Two for two: Developer Two Trees relaunches project for pair of skyscrapers, beach at W’Burg waterfront

rendering of River Ring
The proposed River Ring development (center) at River Street near Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg.
James Corner Field Operations and BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

Two Trees Management is relaunching its massive mixed-use development project along the waterfront in Williamsburg — promising to bring two enormous towers with over 1,000 housing units, office space, a pool, and a beach to the northern Brooklyn shoreline. 

The Dumbo-based developer first announced the project in late 2019 after they purchased the  former Con Edison plant on River Street for $150 million.

Prior to closing the deal, the company began hosting closed meetings with locals starting in June of 2019, before giving presentations to the community board in January of 2020, and ultimately halting public info sessions as the pandemic swept through the city in March.

The firm launched a new website earlier this year about the project — which is now dubbed “River Ring” — and has met with neighboring residents in recent weeks as they prepare to push their proposal through the city’s lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) that’s required to change the land’s designation from manufacturing to allow for residential development.

Two Trees is aiming to complete the roughly seven-month ULURP by the end of this year, when Mayor Bill de Blasio leaves office and elections shake up the City Council, according to spokesman David Lombino. 

The proposal

Since it was first unveiled, Two Trees has made alterations to the plan — including scaling up the taller tower on the southern side to 710 feet instead of 650 feet, while reducing the north tower to 560 feet, rather than 600 feet. 

Designed by high-profile landscape architects James Corner Field Operations and architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group, the taller of the pair will be just 10 feet shy of the tallest building in Kings County, which is currently Brooklyn Point in the borough’s downtown.

The developer also added 50 more housing units than originally proposed, now totaling 1,050 apartments across the two buildings — with about a quarter of those, or 263 apartments, being earmarked as “affordable.” 

Most of those 236 units will be marketed at 60 percent of the federally-defined Area Median Income, with rents ranging from $909 monthly for a studio, to $1,366 for a two-bedroom. Some 27 units will be priced at 40 percent AMI, making those rents range from $567 for a studio to $854 for a two-bed. 

In addition to the housing units, the interior of the building will contain office space, retail, and a new YMCA with a pool. Renderings show new arcades at the ground floor of the two buildings, which slope down and some more green space at the Metropolitan Avenue entrance. 

Outside, the proposal would include a 2.9 acre waterfront park that offers two sandy beaches and looping esplanades around an extra 3 acres of sheltered space in the water.

The proposed beach at River Ring.James Corner Field Operations and BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

Two Trees says the newly-restored shore with its marshes, tidal pools, and breakwaters will create a resilient shoreline that can protect more than 500 inland properties from flooding. 

The complex will also have its own microgrid to lessen demand on the Con Edison system and water reuse infrastructure to capture and purify the site’s own wastewater, reducing discharges into the city sewer network, according to the website. 

The public reaction

The large-scale development was met with resistance among some locals at public meetings last year, as area residents and business owners argued over the project’s size and burden on the local infrastructure amid heavy development along northern Brooklyn’s former industrial waterfront, which has turned into a glass tower condo colony. 

A group of locals from neighboring buildings and further afield in the area formed a group in opposition to the project in 2019 dubbed Sustainable Williamsburg, arguing against new residential housing — lamenting that much of the waterfront was already rezoned from manufacturing to apartments in recent years, leaving the River Street lot as one of the few spots for industry. 

“As a community, we were surprised a rezoning would even be considered on this site given the massive strain the neighborhood has seen on its infrastructure and services, as well as the corresponding displacement, from the massive development that has happened in the past 12 years,” said Keith Berger, the president of the condo board for 1 Northside Piers two blocks down from the site at N. Fifth Street, in a Tuesday statement for the group.

Sustainable Williamsburg also published an October letter signed by all eight candidates running for the local Council seat, saying the political hopefuls won’t support the proposal in its current form.

Whoever wins the election to succeed incumbent Stephen Levin would have outsize sway to block the project during ULURP should it not go through public review before this administration. 

One nearby resident and member of local Community Board 1 noted that Two Trees was offering more truly affordable units and a better waterfront park than other big developers in the area, but added that the cheaper units still fall short of what the neighborhood needs.

“Their numbers [of affordable units] are better than any developers on the waterfront,” said Ryan Kuonen, who lives three blocks away on Metropolitan Avenue. “I think it should be 100 percent affordable housing and the city should be demanding more, but my bar is very high and the city’s bar is very low.”

The 18-year resident added that, while the beach park will offer a welcome change from the old industrial plant, she fears the amenity and the influx of 787 market-rate apartments will further push prices up in the gentrified nabe. 

“When I moved in it was two giant Con Ed plants with a lot of truck traffic,” she said. “Having that park down there will be very amazing, [but] it will also make the gentrification ramp up a million times.”

Two Trees has offered to present updates to local CB1 at its April virtual Land Use Committee meeting, but a date for the official start of their ULURP application — which would include an advisory recommendation from the full civic panel — has not yet been set, Lombino said.