DUMBO real-estate titan David Walentas’s latest plan to build an apartment complex next to the Brooklyn Bridge is once again meeting resistance from residents’ groups in DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights — despite a smaller design and new incentives from the developer.
“It’s definitely a superior project now [as opposed to the defeated 2004 plan],” said Jed Walentas, who is taking a lead role in this project for his father’s Two Trees Management.
“The prior plan had too much bulk near the bridge — which was a genuine design flaw,” he added.
Since the 2004 defeat, the Walentases have acquired a former car part factory directly under the Brooklyn Bridge, allowing them to reconfigure the project so that the tallest segment — the 18-story wing — can be placed further away from the 124-year-old span.
The project, which would be bounded by Dock, Water and Front streets, now includes other sweeteners, including Walentas’s promise to build a public middle school, set aside 80 of the building’s 400 units as below-market-rate rentals, and use an environmentally friendly design that would make the building DUMBO’s first structure certified as “green” by the “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” program.
But that’s not enough for some people. The DUMBO Neighborhood Association has set up a Web site, SaveTheBrooklynBridge.org, to oppose what it calls an “out-of-scale, high density and historically insensitive development.”
In a joint statement with the Brooklyn Heights Association, the group said that the “defects of this new project are essentially the same as those that resulted in the failure of the previous project.”
Both sides are fighting their battle on the Web, where dueling renderings have clouded the issue of just how much of the Brooklyn Bridge might actually be obscured.
For example, on the DUMBO Neighborhood Association Web site, a view of the Brooklyn Bridge from a neighboring tower is entirely blocked by the proposed Walentas building. But that photo rendering appears to have been taken from an affected apartment in the Sweeney Building, one of Walentas’s existing structures — whose owners were told in advance that their views would one day be lost.
“We said all along that two lines in that building — the F and G lines — will have their views devastated [by the new project],” Jed Walentas said. “That’s why we made it page one, paragraph one” of the sale contract.
Another photo rendering, taken from the Brooklyn Bridge footpath, shows the Walentas tower blocking part of the view of the Manhattan Bridge. The same rendering on Walentas’s site shows that the view of the Manhattan Bridge clears up entirely — if you walk a few more steps along the footpath towards Manhattan.
And Walentas’s renderings show that the concrete, warehouse-style building is very much in context in DUMBO, where other 180-foot buildings block myriad other views of the bridges that give the neighborhood its name and its dark, docklands-style feel.
The local objection to Walentas’s “Dock Street” project is not without an additional irony, given that it was Walentas who named the neighborhood in the first place after buying up many of the unused warehouse buildings and converting them to a neighborhood of trendy offices, luxury rentals and artists studios.
Many planners and urban advocates celebrate Walentas’s support for Mom and Pop stores, which he draws to DUMBO with subsidized rents, and his reluctance to rent to chains.
At the center of the opposition is Councilman David Yassky, who opposed Walentas’s 2004 plan after neighborhood groups inundated his office with anti-project postcards. This time, the Walentases have targeted the Brooklyn Heights Democrat with a postcard campaign of their own that tweaks Yassky for his continuing opposition to the project, despite his stated support for a new middle school.
Yassky said this week that he still opposes the “too-tall” building.
“It would still have too big an impact on the Brooklyn Bridge, both to and from the bridge,” he said. “We must take extraordinary care whenever something might have an impact on the bridge.”
Yassky’s opposition is a significant obstacle, given that the Walentases need a zoning change to build a residential tower on what is currently zoned for manufacturing.
But Yassky’s opposition is fraught for the term-limited councilman, as it would put him on the record as opposing a project that includes affordable housing and a middle school that he says he wants.
A Walentas-built middle school would save the city millions in construction costs — and those savings could convince the Department of Education to go ahead, despite the agency’s insistence the DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights do not need a middle school.
In an interview, Jed Walentas also sent a clear warning to Yassky and his other opponents, reminding them that a quirk in the zoning law would allow the Walentases to build a 35-story hotel — without city approval.
“I don’t put that out there as a threat,” he said, sounding a little like a man who put it out there as a threat.