Council Committee Approves Dock Street Project
By Ben Muessig
The Brooklyn Paper
A key City Council committee this afternoon backed — by a surprisingly wide margin — DUMBO developer Jed Walentas’s controversial bid to build a 17-story tower next to the Brooklyn Bridge, hours after Speaker Christine Quinn reportedly had given her OK.
The Council’s land-use committee voted 17–4 to support Walentas’s request for a rezoning on his Dock Street site so that he could build a 300-unit tower — which includes a public middle school and scores of units set aside as below-market-rate rentals — a project that opponents claim will forever damage views of the historic and landmarked span.
“I have to vote yes … because it’s in the best interest of the community overall,” said Councilmember Robert Jackson (D–Manhattan), speaking for many on the panel.
The support for the project came on the heels of a fiery committee hearing last week, at which several councilmembers slammed the city’s school building agency over internal e-mails that cast doubt about whether or not the city actually considered other sites for a public middle school.
At that hearing, Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Queens) said called one of the e-mails “the most disturbing document that I have seen in my eight years in Council,” he said.
Gioia hammered this point on Thursday afternoon, reminding his fellow committee members of the e-mail in question, denying that the missive could be understood in the larger context.
“Unless the next e-mail was, ‘Just kidding,’ I don’t know what would put that in context,” he said.
But Gioia — joined by Councilmembers Charles Barron (D–Canarsie), John Liu (D–Queens) and Tony Avella (D–Queens) — lost the larger battle to the other committee members, who did insert rare language into the rezoning that requires Walentas to make good on his promise of the middle school and the affordable units.
That addendum to the bill did not satisfy Avella.
“I am thoroughly disgusted,” he said, his face reddening like a cartoon tea-kettle.
“People are going to go by and say, ‘Who the heck allowed this building to get built?’ The Brooklyn Bridge is a national treasure. It should be protected — that is the bottom line.”
Longtime project foe Councilman David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights) echoed Avella’s point about the view, but continued to stress his belief that the city could get a better deal for a middle school from a different developer.
“It is clear that there are plenty of other places to build a school in [Downtown Brooklyn],” said Yassky, who task force has proposed many locations — including inside the soon-to-reopen Brooklyn House of Detention — all of which have been shot down by the School Construction Authority.
On Thursday, Walentas said he was “pleased” by the committee vote.
“It’s a great project,” he added. “We have worked hard to demonstrate that Dock Street DUMBO will be a thoughtful, contextual, positive addition to the neighborhood [that will] provide the community with a new middle school and DUMBO’s first-ever affordable housing, all in an environmentally friendly green building that respects the surrounding neighborhood and its historic character.”
The committee vote in support of the project was a rare instance when a council committee opted not to defer to the wishes of the local member, in this case, project opponent Yassky.
It would be equally rare if the full Council, which is expected to vote on the development next week, overturns such an overwhelming committee vote.
The Council approval — which the New York Observer reported on Thursday is nearly a sure thing, thanks to Quinn’s support — is the final hurdle in Walentas’s hunt for a zoning resolution that would allow him to build residential apartments on a site currently reserved for manufacturing or hotels.
Borough President Markowitz (who called for a taller and thinner building) and the City Planning Commission (which suggested a slightly shorter building with other minor alternations), have already approved the rezoning.
The Planning Commission version is the one on which the Council committee voted on Thursday.
Opponents have rallied repeatedly and compiled a list of celebrities, such as Ken Burns, Gabriel Byrne, Helen Hunt, Gary Sinise and David McCullough who object to the project.
A review by The Brooklyn Paper earlier this year revealed that very few public views of the bridge would be obscured by the tower.
But Gus Sheha, president of the DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance and an opponent of the project, was livid after the vote.
“It’s clear that this committee today sold the Brooklyn Bridge,” he said.
That article is hilarious. And just because a project is "controversial" does not mean there is doubt it will get built. Every project in NY is "controversial". There is nothing one could propose that would not arouse some sort of opposition.
Tony Avella really is a cook. He makes Charles Barron sound like a distinguished statesman. The Brooklyn Bridge IS a national treasure, of course, but that means we should honor it by surrounding it with parking lots? How does a nearby school and housing sully a national treasure? Only parked SUVs properly honor this treasure?
No logic, as usual.
At least Avella is retiring from the Council. He barely won reelection, and his district is now heavily Asian (who don't exactly appreciate his anti-immigrant and anti-development stances), so he's retiring rather than running again.
Wow! Those clock windows are amazing.
No Need to Wear a Watch
By JOSH BARBANEL
TIME waits for no man, certainly not during a real estate downturn in Brooklyn.
So despite the tumbling prices for trophy apartments, a striking triplex penthouse apartment in a clock tower overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge and New York Harbor has gone on the market for $25 million, more than double the highest price known to have been paid for a home in Brooklyn.
The main floor of the sleek modern apartment is dominated by four working clocks housed in four 14-foot-high round windows, which provide nearly unobstructed views (except for the clock faces) out to the four points of the compass.
The penthouse sits atop one of the tallest buildings in Dumbo, the cobblestoned neighborhood that in the 1980s sprang to life in a former industrial area between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.
The 3,000-square-foot main floor has an open living room, dining room and kitchen with 16-foot-high ceilings. A glass-walled elevator and a three-story floating staircase at the center of the space lead to smaller floors that narrow toward the top of the tower. There are three bedrooms on the 2,300-square-foot second floor (watch your head as you walk along the exterior walls), and on the floor above that, a 988-square-foot open loft with a 15-foot ceiling. Finally, up a narrow staircase at the very top of the building is a tiny windswept crow’s nest.
