An independent rendering of the building, disputed by the developer, that would block views of the bridge
An artists rendering of the new building with middle school
By Daniel Bush
To have a view of the Brooklyn Bridge or not to have one- that was the question last night at Borough Hall, the scene of an unusually heated public hearing.
Nearly one hundred residents, and some elected officials, appeared before Borough President Marty Markowitz in a packed courtroom to make their case for or against a controversial development proposed for the DUMBO section of Brooklyn that has bitterly divided the community.
At stake is an 18-story mixed-used development proposed for a site on Dock Street that many area residents believe would deprive them of a view of the iconic bridge.
A fierce opposition movement to the development grew after the developer, David Walentas, first proposed the project in 2004. The city rejected the proposal.
Instead of giving up, Walentas revised his proposal. In the biggest change, the new proposal- approved in a January 14 vote by Community Board 2- now includes a public middle school to be housed in the building’s lower floors. Walentas has told the city he would build the school for free- a good will gesture that could save the city as much as $50 million in new construction costs.
At the public hearing opponents of the plan denounced Walentas’ proposal to include a school as a bully tactic aimed at pushing through a major development that would forever change the character of the neighborhood.
“I oppose this proposal and I urge you to do the same,” Councilman David Yassky told Markowitz in his testimony at the hearing. “My main concern here is for the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge is an icon like no other.”
Yassky argued that a new middle school in the area- which residents of DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights have been lobbying for for years- is sorely needed, but could be built elsewhere.
By finding a new site, said Yassky, the city could meet its need for a new school and preserve the view of the bridge at the same time.
At the hearing a representative for the development company 205 Water LLC offered to build the school at a different DUMBO site.
Walentas has insisted the Dock Street location is the only suitable site for a school in the neighborhood.
In his statement at the hearing, Jay Schippers, a prominent Brooklyn Heights developer, said he has been searching for an alternative side for the past few years- at the behest of several local community groups he declined to name in a later interview- and was unable to find one.
“There is no other site,” said Schippers, drawing jeers from a majority of the people in courtroom. “And the proposed building does not substantially block views of the Brooklyn Bridge.”
Several artists and educators from the neighborhood joined Schippers in voicing support for the project because of the school component. Other supporters of the plan said the construction of the development would generate local jobs during a time of recession.
“This opportunity presents residents with jobs,” a Fort Greene resident told Markowitz at the hearing. Though he loves the Brooklyn Bridge, and even has a view of it from his apartment windows, the man said, “having to choose between a vista [and jobs], I would have to choose jobs.”
After delivering brief opening remarks Markowitz listened to the four hours of public testimony in silence, alongside a panel of aides. The borough president has to make a recommendation rejecting or approving the project within 30 days of Community Board 2’s January 14 vote of approval.
A spokesman from the borough president’s office said the decision should be reached by mid-February.