The City Planning Commission (CPC) unanimously approved the River Ring Development proposed for the Williamsburg waterfront.
Their decision sets the stage for a City Council vote on the project within the next 50 days, the last major step needed to approve a rezoning to allow the project to proceed.
As designed, River Ring features two towers that will rise 49 stories and 64 stories, making them the tallest structures in Williamsburg.
They will include 1,250 apartments, 313 of which will be affordable, 83,000 square feet of office and retail space, and YMCA. The project also includes a public beach, designed in part to protect the buildings in the event of a flood.
In their report, CPC explained the project will add to North Brooklyn’s housing stock and further improve public spaces along the waterfront.
The commission consistently compared River Ring to the Domino Park project that was also completed recently, and which was also overseen by real estate developer Two Trees Management.
Despite CPC’s support of the project, various council members have expressed concern with the project. During a recent public hearing, Councilman Francisco Moya of Queens, who chairs the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, questioned the design of River Ring’s park space.
He asked whether the project’s proposed sandy waterfront beach would actually be resilient to flooding and other environmental factors.
A spokesperson from Two Trees assured Moya that the site was still protected by bulkheads left behind from the property’s former owner, Con Edison.
“What’s interesting about this park is the way that it’s constructed you can actually build it up as sea level rises,” the spokesperson said. “In terms of the buildings, [we are] pushing them to the highest part of the site and taking all the life-safety systems and putting them all above the second floor.”
Other concerns remain regarding housing affordable. During the hearing, outgoing Councilman Steve Levin of Qilliamsburg questioned whether Two Trees is working to make them more affordable to neighborhood residents.
“Whether it’s senior housing that’s within some radius of the project, or more housing on site, we’re open to a lot of options, and want to continue to work with your office to figure out how to best serve that need,” the developer’s spokesperson responded.
“We also are looking into what the requirements are for affordable housing,” they continued. “Whether they have to match the market-rate mix, or we can deviate and potentially have some larger affordable units, we’re definitely open to doing so.”
In September, River Ring earned the approval of Community Board 1 but was met with similar concerns about affordability. The board added stipulations to its approval that the developer must decrease the number of apartments by 33 percent and increase the number of affordable housing units from 25 percent to 50 percent.
Borough President Eric Adams agreed with the stipulations.
Throughout the entire approval process, the community organization Sustainable Williamsburg has been pushing to have the project altered.
“The community has expressed strong opposition for over a year now,” said a spokesperson for Sustainable Williamsburg following the hearing. “Unfortunately, the developer has disregarded all our concerns and pushed ahead with their attempt to rezone the site during COVID, while they have multiple unfinished sites at Domino next door.”
Sustainable Williamsburg believes the River Ring project is emblematic of deeper issues plaguing the city’s land use and development procedures.
“A developer can buy a site with one zoning, and then force the community to respond to their vision in a timed setting,” said the spokesperson. “This is inappropriate especially given that our city is in flux due to COVID. It is not the time to consider a plan for a highly dense site on our waterfront.”