The apartment was created by David Walentas, the creator of the Dumbo neighborhood, in an old industrial building built by a cardboard box manufacturer. Mr. Walentas renamed the factory the ClockTower Building and converted it first into offices for the New York State Labor Department, and then, in 1998, into 124 condominiums.
Mr. Walentas kept an apartment in the building, where he lives with his wife, Jane, as well as the apartment with the clocks on the 16th floor. He negotiated a deal with the condominium board a few years ago to incorporate the tower space into the 16th-floor apartment.
The highest sale price on record for a home in Brooklyn was the $11 million sale of a house in 2006 in Gravesend, a center of the Syrian Jewish community, and the highest price paid for a condominium was the $7 million sale of a 14th-floor apartment at the ClockTower last year. That condo is now listed for sale at $8.5 million.
Mr. Walentas’s real estate company recently won approval to construct an 18-story building near the base of the Brooklyn Bridge over the objections of neighborhood residents, but Mr. Walentas said that the building would not affect the views from One Main Street, as the ClockTower is also known.
Mr. Walentas said the marketing of the ClockTower apartment was not timed to the fluctuations in the real estate market, because the apartment was a one-of-a-kind space that would appeal only to a one-of-a-kind buyer.
The buyer of the apartment need not worry about the nightmare of having four giant clocks each showing a different time. The four clocks are electronically synchronized to show exactly the same time, Mr. Walentas said.
That apartment is amazing but it's going to be a long long time before they find a buyer - even if there had not been an economic downturn.
Do those clocks' works make any sound? Where are the works, anyway? Miniaturized in the hubs of the hands? And how do they keep them synchronized?
The hands seem to move in even one-minute increments; does that make a slight tock? Are the ratchets in each hub synchronized by radio waves?
Probably an electric motor. Maybe the hands are lightweight composite.Where are the works, anyway? Miniaturized in the hubs of the hands?
Master clock? GPS?And how do they keep them synchronized?
Maybe the photographer is an obsessive-compulsive personality.The hands seem to move in even one-minute increments; does that make a slight tock?
September 28, 2009
Development Watch: Inside 37 Bridge Street
(click thumbnails to enlarge)
Last week we got to walk through the ongoing conversion project at 37-43 Bridge Street in Dumbo. The project is notable for its adaptive reuse of the existing six-story steel silos that remained at 37 Bridge Street from when it was a soap factory. As we saw last month in this video, the silos are being sliced up and, in some cases, repurposed to form the organizing design principal of new condominium. He catches enough crap from us and others for all the stuff he doesn't do right that we gotta give a big nod to Robert Scarano for being the architect of record on this one. (He didn't design it, but it was the brainchild of a former employee and he championed it.)
Anyway, in our opinion, the current design divides the apartments into way too many small bedrooms instead of letting to silos rule the day in larger, loftier spaces, but the approach and vision of the adaptive reuse is very laudable. In related news, the attached building at 43 Bridge Street (photos 8-10) is being turned into 3 townhouses. Also a cool idea.
Checking In at 37 Bridge Street [Brownstoner]
Development Watch: 37 Bridge Street [Brownstoner]
Education Department architect concludes Dock Street in DUMBO was bad site for public school
BY Erin Durkin
September 30th 2009
A top Education Department architect concluded the controversial Dock Street project in DUMBO was a bad site for a public school, new documents show.
"The proposal would yield an extremely small school ... with premium costs due to the mixed use with the high-rise residential building," wrote School Construction Authority architect and engineer Bruce Barrett in an internal e-mail obtained by City Councilman David Yassky (D-DUMBO).
But the city picked the site anyway - and the promise of a new middle school became a key selling point used by developers Jed and David Walentas to get approval for the 18-story apartment tower, which opponents charge will block views of the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Council voted overwhelmingly to approve the project in June.
"We know now that Dock Street did not represent the best deal for city taxpayers and the future students in the district," Yassky said. "The developer of the Dock Street property was spewing false propaganda - is there any other kind? - about the proposed school's amenities, which fall far short of SCA's standards for public schools."
Two Trees, the Walentases' company, said that changes to the space were made after Barrett's 2007 e-mail to make it more suitable for a school. The developer increased ceiling heights, added a staircase and enlarged the lobby.
But the changes didn't add any additional space to the school, the Walentases have acknowledged.
"These 'new' ... documents are two years old, and in the intervening time Two Trees has undertaken negotiations with the SCA ... that [have] resulted in an even better school for the children of Brooklyn," said spokeswoman Barbara Wagner.
Barrett also found that putting the school in a manufacturing area would create "safety, environmental and noise impacts (trucks, traffic, pollution, etc.)," and that its closeness to the Brooklyn Bridge meant there wouldn't be much daylight or fresh air.
"As with most potential school sites in New York City, the Dock Street location presents some design challenges, but the fact remains that the city will receive the land, core and shell of the building at no cost, making it a great deal for New Yorkers," said Department of Education spokesman Will Havemann.
But Yassky charged the documents are further evidence the city bent over backward to accommodate the developer instead of giving fair consideration to other spots for a school.
"Shame on the SCA for completing a deal for a school that is apparently not suitable for the students it is supposed to serve ... as a result of the shocking lack of due diligence for alternative sites," he said.
It might not have represented the "best" site for a school, but no one is mentioning all of the other options the story implies that they had to choose from.
This is just more of the same crap that made the opposition to this development so innefective in the first place. Also more of the typical crud that keeps Yassky in a meaningless political slot.