The City Council voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to give DUMBO developer Jed Walentas the rezoning that he needs to build a controversial 17-story tower next to the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Council’s 40–9 vote comes on the heels of last week’s 17–4 vote in the Council’s land-use committee to support Walentas’s request to rezone his site on Dock Street 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, but will, opponents claim, forever damage views of the historic and landmarked span.
“We are grateful for today’s vote by the City Council,” said Jed Walentas, a principal at Two Trees Management, the DUMBO development company started by David Walentas more than two decades ago.
Opponents were still furious after the vote. Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights) long opposed the project on the grounds that its tallest portion would block views of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Other opponents complained that the “affordable housing” component of the project — 20 percent of its 300-odd units — aren’t affordable enough.
“The 80–20 formula to me is not affordable,” said Councilman Charles Barron (D–Canarsie). “Developers should pay more and do more with affordability.”
But Councilwoman Leticia James (D–Fort Greene) countered such opposition by touting the middle school space that Walentas would set aside in his Beyer Blinder Belle-designed tower.
“The Dock Street project is exactly the kind of smart, innovative, carefully crafted and planned partnerships for the future of this city at this time of challenging fiscal needs,” she said.
With Wednesday’s vote, the project sails past a controversy involving several internal e-mails between School Construction Authority officials and Two Trees Management that cast doubt about whether or not the city did a full job of investigating whether other sites for a public middle school could be more cost-effective.
At a prior hearing, Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Queens) called one of the e-mails “the most disturbing document that I have seen in my eight years in Council,” he said.
The full Council vote in support of the project was a rare instance when the legislature did not defer to the wishes of the local member, in this case, Yassky.
The rezoning bill now goes Mayor Bloomberg for an expected signature into law. Earlier this year, 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), already approved the rezoning.
Meanwhile opponents, and their celebrity backers including Ken Burns, Gabriel Byrne, Helen Hunt, Gary Sinise and David McCullough, are holding out hope that state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo will review the e-mail exchanges and step in.
A review by The Brooklyn Paper earlier this year revealed that very few public views of the bridge would be obscured by the tower.