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Dock Street foes, supporters clash at hearing

The Brooklyn Paper
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Opponents of a controversial residential tower proposed to rise next to the Brooklyn Bridge brought their case to Borough President Markowitz on Tuesday night, bitterly describing developer Jed Walentas’s project as bad public policy and a disastrous way to treat the fabled and legendary span.

The majority of the roughly 100 speakers at Markowitz’s public hearing on the Dock Street proposal were opposed to Walentas’s plan to build an 18-story tower near the Brooklyn Bridge — a project that has added a public middle school, an environmentally friendly design, and approximately 70 units of below-market-rate housing since an earlier version was rejected in 2004.

“Nothing should ever be allowed to compromise the grandeur of the Brooklyn Bridge,” said Jeff Strabone, president of the Cobble Hill Association.

But many DUMBO residents, business people and artists rallied in support of the Walentas plan, which offers the hope of landing what the local community board has long listed as a top priority: a new public middle school to ease projected crowding.

The project needs a rezoning so that the site can include residential units and the school. In the first step of the public review process, Community Board 2 approved the project by a 30–7 vote earlier this month.

“This project serves the public interest of the broader Downtown community,” said Joe Chan, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, citing the new school and the first below-market-rate units in DUMBO, which is rapidly becoming Brooklyn’s most-expensive, and least-diverse, neighborhood.

Before the verbal fisticuffs, Markowitz reminded the crowd that he had rejected an earlier version because it put most of its bulk next to the bridge and was too damaging to the experience of the span.

Hinting at that prior rejection, Markowitz centered his opening statement on the view of the world-renowned icon.

“These views are very important to me, as I indicated by my objection to the earlier plan,” he said.

After that, he kept his famously expressive mouth shut and listened to all of the four hours of testimony that followed.

The first speaker, Councilman Bill DeBlasio (D–Park Slope), joined his Brooklyn Heights colleague David Yassky in objecting to the project. But DeBlasio stuck mostly to what he said was not enough below-market-rate units in the project, which currently sets aside 20 percent of its 375 apartments as “affordable housing.” “The city needs to move towards greater affordability than 20 percent,” he said.

Other opponents painted Walentas, who has spent, by his own estimate, more than $100,000 to lobby city officials about the Dock Street plan over the past two years, as a man who sweetened his rejected project from 2004 with a public middle school — and then convinced city officials that this was the best offer they could get.

Indeed, as late as June, 2008, city officials were saying that they did not see a need for a middle school in DUMBO, despite demand by Brooklyn Heights-area parents for just such a school.

Then, about five months later, the city had quietly slipped the Dock Street school into its five-year construction plans.

“The School Construction Authority has not done due diligence,” said Roula Foukas, a DUMBO resident who is opposed to the project.

“How many potential sites are out there? We don’t know.”

But Jay Schipper, a real-estate developer, said he worked “for two years” to try to find a suitable site for a middle school in DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights or Downtown, but all possible locations were rejected by the School Construction Authority.

“There is not another site,” Schipper said. “And this building does not block views of the Brooklyn Bridge.”

Walentas’s inclusion of the middle school in his building would save the city an estimated $50 million in construction costs. But Yassky, whose middle school task force was so keen on finding another location for a school that it even briefly considered a city proposal to put a center of learning in the soon-to-reopen Brooklyn House of Detention, argued that the city could easily find another developer who would build a school for that price.

When pressed to name one, he mentioned the developer of the One Brooklyn Bridge Park condominium, and blamed the school agency for not putting such a school proposal out for bid.

Within hours, the developer withdrew his property from consideration.

But Yassky was unbowed.

“I am certain a developer would come forward,” Yassky told The Brooklyn Paper. “And if they don’t get a decent proposal, then, and only then, would I say that maybe this is the best project we can do.”

The owner of a vacant lot at 205 Water St., between Bridge and Jay streets on the other side of DUMBO, sent a representative to the hearing to say that he wants to make a deal with School Construction Authority. But the owner of the lot declined to elaborate.

Yassky also reiterated his belief that the building would damage “the experience” of the Brooklyn Bridge, though a recent Brooklyn Paper investigation revealed that views of the bridge and from the bridge would not be dramatically altered.

