What’s up, Dock? Lobbying fees, that’s what

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Beyer Blinder Belle

DUMBO’s principal real-estate development company has spent more than $400,000 on lobbying over the past two years — a time period that corresponds to the company’s effort to persuade city officials to back a controversial plan for an 18-story residential building and public middle school.

Two Trees Management, which is run by the father-and-son team of David and Jed Walentas, spent $400,385 to lobby the city in 2007 and 2008 — more than five times what the company spent in the five years between 2002 and 2006, inclusive.

But Jed Walentas said that only “30 to 40 percent” of the ramped-up lobbying bills were spent on outreach to city officials overseeing the Dock Street project.

The “vast majority of the rest,” Walentas said, was spent on reaching out to elected and appointed officials involved with the company’s $700-million apartment tower on the West Side of Manhattan.

“Yes, we are lobbying,” Walentas said. “But we have about $1 billion in projects going through the public approval process right now. And these fees represent a broad range of outreach, including attorneys fees, setting up Web sites, and preparing for and hosting community meetings.”

Two Trees’ Dock Street project, a revision of a rejected 2004 design that now includes a public middle school and a layout that intrudes less on the historic Brooklyn Bridge, entered the review process last year. During that year, the company spent $225,484 to lobby the School Construction Authority, the mayor’s office, the Department of City Planning, Borough President Markowitz and the City Council.

In 2007, the company had spent $174,901. The most the company had ever spent before was $43,523.75 in 2005.

So what did Two Trees get for its money? City records do not break down the expense lines by project, so it’s not easy to say what all the lobbying accomplished. But a cursory review of the records reveals that such “outreach” may have some benefits.

Even as late as June, 2008, for example, city officials were saying that they did not see a need for a middle school in DUMBO, despite demand by Brooklyn Heights-area parents for just such a school. Then, about five months later, the city had quietly slipped just such a school into its five-year construction plans.