labor away at our very real jobs, staying in our only homes in this borough.
Come on, we're not stupid... and aren't you ashamed or embarrassed at this paper, never disclosing your conflict of interest in writing this and the editorial in support of your LANDLORD's project. Hasn't anyone there taken journalism 101 to learn about basic journalistic ethics and integrity,

$40 million of government cash being given over to a developer so they can finance a pet project and say here's room for your school, expecting to get plenty of special treatment in exchange!? How come Good Community minded TT developers never offered all this in other projects, until its about building luxury rental property by completely changing all the zoning rules that will effect the whole area forever- do we need another Atlantic Yards mess to learn.
Why do TT advocates always present it as "all or nothing" - how about building with consideration for the city, history and borough
Jan. 13, 2009, 11:02 pm
Bruce from Dumbo says:
You guys are the most biased news organization this side of Fox News. There is no level of objectivity or trace of being impartial anytime you write on this topic.
Jan. 14, 2009, 10:54 am
davoyager from brooklyn heights says:
I think the paper has done an excellent job reporting on this story cutting thru the lies and attempts at intimidation and presenting balanced and thoughtful coverage.
Jan. 14, 2009, 6:25 pm
Ed Weintrob (Brooklyn Paper) says:
Ed Weintrob, publisher of The Brooklyn Paper, says:

A few posters who oppose the Dock Street building have alleged that The Brooklyn Paper is a "shill for the developer," that our reporting is "editorializing" and "a travesty of journalism," and that we are "obviously biased and beholden to Two Trees."

We don't expect everyone to agree with the emphasis of some of our stories (about Dock Street or anything else), and since we clearly know how to dish it out, we're not going to grumble about "taking it" in turn.

But do regular readers of The Brooklyn Paper REALLY believe we are "shills" for developers? Please!

As for Two Trees, it is no secret that we are rental tenants in one of Two Trees’ DUMBO buildings (we've mentioned this in the past, and several posters have pointed it out on our own Web site — so, no secret). As far as we know, our lease terms are in line with those of comparable tenants. We PAY for our space.

So there is no conspiracy or secret payback here. We are not business partners with Two Trees in the sense that the business fortunes of Two Trees does not affect our bottom line (unlike, for instance, the New York Times, which has a business partnership in its Times Square building with Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner).

While our coverage is honestly motivated, we accept that people with equally honest motivations might choose to approach the story differently, and we open this space to all reasonable comment.

Ed Weintrob
The Brooklyn Paper
Jan. 15, 2009, 1:18 am
WTHeck!!! from Bronx says:
hi i am one friendly amigo who is only intersested in the wealth of our carbon imprint and yam sales. I am happy esses
Feb. 19, 2009, 9:07 am
Gary from hhod says:
I am very disturbed that some people do not take this importan website seriously such as the post above me. This website is great because you do not have to be a member to post comments which makes these discussions have more sides to the argument, I hope in the future that people allow this website to run freely.
Feb. 19, 2009, 9:11 am
Gary from hhod says:
I am very disturbed that some people do not take this importan website seriously such as the post above me. This website is great because you do not have to be a member to post comments which makes these discussions have more sides to the argument, I hope in the future that people allow this website to run freely.This is a very serious issue
Feb. 19, 2009, 9:12 am

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