After the hearing, Walentas said everything went “as expected.”

“There is a strong constituency for and against,” he said.

Walentas said the city’s change of mind over the need for a middle school in DUMBO came as a result of his company showing school officials new data.

“If you’re an agency charged with building the maximum number of school seats for the least amount of money, you’d be reckless not to pursue a deal with us,” he said.

He also rejected the argument that the middle school was included solely to get approval for the rezoning, which will raise the value of his site and that of his company’s other properties in DUMBO, a former warehouse and industrial zone that his father, David Walentas, helped turn into one of New York’s most desirable neighborhoods for residents and artists.

“Yes, it is true that the rezoning would add value to the site,” he said. “But because of our broader interest in the neighborhood, we’re actually giving it back in the form of a school and affordable housing.

“There are people who don’t want to believe that, but I’m sorry, it’s true,” he said.

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

Against Dock Street says:
This is the latest in a series of biased Brooklyn Paper articles concerning the Dock Street proposal. Not entirely surprising given that the Paper is a TT tenant. What is the basis for the author's assertion that a "slight majority" of the seven dozen speakers testified against the proposal? From my count -- and I was there for the entire hearing -- there were probably 4 or 5 times as many speakers speaking against the proposal as their were speaking for it.
Jan. 28, 2009, 8:42 am
Carlo Trigiani from Brooklyn Heights says:
The opposition did have a strong showing last night - hats off to them.

Hopefully Marty, Yassky and the city council will sit down with the developer and hammer out a compromise. There is too much to be lost by all parties to not be reasonable.

Sincerely.
Jan. 28, 2009, 10:18 am
School Mom from Brooklyn Heights says:
Carlo is right - clearly the community needs this school, and no one else is stepping forward with a proposal. I was really surprised by the personal attacks against Walentas last night - one guy called him a "spoiled rich 31-year-old stomping his feet." In any case, our electeds need to do their jobs and find a compromise.
Jan. 28, 2009, 10:44 am
Pierce from Brooklyn Heights says:
I'm afraid that the BHA is approaching this issue by dictating to the Planning Commission and the Education Department exactly what they must do. The Education Department wants to open a new school in DUMBO, instead of saying "thank you" they are saying: No! we don't want it there, we want you to build it exactly where we say.
They are going to lose the school for us.
I would like the boro pres and his staff to know that the BHA speaks for a tiny percentage of the neighborhood. They do not speak for most of us who welcome the school and who do not believe the new apartment building will detract from the Brooklyn Bridge.
Jan. 28, 2009, 11:27 am
just the facts, pls. from Brooklyn Heights says:
This article is not bias, it's fiction. Journalists are meant to subscribe to a code of ethics in reporting the truth, the author, Gersh, would be better served seeking a career in advertising, where distorting the truth is status quo.

The article was obviously written before the hearing, one wonders if "Gersh" actually attended.

The author also fails to mention that one presenter at yesterday's hearing presented hard scientific data that shows placing schools next to major roadways is damaging to children's developing lungs, and states are moving to mandate against it. Sandwiching a school between a garage and the Brooklyn bridge borders on criminal. Report that Gersh.
Jan. 28, 2009, 11:59 am
Anti-Dock St. from DUMBO says:
This newspaper continues to be extremely biased on this heated issue, it's such a joke! In total, 100 people testified, and about 80 spoke out in strong opposition of Dock St. DUMBO. Only about 20 were in favor of it.

It was rampantly obvious that the overwhelming majority was AGAINST the building, yet this newspaper prints "The slight majority of seven-dozen speakers at Markowitz’s public hearing on the Dock Street proposal were opposed to Walentas’s plan to build an 18-story tower near the Brooklyn Bridge." STOP LYING! YOU ARE A NEWSPAPER -- REPORT THE FACTS.
Jan. 28, 2009, Noon
Adam from Dumbo says:
It is not a case of build the building or losing a school! This is how cleverly Two Trees has framed and sold this proposal. Of course there needs to be a middle school in the district. Due diligence needs to be exercised rather than selling off our treasured assets to the first developer who lifts his skirt to show us a little leg. Take a deep breath everyone. We can have both a school and a bridge. Just not in this awful, out of scale proposal. As for you you guys at the Brooklyn paper I wonder if two trees has promised you an apartment in his new building or something. You can not even pretend to be objective.
Jan. 28, 2009, 12:02 pm
Compromiser from DUMBO says:
So, it's supposed to be a 200 ft. building with 310 high-end condos, 65 below-market apartments, and a school.

