Wondering if a New School in Brooklyn Is Worth Blocking the View

January 22, 2009 at 2:07 am Leave a comment

The latest development dispute in Dumbo involves a proposal that has, for many residents, tinges of a Faustian bargain.

Many among them want a local middle school for their children. But they are not sure they want it badly enough to accept its proposed packaging — an apartment tower that would block views of their neighborhood’s most prized landmark, the Brooklyn Bridge.

That is what would happen if a developer, the Two Trees Management Company, wins approvals to build the 18-story tower just east of the Brooklyn Bridge. The project, called Dock Street Dumbo, would include the new school, as well as shops and apartments that many residents say would add vibrancy to a stretch of warehouses.

The proposed L-shaped building, with frontage on Dock, Front and Water Streets, would have 260 market-rate rental apartments and 65 moderate-income rentals. That, along with the school — a structure that would be paid for by Two Trees — could win support for the plan in Dumbo, short for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, a former artists’ community in Brooklyn that has lost much of its cheaper housing in recent years.

But the proposed building has also drawn many critics who say that it is too tall for its location. It would be nine stories higher than the Brooklyn Bridge and alter the view for nearby residents, as well as for tourists, shoppers, and the 132,000 drivers and thousands of pedestrians that the Department of Transportation estimates cross the bridge each day. Some bloggers have compared the proposal to placing a skyscraper next to the Eiffel Tower.

“Only the possibly myopic would think that’s in the context with the immediate surroundings,” said Andrew Stengel, a Dumbo resident who voted against the plan at a community board meeting last Wednesday.

As he stood in blistering cold at the site on Friday, Mr. Stengel pointed his gloved hands toward the four-story warehouse across the street and the low-rise buildings to the east. “The development has to make sense in the context,” he said.

Tom van den Bout, an architect and president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said his group also opposed the building, and not just because of its height. While most Dumbo buildings curve beneath the Brooklyn Bridge like a bowl, he said, the Two Trees building would jut out jarringly against the skyline.

“It could be a much more gentle presence within that vast urban space,” he said.

Opponents gathered by the bridge on a recent snowy day to protest the building, carrying signs declaring “Brooklyn Bridge Not for Sale.” At a community board meeting a few days later, 30 members voted in favor of the plan while 7 voted against it.

The next step in the zoning-change process is action by the borough president, Marty Markowitz. He is holding a hearing on Tuesday and is looking forward “to hearing all sides of the issue,” a spokesman, Mark Zustovich, said. If the plan moves smoothly through the approval process, the project could be completed by 2012, the developer, Jed Walentas, said.

Mr. Walentas, a principal in Two Trees Management, said that building a shorter structure would not be “economically feasible,” according to a letter that he sent to Community Board 2 a year ago.

Mr. Walentas’s company is well known in Dumbo, where it has built 610 residential units, all of them luxury ones. In an interview at his Dumbo office, Mr. Walentas said his firm had worked hard to make the proposed building blend with the skyline, trying to be “respectful” of the bridge and give it enough distance from his building “to breathe.”

In 2004, an earlier version of the plan was rejected by Community Board 2. In the intervening years, Two Trees has been working to revise the plan. The company bought more land nearby and redesigned and relocated the building to make it less visible to people on the bridge. Two Trees also proposed the school.

In the 2004 plan, 200 feet of the building would have faced the bridge. Under the revised plan, only 55 feet of the building does so. The latest plan also places the building farther from the bridge’s signature cables and towers, which residents and tourists love to photograph.

“The architecture and design is far better and the building fits far better with the neighborhood,” Mr. Walentas said.

Some residents support the building because it would include the new school. Carlo Trigiani, who works for a real estate investment trust, said that he was not sure that he wanted to send his 7-year-old son, Luca, to any local middle school, but that there are few other nearby options.

One of the middle schools where his neighbors send their children is in Coney Island, about 12 miles away. There is also a specialized performing-arts school in Fort Greene, but Mr. Trigiani said he did not expect that his son would go there because he is more interested in “athletics and math.”

Other Dumbo residents who would welcome a local school still worry about the building’s height. And they see an alternative. The Brooklyn Heights Association commissioned a study that proposed expanding the neighborhood’s elementary school, Public School 8, to make room for middle school students.

Amy Linden, a Brooklyn Heights resident with a 9-year-old daughter, Seren, said that she would like a school nearby. But she does not like how the developer has tied the proposed school to her skyline.

“It’s painful for me because I know the city needs middle-school seats,” she said while getting her daughter ready for music lessons. “Sometimes you have to stand up for something. People need to stand up for the Brooklyn Bridge.”

New York Times


Entry filed under: Brooklyn, Go Coastal, Public Waterfront.

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