A local community board resoundingly approved a controversial plan on Wednesday night for an 18-story building that opponents say would forever ruin views of the fabled Brooklyn Bridge, but supporters say will bring a much-needed public middle school and affordable housing to DUMBO.
Community Board 2 voted 30–7 to approve the development, which is slated to include 65 below-market-rate units and the 300-desk middle school on Dock Street. The vote came less than a month after the board’s land-use committee rejected the project in a bitter 7–6 vote.
Developer Jed Walentas beamed after Wednesday night’s win, the first good news that he and his father David have had on the project, whose earlier version was shelved four years ago amid community opposition. The current plan calls for the tallest part of the building to be further away from the bridge, plus adds the affordable housing and middle school as sweeteners.
“The project has enormous benefit now, and it is the right project at the right time in the right site,” he said. “I think we listened to why people rejected the project the first time and we made appropriate adjustments.”
But opponents say that the building height would still ruin views of the bridge, though the 183-foot structure is comparable to others in the former warehouse district between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges.
Project opponent and community board member Sidney Meyer reminded his colleagues that middle schools could be built elsewhere, but the bridge is permanent.
“It’s a mistake to build anything that close to the bridge — it’s an icon for the entire city of New York,” Meyer said. “A school can be built somewhere else.”
The city has rejected siting the much-desired school anywhere but the Dock Street site — and has already set aside $43 million to build the interior spaces. By providing the space, Walentas would save the city roughly $50 million in school construction costs.
That won the day for CB2 member Lincoln Restler.
“When we look at what [the community board] has asked for in the past, the need for a middle school tops that list,” Restler said, pointing to additional benefits of a 400-car garage so near to the proposed Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The project goes to Borough President Markowitz next, and will eventually move to the City Council, where members often defer to the local councilmember. Councilman David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights) opposes the project on the grounds that it blocks the “experience” of the historic span.
But Yassky’s colleague Letitia James (D–Fort Greene) strongly supports the project because the community “can’t afford to miss” the opportunity for the middle school.
It’s unclear how that battle will play out in the full Council, a body that frequently supports development. Councilman Tony Avella (D-Queens), who chairs the council’s zoning committee, said at an anti-Dock Street rally on Jan. 11 that he would vote against the project because it ruins bridge views.
But when The Brooklyn Paper recently walked the streets of DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights, they discovered that the only direct views of the bridge that would be blocked by the Walentas building are at York and Front streets — a view that is not popular with tourists because Manhattan itself cannot be seen in the distance. The much more crowded tourist vistas from the Fulton Ferry Landing would be virtually unchanged by the Walentas building, which would rise behind the bridge’s spider-like cable array.
And while pedestrians heading from Brooklyn to Manhattan will have their view of the Manhattan Bridge and East River obscured, shutterbugs need only walk a dozen more feet toward Manhattan and the blocked view clears completely.
The borough president’s hearing on the project will be on Tuesday, Jan. 27, from 4 to 9 pm, at Brooklyn Borough Hall [209 Joralemon St., between Adams and Court streets, (718) 802-3856].