How about this instead: a 100 ft. building with 200 high-end condos, no below-market apartments, and a school. Is there a rule that says high-end condo buildings MUST have below-market apartments in it? If so, getting a variance wouldn't seem too tough, because they're building a school there.

I'm sorry, but I find it hard to believe that the community at large would shed any tears at the prospect of losing below-market housing in that building. Sure, it'd be nice to diversify a little bit, but if we can get our school the condos to make the project economically viable not ruin the bridge, everybody wins. And then build your low-income housing somewhere else, say, at that 205 Water St. lot that the article mentions.

AND we're done! Okay, Marty. Make it so...
Jan. 28, 2009, 12:12 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" because we rent an office in a Two Trees-owned building.

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 do 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 that is why this comment space is open to all reasonable parties.

Ed Weintrob
Publisher
The Brooklyn Paper
Jan. 28, 2009, 12:20 pm
Gersh Kuntzman (Brooklyn Paper) says:
Several comments have suggested that I was not at the meeting or wrote my story before the meeting. Both suggestions are false.

If you were there, you saw me there — in the front row, keeping a running tally of people who spoke FOR and AGAINST the project.

The numbers reflected in a prior comment above are NOT accurate. The number of speakers on both sides of the issue was far closer than prior posters stated above.

GERSH KUNTZMAN
Editor
The Brooklyn Paper
Jan. 28, 2009, 12:37 pm
Anti-Dock St. from DUMBO says:
Gersh, glad to see you read the comments. I appreciate it. If you were there and kept a tally of the for and against testimony counts, please share your findings with us. At the conclusion, Markowitz said that exactly 100 people spoke. So what was the actual break-down according to your records?

I was there too, and while I wasn't recording a tally, I cannot fathom it was as close as you indicate because for every pro-Dock St. testimony there seemed to be at least 3 or 4 against to bookend it, especially in the final 2 hours. And it's not just me. The blogs are reporting similar numbers:

Brooklyn Heights Blog:
http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/5979

"At least 3/4 of the speakers were against the project as currently designed."

DUMBO NYC:
http://dumbonyc.com/2009/01/28/crowd-shows-up-at-dock-st-hearing-at-borough-hall/

"The majority of the speakers were opposed to the tune of approximately 3 to 1..."
Jan. 28, 2009, 12:52 pm
Publius from Bklyn Hgts says:
Mr. Ed Weintrob characterizes the Brooklyn Paper's reporting on this issue as a matter of "emphasis".

The Paper's reporting on the Dock St./DUMBO story has been so bias in favor of the developer as to be laughable and has done serious damage to the Paper's reputation as a newspaper.

Editorializing belongs on the editorial page, not on page 1 or 2 posing as news reporting.

Hopefully this feedback will be taken constructively and in the future The Paper can move towards journalistic standards.

I'm glad The Paper got called out last night at the public hearing. When writing about Two Trees and chosing its particular pro-developer "emphasis" the Paper must *each time* disclose its business relationship with Two Trees. A small line at the bottom of each article would suffice. Again, basic journalistic integrity.

Thanks for listening. I often enjoy the Brooklyn Paper and would like to see it thrive as a real newspaper for the borough.
Jan. 28, 2009, 1:33 pm
Ned from Dumbo says:
Keep your shirt on Gersh! It's just apparent and obvious to all who have read your pieces on 'Dock Street' that you are strongly and inexplicably in favor of it. Why? What could you possibly think is "appropriate" and right about this project? I know of a few folks who, after speaking out against Two Trees, did not have their leases resigned. This is a fact. This is the kind of company they are. It is also a fact that every time Two Trees has to go up in front of a government agency to get something passed they round up all their tenants and "encourage" them to speak at these functions on their behalf. I suspect that you all are a bit afraid of upsetting your apple cart and are indeed doing the bidding of your landlord. I'm sure they will pay you back in kind.
Jan. 28, 2009, 1:49 pm
Well Intentioned from Manhattan says:
One can appreciate the quandry of being pressured by your landlord to be "pro" his agenda. And with no intention to be offend, your reporting has been so biased and so misleading and so inaccurate that one can only hope that you are under such pressure.

