David and Jed Walentas’s proposal for an 18-story building next to the Brooklyn Bridge is so controversial that when all of the angry opponents and passionate supporters were finished speaking at the first public hearing on the project, members of the community board no longer had time to vote.
More than 80 opponents and supporters clashed over the residential development on Wednesday night, testifying at the four-hour Community Board 2 meeting at Long Island University.
Thirty-eight testified in support of the Walentases’ project and 49 spoke out against it.
The proposed 18-story residential building next to the Brooklyn Bridge on Dock Street in DUMBO comprises a 416-student public middle school, 325 rental residential units (65 of them at below-market rates), and 10,000 square feet of retail space.
The main arguments of project opponents centered on the building’s size, fears it would ruin views of the historic Brooklyn Bridge and bring too much traffic to the neighborhood, and that the middle school was a “public relations ploy” to “sweeten” a project that, opponents claim, is basically no different from an earlier, and much denser, version that was shot down amid community protests in 2004.
City officials had said earlier in the year that the school system does not need a middle school in DUMBO because there is capacity in other schools throughout the district. But in November, the schools officials changed their mind and included $43 million for the project in their next five-year capital budget. The money would fund the construction of interior classrooms, as the Walentases are only promising raw space, saving the city an estimated $50 million.
Still, that carrot didn’t mask what opponents feel is a stick: an overly large project next to a historic landmark.
“This project is not about our need for a middle school — that is the distraction,” said City Council candidate Ken Diamondstone, who opposes the project. “It is about a wealthy developer who wants to ignore and compromise our valuable icon.”
But supporters argued that the area desperately needs a middle school, affordable housing, and noted that Walentas could build a much taller hotel — without needing public approval — in the same spot.
“This is not Atlantic Yards,” said Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Fort Greene). “This is a project that I believe will go a long way in Downtown Brooklyn, and will preserve its nature.”
A local middle school principal, Allison Pell, added that a school should be a welcome addition to a neighborhood.
“When you have a school, it brings life to a community — there is artwork in the windows and kids on the street,” Pell said. “You would be crazy not to want to be involved with this project.”
The battle over Dock Street brought memories of the historic fight in 2004 over the earlier version of the project — one that even Jed Walentas — whose father, David, all but created the now-chic neighborhood down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass — now admits had serious flaws and put too much “bulk near the bridge.”
Since then, the Walentases acquired a small piece of adjacent land that allowed the project to be significantly reconfigured so that the 18-story wing is now set back further from this iconic span. Renderings put out by the developer show that the project’s scale is in line with other buildings in the former industrial warehouse zone.
The meeting is the first step in a seven-month public review process because in order to build his project, the area must be rezoned to residential from a manufacturing zone.
The community board vote is the first step in that process, but CB2 Chairman John Dew postponed the vote because of the late hour. It was not immediately clear when the count would take place.