Developer David Walentas has proposed to add another castle to his DUMBO fiefdom: a $200-million, 400-apartment, commercial and middle school project on Water Street, between Water and Front streets — the same location where a similar Walentas proposal was defeated in 2004.
To avoid such a fate, Walentas’s Two Trees Management — the principal landlord in the booming neighborhood down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass — has set aside 80 of the units as below-market-rate housing and reconfigured the building so that it obstructs fewer views of the Brooklyn Bridge.
The blocked views were one reason several community groups objected to the earlier version. The 300-student middle school is also new to the proposal.
The company needs a city rezoning from manufacturing to residential before it can build.
Anticipating controversy, Two Trees has already begun a mass-mailing campaign in DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights, sending out a glossy, full-color pamphlet asking for support — much in the style of developer Bruce Ratner, who courted support for Atlantic Yards by sending out hundreds of thousands of such pamphlets.
The Two Trees mailer includes a pre-paid postcard petition in support of the project.
The petition is addressed to Councilman David Yassky. The Brooklyn Heights Democrat, who was criticized by some groups for not opposing the 2004 project fast enough, said this week that DUMBO does need a middle school, but not another gigantic development.
He called the mailings “a page from the Forest City Ratner playbook.”
It’s unclear whether Two Trees will pay for the school portion of the project or if the company expects the city to pick up the tab. But Yassky says it makes a big difference.
“If all they’re saying is, we’ll offer the space to the Board of Education so they can buy it, well, the Board of Education can buy space in a lot of places,” he said.
Two Trees officials said the details still need to be worked out, but company heir Jed Walentas is optimistic.
“From a public policy standpoint, I anticipate widespread support,” he said, noting that the community had been “clamoring for decades” for a middle school — even though DUMBO has only recently begun attracting families.
He also touted the company’s commitment to meet eco-friendly construction standards.
But Walentas admitted that “not everyone in the world will like” the 18-story building.
“For example, the Brooklyn Heights Association has opposed everything we’ve ever built.”
Perhaps, but the BHA did not want to take a formal position on the latest design until Two Trees had formally presented its proposal to the Association after this issue went to press.
But Association Executive Director Judy Stanton did see the need for a middle school.
“We’ve become much more of a public school neighborhood than we were,” she said, pointing to the full-capacity PS 8 elementary school on Hicks Street on the DUMBO end of Brooklyn Heights. “Graduating fifth-graders do not have adequate choices.”
Others agreed, but didn’t think a giant mixed-use building was the answer.
“We do need a middle school, but this need … should not be used to leverage an out-of-scale development,” said Karen Johnson, president of the DUMBO Neighborhood Association. “We are against the height and density and will … oppose this.”