Perhaps in the interest of someday gaining credibility as journalists versus agents of propaganda, you should withdraw from reporting on issues relating to your landlord?

Just a suggestion.

Jan. 28, 2009, 2:02 pm
Liar Liar from Dumbo says:
okay so maybe you didn't lie, Gersh, per se, but you chose to print lies:

But Jay Schipper, a real-estate developer, said he worked “for two years” to try to find a suitable site for a middle school in DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights or Downtown, but all possible locations were rejected by the School Construction Authority.

What DEVELOPER cares about a school and searches for one for 2 yrs? LIE!

“There is not another site,” Schipper said. “And this building does not block views of the Brooklyn Bridge.”

LIE!!

"Walentas’s inclusion of the middle school in his building would save the city an estimated $50 million in construction costs." PLS explain in full.

"The owner of a vacant lot at 205 Water St., between Bridge and Jay streets on the other side of DUMBO, sent a representative to the hearing to say that he wants to make a deal with School Construction Authority. But the owner of the lot declined to elaborate until he could talk further with the city."

EVERYONE HAD 3 MINUTES, AND AS YOU SAY IN YOUR FIRST SENTENCE THE DEVELOPER WASN'T THERE, HIS REP WAS, SO HOW COULD HE ELABORATE? That may not be a LIE per se, Gersh, but it sure leans that way.

So it looks like there ARE alternate sites after all. Hmmm
Jan. 28, 2009, 2:14 pm
davoyager from brooklyn heights says:
I am astonished at the lies opponents throw around like wet snow hoping they will stick. I was there for the first 2 hours and testified and found during that period there were more supporters than opponents. I do understand the opponents turned out in large numbers late, all basically saying the same things (talking points passed around in their Manhattan offices no doubt), but I don't think those people are really Brooklynites. They are mostly people who have arrived in our Borough over the last few years and who will probably leave over the next few years as they have children of their own and move to the suburbs. These people could care less for the welfare of the children of Brooklyn.
Jan. 28, 2009, 2:20 pm
Publius from Bklyn Heights says:
Da:

You're in deep denial. Keep fantasizing that those who spoke against the project as currently proposed were not Brooklynites or are newcomers.

It's clear from the many parents of school age children who spoke against Dock St. (the vast majority), that your repeated attempts to characterize them and those against the project as currently proposed as anti-child is a complete failure.

Perhaps if you has stuck around for more than 2/5ths of the hearing you would have heard people who have lived here all their lives and whose families are here for many generations coming out against the project.

But how would you know, because you weren't there? But that doesn't discourage you from some wishful hoping does it?

BTW, nice pony tail.
Jan. 28, 2009, 3:02 pm
Carlo Trgiani from Brooklyn Heights says:
Hey Pubi,

Maybe you're the one in denial and that's why you needed the 5 hour group therapy session.

After personnaly staying for 3 hours, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing new to hear. I've seen the altered renderings, the 8,000 signature book, the accusations of greed and corruption. Compromise or move on. You're starting to bore me.
Jan. 28, 2009, 3:27 pm
davoyager from brooklyn heights says:
Pub,
I was there for the first 2 hours, my wife was there for an hour after that and returned toward the end with other supportive parents who were crowded out by the onrush of single people coming from work who don’t have children at home and can be out all night. you guys have done a good job whipping up this hysteria but I think cooler heads will prevail.
Perhaps you could refrain from the personal attacks. They don't further the discussion at all.
I wish I knew your true motivation as you hide behind this identity and probably a few others.
Jan. 28, 2009, 3:53 pm
Gersh Kuntzman (Brooklyn Paper) says:
Again, just to set the record straight, and to specifically rebut Liar Liar from Dumbo's comment above, the owner of 205 Water Street WAS at the hearing, but he declined to talk publicly, or to this reporter. In the interest of continuing our fair coverage, I was quite interested in talking to him about his lot and his negotiations with the School Construction Authority.

