For five years now, developers David and Jed Walentas have been at loggerheads with community groups over their last undeveloped parcel in Dumbo: a site of nearly an acre near Brooklyn’s historic waterfront. On one side stands the Walentas family and their plans for a mixed-use building with Dumbo’s first affordable apartments and a 300-student public middle school. In the opposing camp are residents who fear that the project’s 18-story tower would wreck majestic views of the Brooklyn Bridge.
On January 14, the Walentas family and their firm Two Trees Management claimed a victory when Brooklyn Community Board 2 approved the plan in a 30-7 vote. But the board’s decision also rallied opponents, who call the 184-foot tower an intrusion upon a national treasure. “This building would dramatically change the view forever,” said Sheryl Buchholz, president of the Dumbo Neighborhood Association. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Known as Dock Street Dumbo, the $200 million project is designed by longtime Walentas collaborators Beyer Blinder Belle, and is a revamped version of the family’s previous proposal for the site, which was shelved amid community protest in 2004. That plan placed the building’s highrise wing almost parallel with the bridge, and just 70 feet away, owing to the tightly constricted site. “That meant we were very limited in how we could mass the building above,” said Laura Cheng, an architect at Two Trees. “What resulted was more substantial view blockage both from and of the bridge.”
Since that time, the developer acquired an adjacent property that added more than 12,000 square feet to the site, creating an almost square footprint bounded by Water Street, Dock Street, and Front Street. That, in turn, allowed designers to rotate the structure 90 degrees. Now, with 325 rental units (65 of them affordable), the highrise wing is to be 100 feet from the bridge, while frontage directly facing the roadway has been reduced from 200 to 45 feet. The structure, which steps down toward the bridge’s main span, also reflects the early-20th-century concrete warehouses that give Dumbo its industrial character. “We’re using massing, proportions, materials, and detailing that speak to those buildings,” said Cheng.
But some neighbors aren’t buying it, and council member David Yassky has jumped into the fray to demand a lower-scale structure on the site, likening the building to the former Verizon tower at 375 Pearl Street that dominates the bridge’s Manhattan approach. (In a letter to Community Board 2, Jed Walentas called the comparison “outrageous,” noting that the Verizon tower is three times as tall as the planned Dock Street building. He also told the board that lower density on the site “makes the project economically infeasible.”) Cheng added that Two Trees had extensively studied view corridors through a series of physical models and a 3-D animation that shows multiple perspectives from the bridge. “We’re very cognizant of how important that relationship is,” she said.
Plans for the site, which must be rezoned for residential use, were scheduled to make their next stop at a hearing before Borough President Marty Markowitz on January 27. As the debate moves through the land-use review process, opponents have vowed to broaden their front. “It’s not even a community fight and it’s not even a New York fight anymore,” said Buchholz. “The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most revered landmarks in this country. This wouldn’t be going on next to the Eiffel Tower.”