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Walentas opponents rally to ‘save’ Brooklyn Bridge

Building heights in DUMBO show that the Dock Street proposal would be in context, though opponents say it is too close to the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Brooklyn Paper
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Opponents of a controversial 18-story residential building and public middle school rallied on Sunday morning in hopes of blocking a building that they say will forever block views of the historic Brooklyn Bridge.

The four-dozen protesters said they do not oppose DUMBO developers Jed and David Walentases’ right to build on the site, which is under the fabled span between Front and Water streets — they just don’t want a building that will reach 183 feet.

“We’re not saying ‘no building,’ — we’re saying, ‘appropriate building,’” said DUMBO Neighborhood Association President Sheryl Buchholtz, whose group backed a recent Community Board 2 resolution capping any building on the site to 75 feet.

Her group’s development committee chair Christopher Tancredi added that the Association is in favor of development, “but in a respective manner.”

Tancredi dismissed the Walentases’ claim that the project’s public benefits — namely, a new middle school, 65 units of below-market-rate housing, and a certified “green” design — cannot be achieved in such a small building.

“We think [the public benefits] can be achieved … [with a building] with no height above the bridge,” he said.

The rally came three days before the full Community Board 2 will vote on the project on Jan. 14. Last month, Community Board 2’s land-use committee voted 7-6 against the project, a vote that is the first step in a seven-month public review process required whenever a developer seeks a rezoning.

The Walentases need a rezoning so that their building can include residential units — and a middle school that could save the city $50 million in development costs. Under current zoning, the Walentases could actually build a taller building right now, though such a structure would not be as profitable.

The public review process will eventually bring the proposal to the City Council, where members tend to defer to the local councilmember. In this case, Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights) is strongly against the project, joining Sunday’s rally at the intersection of Washington and Prospect streets.

Yassky vehemently opposes the project on grounds it blocks the “experience” of the historic span.

But Yassky’s Council colleague Letitia James (D–Fort Greene) strongly supports the project.

“I certainly don’t believe, for a minute, that this is something the Brooklyn Bridge needs to be ‘saved’ from,” she said. “Not only is Dock Street a well-designed, contextual building, but we simply cannot afford to miss out on the opportunity [for the middle school].”

It’s unclear how that battle will play out in the full Council, a body that frequently supports development. Councilman Tony Avella (D-Queens), who chairs the council’s zoning committee, said at Sunday’s rally that he would vote against the project when it comes before the Council.

“This project will obstruct the panoramic view of and around the bridge, and it is not proper planning,” Avella later added. “It is too big.”

Avella may not have seen this week’s print edition of The Brooklyn Paper. Last week, when reporters walked the streets of DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights, they discovered that 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.

After Sunday’s rally, the Walentases put out a statement: “Numerous land use and design professionals and hundreds of community members have stated that Dock Street Dumbo is well-designed and contextual. We believe that it is the right project in the right place at the right time.”

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 less bulky main wing that is further away from the fabled span, the 300-seat middle school and the below-market-rate units.

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Reader Feedback

Beavis from Bklyn Hgts says:
This is reporting? It's editorializing.

