Two Trees’ plan for gigantic towers in W’burg begins rezoning process

Rendering of two high rises at River Ring
A rendering of the proposed River Ring development on the Williamsburg waterfront.
Two Trees

The city officially allowed a massive development on the Williamsburg Waterfront to begin the long journey through the arduous rezoning process — potentially altering Brooklyn’s skyline with two enormous towers, a new park, and public beaches. 

If the plan gets final approval, Brooklyn-based developers Two Trees Management would erect a 64-story tower and a 49-story tower that would house a combined 1,050 apartments, with 263 units earmarked as “affordable” under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Program. 

Most of the affordable housing units would be slated for residents making 60 percent of the area’s median income — with rents hovering around $1,427 for a one bedroom, and $1,963 for a three bedroom. 

The proposal — designed by famed architect Bjarke Ingels — now enters the seven-month Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), during which Community Board 1 and the borough president will provide advisory recommendations, before binding votes by the mayor, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council. 

The current proposal for River Ring includes sprawling beaches at the Williamsburg waterfront. Two Trees

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Two Trees was forced to delay their ULURP application, which they’d hoped to complete before the end of 2021. Now, the company will need approval from the next mayor and the future City Council, all of whom will take office in January of 2022.

First, though, Community Board 1 will host a meeting of their Land Use committee on Sept. 1, and a full board meeting on Sept. 14. 

Though it will be the beginning of ULURP for the project, it’s not the first time Two Trees has gone before the civic panel — two meetings in early 2020 brought packed houses and mixed reviews from attendees.

“The community board vote is obviously advisory, but it means a lot to us,” said Dave Lombino, a Two Trees spokesman. 

Lombino pointed to the company’s past redevelopment of the narby Domino Sugar Plant as evidence of their commitment to the local community. 

“We won approval from the community board for Domino in 2013, and I think we have met and exceeded expectations on that project from a community perspective,” he said. 

Rendering of tide pools at River Ring
The development would include nature paths, tide pools, and salt marshes along the Williamsburg waterfront. Two Trees

Two Trees purchased the site of the proposed towers on River Street from Con Edison for $150 million in late 2019. The site was used by the utility company to store oil and gas containers until the late 90s, though empty tankers remained until 2011. The lot has since been remediated for contamination left over from its industrial past.

In addition to the apartments, the interior of the proposed mixed-use towers would feature office space, along with a YMCA with a swimming pool.

Current minimum parking requirements call for spaces for 40 percent of the market-rate apartments — although Two Trees hopes to cut that in half, creating just 250 below-ground spaces.

“Parking minimums that exist today are outdated and create an incentive for folks to own cars and drive everywhere,” Lombino said. “We believe they should be reduced.”

About 25 percent of the surface-level lot space would be occupied by the footprints of the towers. The remaining 75 percent would see outdoor amenities like a publicly-accessible plaza and a large waterfront public park, including two beaches and new breakwaters doubling as nature trails.

Two Trees closed on the Domino lot shortly after Superstorm Sandy, Lombino said, which pushed the company to take sustainability and climate resiliency more seriously.

Rendering of tide pools at River Ring and habitats for marine life
Under the current proposal, breakwaters would form tide pools and a salt marsh, which could be home to local marine life. Two Trees

“The breakwaters take wave action out of the river, creating a calm area where the habitat can be restored,” he said. “But also in the event of a storm — and it’s definitely when, not if — it can protect the upland area from violent flooding, and some of the surrounding buildings instead.”

CPC chair Melissa Lago said the proposal is “one of the most complex private applications we’ve ever seen,” noting later that she anticipated a “lively discussion” when the project returns to the commission in a few months.

Through River Ring’s early development, some neighbors took opposition to the project. In addition to bemoaning the loss of waterfront views, activist group Sustainable Williamsburg say on their website that Williamsburg and Greenpoint are already overdeveloped as a result of a 2005 rezoning, and are pushing for lower-density development on the waterfront. 

On Tuesday evening, though, three community groups in north Brooklyn — El Puentes de Williamsburg, St. Nicks Alliance, and Southside United HDFC — released a letter addressed to Two Trees owner Jed Walentas and local elected officials, as well as Community Board 1, showing support for the development and putting forward some requests as Two Trees continues to move forward with the project. 

The letter notes that Two Trees has worked alongside the St. Nicks Alliance job creation program during the Domino rezoning.

“We are grateful for consulting with us regarding affordable housing, job creation for local residents and  environmental equity at the River Ring redevelopment site,” the letter says. “We are also encouraged by the number of  features proposed for the new development: local jobs, affordable housing, a new public park with water  access and a new community recreation center.”