Residential Tower Approved to Face Brooklyn Bridge

After significant redesign, Commission approves building close to Brooklyn Bridge. Two Trees Management Company, the developer often credited with the dramatic conversion and rebirth of DUMBO, sought approval of a large project involving new construction, a building conversion, and demolition of a historic building close to the suspended side span of the Brooklyn Bridge. The City Planning Commission approved after the building’s western portion was reduced to match the height of the bridge’s roadway.

Two Trees sought approval of a 200-unit residential, mixed-use development with a 327-space parking garage. The original design had a 178-foot residential tower fronting on Water Street and a 23-foot height at the Dock/Front corner, which is directly beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. Three buildings would be demolished. One of these – 54 Water Street – is within a landmark district on state and national registers. The project also involved the rehabilitation of a vacant 4-story brick building in the state and national historic district.

The new building required a zoning change to allow the residential units and to increase the permitted floor area from 66,778 to 217,030 sq.ft. It also required two special permits; one to modify height, yard, and setback, and a second to exceed a parking space limit and eliminate the above ground parking square footage from the permitted calculation of floor area.

The opposition at the Commission hearing focused on the 178-foot height in relation to the Brooklyn Bridge and to DUMBO’s four to six-story buildings. John Beyer of Beyer Blinder Belle, the architect, stated that the correct context for the new building was the 200-foot buildings behind the site – 1 Main and the Gair Buildings – and portrayed the design as “completing a void in the existing skyline.” Donald Elliot, former Chair of the Commission, testified in support, complimenting Two Trees on its “extraordinary piece of private planning.”

The Commissioners focused on height, the historic building’s demolition, and the potential cost of subterranean parking. Two Trees’ Jed Walentas noted that the Planning Department had requested the public parking for Brooklyn Bridge Park’s visitors.

With the western portion of the design closest to the Brooklyn Bridge reduced from 178 to 88 feet, the development was approved with only Commissioner Dolly Williams opposing. Because of the site’s irregular shape, the Commission found that restricting the height to 80 feet would make development infeasible, while preserving the historic building would result in a taller building that would be inconsistent with DUMBO.

ULURP Process: Two Trees released a draft environmental impact statement on March 24, 2004. On May 12, 2004, after two hearings on the project, Brooklyn Community Board 2 voted to disapprove, requesting that any development preserve 54 Water Street and enliven Front Street. On July 1, 2004, Borough President Marty Markowitz disapproved unless the zoning restricted the building to 80-feet. On July 14, 2004, the Commission held a public hearing and voted to approve on August 25, 2004.

The Council’s Land Use Zoning & Franchises Subcommittee held a public hearing on September 21, 2004, and scheduled a vote for October 5, 2004. The Land Use Committee and the full Council must still review the project.

CPC: Water Street (C 010645 ZMK rezoning); (C 010646 ZSK special permit); (C 010647 ZSK special permit); (C 030492 ZSK special permit) (August 25, 2004) (Irving Gotbaum, Esq., Friedman & Gotbaum LLP, for Two Trees; John Beyer, Laura Cheng, Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners LLP).

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