He said he will talk to me when he CAN talk about the negotiations.

Thanks for reading.

GERSH KUNTZMAN
Editor
The Brooklyn Paper
Jan. 28, 2009, 4:04 pm
Rodrigo Pocius from Vinegar Hill says:
First, I have lived in the area for over 30 years. I have personally lied down in front of paving equipment when some company thought it would benefit the communtiy to pave over cobblestones. My dedication to the area is personal.

'Affordable housing'?

Do you honestly think a developer will make prime water-front property 'affordable', and who defines 'affordable', well the developer, of course.

Children's school?

There is a middle school at 209 York Street, P.S. 307 and Satellite West, JHS. I went there. I walked 2 blocks to get to school. Can anyone please give a reason why this school is ignored by all the people claiming there is no school nearby?

It seems that placing children in a building underneath a symbol of America is inviting disaster, and I doubt the DOE will actually do this.

Let's not forget, the Brooklyn Anchorage Art space was closed for security reasons.

We will end up with a high priced rental building with no school.

Living in the area for three decades, I have come across many people who have had all sorts of 'good ideas' for what should be done with the area. Most of these people don't live here anymore. I was at the meeting, and many of the opponents of the project are neighbors of mine who have also been in the area for a long time, so please, do not insult us by saying we will move to the suburbs....none of you would even be here if not for the dedication of the early residents. I heard many people claiming the Walentas built DUMBO, that is like saying AL Gore 'invented' the internet.
Jan. 28, 2009, 6:35 pm
davoyager from BH says:
nice cut and paste dude.
Even if your fairy tail is true it is not representative of the preponderance of your neighbors. I stand by my characterizations.
Jan. 29, 2009, 2:58 am
Brooklyn Native from Does it matter? says:
I suppose I too would be in favor of a new school in DUMBO if I lived there. This way my children would be segregated from the rest of NYC's kids and would solely socialize and network with other kids of the same social stature, for free, and then simply sum the need for it up to "overcrowding." This whole darn city is overcrowded!! Don't even get me started on the "AFFORDABLE" units ... who exactly are they affordable for anyway???? The fact that people want to live as close to the city as possible without paying city prices has made our boroughs completely unaffordable for the working class who were born and raised here. It makes me sick.
Jan. 29, 2009, 10:08 am
Charles from Bklyn says:
Welcome to the new corruption; government facilitated development bought and paid by lobbying, political relationships and ignoring the rule of law and fundamental fairness in process. Wouldn't it be better for all of us if there was just a handover of cash between government officials and developers, and we all looked the other way? No, but in the end, the result is the same. As the middle class is squeezed, the rich run away with Brooklyn in their pockets.
Jan. 29, 2009, 11:06 am
Puca from brooklyn says:
Gersh,

since you kept a tally of who spoke in favor or against, Is there any reason why you won't share it with us or your readers?
Jan. 31, 2009, 10:42 pm
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
I am against the project because of one reason only, that is that it will impose it self on the Brooklyn Bridge BUT I have no doubt the the Walentas's will keep their word on the affordable housing. They did it at Court House(court and Atlantic) and there really is no reason to doubt there word. I just don't think the school is a fair trade off for the Brooklyn Bridge. I know others think otherwise but there are some things that are sacred and this is one of them. It is my understanding from the BP's office that there was about 3 to 2 who spoke against the project and most if not all of them were from Brooklyn.

This plan is much better than the plan submitted in 2002 but it still shouldn't be higher than the rodeway of the BB. Look at what the higher buildings look like on top of it in Manhattan. Its not the Manhattan bridge which i wouldn't care if you built over it. Its the Brooklyn Bridge
Feb. 2, 2009, 10:18 pm
bob from coney island says:
wher is jd hasty
May 19, 2009, 5:04 pm

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