Kindly mark it as such to prevent anyone from thinking your actually trying to be balanced and objective.
Jan. 12, 2009, 1:04 am
Pacholo from Red Hook says:
Build the school first !
Jan. 12, 2009, 1:30 am
da from brooklyn says:
I want to offer up the idea of building The Emily Warren Roebling Middle School of Environmental Arts and Sciences in this wonderful location. The School of the Unsung Hero. What a wonderful setting to spend your middle school years. With the Brooklyn Bridge Park right there? I would have been so inspired. Let's give this to some of our children shall we?
Jan. 12, 2009, 4:29 am
KT from Downtown Brooklyn says:
This paper is a shill for the developer. What is the point of zoning laws if developers can bribe a neighborhood to get around them?
Jan. 12, 2009, 10:34 am
bob from brooklyn says:
what's the big deal? i looked at the model and it looks totally appropriate to me. with a new public school and affordable housing not to mention jobs and an increased tax base in this time of economic crisis, what are all these affluent bh and dumbo brownstone and condo owners in such a huff about? i thought the brooklyn paper investigative report was courageous. i only wish david yassky could show a similar spine.
Jan. 12, 2009, 9:18 pm
trace from park slope says:
Where's my comment? Isn't it true that the Walentas's have outstanding zoning violations on every single one of their projects, violations that often never get corrected? If this is the case, can't they be required to resolve all outstanding violations before review of any new proposals?
Jan. 13, 2009, 11:50 am
joel from downtown brooklyn says:
the project opponents have several scary pictures of a building that looks nothing like the model or pictures from two trees. anyone know which is more accurate?
Jan. 13, 2009, 5:29 pm
Laloriss from Bed-Stuyvesant says:
Affordable housing? Affordable for whom? Where? Affordable housing for those who 'know somebody' or who is related to someone on the project, etc. I've never seen any affordable housing that was new.
Jan. 13, 2009, 6:11 pm
Steve from Dumbo says:
I have lost all respect for your publication because you don't acknowledge your association with Two Trees. Just because you are a small community paper doesn't mean you don't have to abide by the basic creeds of journalism. You are endorsing a company that controls your lease - of course you support them - you would be "dumb in dumbo" not to. But you should at least let the readers know that you lease space from them (or are they giving it to you.) Shame on you.
Jan. 13, 2009, 10:06 pm
Nora from Cobble Hill says:
I don't see Steve's logic. Since when does the rent-paying tenant shill for the greedy landlord? That would be a first in NYC landlord-tenant relations! If anything, paying rent to Walentas gives the paper a reason to hate him!

Besides, the Brooklyn Paper has shown that it can take on Walentas. Last year, the paper dubbed him "Cabana Boy" when he lied to the city about those rooftop residences on Atlantic Avenue that violated the Cobble Hill height rules.

The Times barely ever discloses that it is business partners with Bruce Ratner. And the Daily News and Post never tell you who they pay rent to. Why should the Brooklyn Paper?
Jan. 14, 2009, 1:36 am
Carl Lawrence from Dumbo says:
Dear Editor,
I have not analyzed this project in any great detail, but it appears that a simulation using 3D computer graphic techniques could be done in a reasonably short time to show the actual impact of the building from various views. It was a little unclear in your article about what location you were referring to when you say from 'York and Front'. That could be dozens of locations.

The Walentases appear willing to compromise or back off because they already have, on this and other projects in the past, particularly their ill fated Brooklyn Bridge Park extension. That project was taken over by local politicians who I believe, named themselves the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation. What is there role in this, if any?
It is understandable that we in the community are much more cautious about these large development schemes considering we had the 30 story yuppie cliff dwellings (J-Condo and Beacon) thrust upon us-before the landmark's rules went into effect and with little public input.
Let's not let that happen again.
Respectfully submitted,
Carl Lawrence
artist/architect and DUMBO neighbor
Jan. 14, 2009, 12:44 pm
Carl Lawrence from Dumbo says:
Dear Editor,
I have not analyzed this project in any great detail, but it appears that a simulation using 3D computer graphic techniques could be done in a reasonably short time to show the actual impact of the building from various views. It was a little unclear in your article about what location you were referring to when you say from 'York and Front'. That could be dozens of locations.

The Walentases appear willing to compromise or back off because they already have, on this and other projects in the past, particularly their ill fated Brooklyn Bridge Park extension. That project was taken over by local politicians who I believe, named themselves the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation. What is their role in this, if any?
It is understandable that we in the community are much more cautious about these large development schemes considering we had the 30 story yuppie cliff dwellings (J-Condo and Beacon) thrust upon us-before the landmark's rules went into effect and with little public input.
Let's not let that happen again.
Respectfully submitted,
Carl Lawrence
artist/architect and DUMBO neighbor
Jan. 14, 2009, 3:51 pm
Ed Weintrob (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
Publisher
The Brooklyn Paper
Jan. 15, 2009, 1:17 am

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