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Walentas caves, kills his tower

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Facing certain rejection from a key City Council committee this week, DUMBO developers David and Jed Walentas abruptly withdrew their plans to build a 16-story apartment building on Water Street near the Brooklyn Bridge overpass.

The news came as a relief to neighborhood organizations that had opposed the father-and-son team’s application to rezone 38 Water St. at Dock Street to allow for the construction, which would have included 327 underground parking spaces, 200 apartments and 8,000 square feet of retail space.

The plan drew the condemnation of the DUMBO Neighborhood Association, the Brooklyn Heights Association, Community Board 2, Borough President Marty Markowitz and Councilman David Yassky because it would have impacted views of and from the Brooklyn Bridge.

“We just wanted to thank everyone for their help,” said Nancy Bowe, president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, who came to the City Council chambers Wednesday — the morning after word had been passed on through council members that the Walentases had withdrawn their proposal.

The City Council rarely votes down an application recommended for approval by the City Planning Commission, but in this case the commission was the only authority in the city’s land use review process to give the plan a thumbs up.

But aesthetic concerns about the iconic bridge drove the chairman of the Zoning and Franchises committee, Queens Councilman Tony Avella, to tell the Walentases that the application would be denied unless they cut the building height to below that of the Brooklyn Bridge roadway.

“We’ll consider all of our options,” Jed Walentas told the Brooklyn Papers when asked this week about the future of the 38 Water St. site.

“We have lots of great projects that we’re working on,” he said, and mentioned that their Two Trees Management company was busy with other projects around Downtown Brooklyn including the Court House apartment building rising at the corner of Court Street and Atlantic Avenue.

“Some day there’ll be something on that site, we just don’t know what it will look like yet,” he said.

At a Sept. 28 hearing before the zoning commission, Jed Walentas issued a veiled threat that if Two Trees could not proceed with its residential plans for the property, they might consider building a 12-story commercial building there, which would be allowed as of right under the current zoning.

“It isn’t the right use, but it is an as-of-right alternative,” he said.

Bowe said she received a call from Council Speaker Gifford Miller on Tuesday night, who informed her of the withdrawn proposal.

“We thanked him for his interest,” she said. But the next issue at hand is to change the zoning in the area within close proximity to the bridge.

“Councilman Avella said he wants to work with BHA to get some sort of zoning to protect the view,” she said, but attributed the council’s response to the hard work of area residents.

“It was literally hundreds of letters and phone calls that showed the community cared. It was the voice of the community that Miller listened to. And, of course, Councilman [David] Yassky worked hard, too.”

Yassky, who withheld his opinion of the project until a hearing before the zoning panel, had earlier been criticized by the BHA for his silence on the project, which many took to mean support for the plan. But Yassky spokesman Evan Theis told The Brooklyn Papers that the councilman had been speaking individually in recent days with other council members on the Land Use committee about his opposition to the project.

“It took months of organizing opposition and lobbying legislators, but all of our hard work won our neighborhoods this victory,” said Yassky.

He credited Miller as “instrumental in defeating the plan.”

Judy Stanton, a Brooklyn Heights resident and executive director of the BHA, emphasized that councilman Avella was also a big help.

“[His] stance was consistent and it was a huge savior,” she said of his power as chairman of the committee. “When he really declares himself it sort of slows the momentum of the project.”


Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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