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

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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.
Updated 5:42 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Andrew Porter from Brooklyn Heights says:
This building was never a hotel, open to all. It was an inn and residence for the Jehovah's Witnesses, located next to their massive printing operations.

Ironically, it was built there after property they owned on Columbia Heights was to be used for this purpose, but their plans were thwarted by the City Council, then in charge of approving their plans.
June 22, 10:32 am
Simply Outraged from Downtown Brooklyn says:
Why would the community board approve such a "scheme?" What is being proposed is not affordable housing. It is a long-term homeless shelter. Placing it in an area that has the highest home prices in New York State makes no sense from a financial perspective. Nor does it make any sense for the poor and mentally ill who will live there, although I am sure that they will enjoy the million dollar views of the Brooklyn Bridge and New York harbor. Unfortunately, they will not be able to afford the shopping or dining that is available in Dumbo. They might seek out other options near Fulton Street, but that area is changing rapidly and will not be affordable for them as well. Other services that they might require – mental health care, substance abuse treatment, and health care services are also lacking. One has to question the motives of the developers of this project — who are anxious to make a quick buck — and the so-called nonprofit that they have partnered with. Public records indicate that the executive director of Breaking Ground , Brenda Rosen, receives compensation in excess of $300,000 each year. When one considers that half of their revenue comes from New York City (from agencies such as the Department of Homeless Services), does it seem right that she earns more than the mayor?

I can’t imagine that those who bought million dollar condominiums in the area would be happy living next door to 500 low or no-wage families, most of whom have a history of mental health or substance abuse problems. It appears that everyone involved in this project is making big bucks under the guise of helping the homeless. It is no wonder that Trump has gained so much traction throughout the country. Giving luxury apartments in high rent areas to substance abusers and persons with criminal records rubs most Americans the wrong way. The politically tone deaf people pushing this project simply don’t get it.
June 23, 1:08 am
Sam Greenfield from Concord Village says:
I live around the corner from 90 Sands, and I support this project.

New York City needs to be a home for people from all walks of life. This means that we must have low- and moderate-incoming housing throughout the city. It's not okay that some people, including "Outraged from Downtown Brooklyn," think that we should live in segregated neighborhoods with our most vulnerable populations shunted off to the edges of the city.

I do feel that everyone has a right to be safe in the city, but I believe that Breaking Ground, with a history of delivering safe and valuable housing for their residents, will provide a safe environment for their residents and neighbors.

DUMBO and Vinegar Hill are already mixed-income neighborhoods: there are multi-million dollar condos next door to the NYCHA Farragut Houses.

On another topic, what's with the use of the phrase "so-called" in the article above? It's pejorative and adds no additional information.
June 28, 2:01 pm
UJH from Westchester County says:
As a former 45-year resident shareholder of Concord Village Owners who moved three months ago, I have followed the changing fate of the high-rise at 90 Sands Street closely. "Simply Outraged from Downtown Brooklyn" makes numerous baseless assumptions and is advised to re-read Julianna Cuba's article, which mentions that needed social and medical services will be provided. Whether "Simply Outraged" and others agree or not, the rents quoted are considered affordable, although we like to put quotation marks around the term.

Andrew Porter is correct: The Watchtower Society received permits for transient housing for its volunteer staff in an M-1 zone (light manufacturing and commercial use), which includes transient housing, without further public review. Even if conversion to permanent housing were to require a zoning change and therefore ULURP, the plan can be considered a "done deal," because supported, low- and affordable-income housing are in extremely short supply and strongly promoted by the Mayor, and Breaking Ground would not invest in the property and introduce its plan in public, if it hadn't already received a green light.

90 Sands Street will not be a shelter.
Breaking Ground operates a combination of supported and affordable housing in Boerum Hill, and we have read that no complaints have ever been voiced about negative incidents there. I'm not familiar with conditions at the former Jefferson and Washington Hotels in Manhattan's East 20's except that the ballroom of at least one hotel is rented out as event space. Nobody can foresee how 90 Sands Street will be managed, one can only hope that it will be a respectful and respected neighbor.
June 28, 9:58 pm
David Weinkrantz from Downtown Brooklyn says:
The article reports that in 2017 RFR paid $135 million to buy building.

For what purpose did it buy the building?

Now, one year or maybe only months later RFR intends to sell the building.

Is this a surprise? Was it already agreed to at the time of RFR's purchase?

Breaking Ground refuses to say how much it is paying for the property. Why won't it say?

What is the source of Breaking Ground's funding? Is it the City of New York?

Is this an effort by persons in the City government to do something that they are not permitted to do on the City's books by having an outside entity do it while the City funds it?
June 30, 8:35 am

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