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Borough President Markowitz announced that he supports a DUMBO developer’s controversial residential tower, defying opponents who say the 18-story building would obstruct views of the Brooklyn Bridge — but his approval is conditional on a redesign of the building.
In supporting David and Jed Walentases’ Dock Street project, Markowitz recommended that the developers actually make their building taller — albeit thinner — to lessen its supposed impact on views of Roebling’s fabled span.
“I share community concerns that the iconic views of the Brooklyn Bridge … must be protected,” Markowitz wrote to the Department of City Planning.
“I have heard the community loud and clear,” he added, though also making it clear that he supports a rezoning that would pave the way for the 375-unit project, which currently calls for an 18-story tower, a public middle school, a parking lot and 70 below-market-rate rentals.
“I agree with the developer that residential development and parking would be appropriate usage,” he added.
But on Thursday night, Markowitz was a bit more feisty with the Brooklyn Heights Association.
“Let me make it clear — I do not accept this project as it is presented,” he said. “But this is the balance that we strive so hard to make.”
To protect views, Markowitz suggested that the Walentases erect a slimmer building that would rise 25 stories — seven more than the current proposal.
A more slender tower would “reduce 57 percent of its girth,” Markowitz said in a statement. Such a configuration would, he added, “respect the iconic Brooklyn Bridge by not allowing a ‘rival’ structure to rise too close to it [and] preserve public views.”
In addition to the redesign, the Beep, whose role in the city’s land use review process is advisory, recommended that the developers set their high-rise back 70 feet from Front Street, which would increase the distance from the tower to the bridge from 98 to 150 feet.
The borough president also suggested that the developers sign a binding agreement to reserve 20 percent of the housing units as below-market-rate rentals — a figure that the Walentases have promised.
Markowitz’s decision to back the project comes on the heels of a contentious January meeting, where dozens of opponents and a smaller group of supporters clashed in an attempt to sway the Beep. Opponents not only included neighborhood residents, but also historian David McCullouch, who sent a statement likening the vista of the bridge to a national treasure.
Jed Walentas — a principal at Two Trees Management — celebrated Markowitz’s decision.
“We are pleased that the Brooklyn borough president is supportive of the Dock Street DUMBO rezoning, and will carefully consider his comments,” he said. “It is wonderful that Borough President Markowitz has added his voice to the chorus of support for the Dock Street DUMBO proposal.”
Earlier this year, a Brooklyn Paper investigation determined that concerns about obstructed views of the bridge were largely exaggerated.
The project will next be considered by the Department of City Planning, and finally voted on by the city Council — where Dock Street opponents include David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights) and Bill DeBlasio (D–Park Slope). Another area lawmaker, Councilwoman Tish James (D–Fort Greene), said she supported the project because it includes a much-desired middle school — a concession by the developer that could save the city $50 million in school construction costs.
Brooklynites who oppose the project were shocked and dismayed by Markowitz’s decision.
“It’s disturbing and it’s disgusting,” said Sheryl Buckholtz, head of the DUMBO Neigborhood Association. “This is a tragic day for all Brooklyn communities.”
UPDATED AT 3:40 PM ON FEB. 27: Story was altered to reflect a bit more subtlety in Borough President Markowitz’s position. The initial version of this story was published before the Beep spoke to the Brooklyn Heights Association on Thursday night.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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