City Council Hearing Dock Street Arguments Today

BHB’s Sarah Portlock is on the scene today at the New York City Council Land Use Committee hearing on the Dock Street DUMBO project.

Curbed posts a fascinating “open letter” from Jed Walentas to the celebrity opponents of the project.  It cites “an independent investigation by the Brooklyn Paper” which found “no substantial impact” on public views of the bridge.  Take that, celebrities!

Councilman Yassky’s fierce press machine sent us this quotsky from the meeting:

“The Dock Street proposal would fundamentally alter the enriching experience of the millions of visitors and New Yorkers who come to enjoy one of our nation’s greatest landmarks – the Brooklyn Bridge,” Council Member Yassky said. “Absent a truly diligent site search by the School Construction Authority, Brooklynites are being presented with a false choice between a much-needed school for Downtown Brooklyn and a disastrous development project. Given this moment of economic uncertainty, I urge the Council Land Use Committee to reject this proposal.”

The DUMBO Neighborhood Association press juggernaut has serviced a few clever bon mots from opponents including this from filmmaker Ken Burns that was “entered into the record”:

“In unexpected and wonderful ways, the Brooklyn Bridge captures the essence of the human spirit and it has become an enduring symbol in American culture of strength, vitality, ingenuity and promise. Especially in times like these, NOTHING, literally, should get in the way of that beautiful work of art.”


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  • davoyager

    Unbelievable that Yassky would value the million dollar views of his campaign contributors over the needs of the public school children in his district. He would even go so far as to slander the hard working professionals at the SCA with lies and false innuendo completely misrepresent this reasonable project, and turn a deaf ear to middle class voices in the district. He does not represent me and will never again get my vote.

  • No One Of Consequence

    I don’t have the million dollar view you refer to.
    I didn’t contribute a penny to Yassky, I didn’t vote for him.
    I’d put myself in the middle class and I live in his district.
    The FOIL docs I’ve seen are certainly suspect to corruption.

    YOU are not the only one that lives here, yet you seem to be only one of two that post here who favor the project.

  • since47

    WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, davoyager? You’re really lost. There is NOTHING reasonable about this plan. Proposing to put a school in the middle of a traffic nightmare is not reasonable; not looking for other areas in the Heights to build this school is not reasonable; and putting up one of the ugliest buildings I’ve ever seen, smack in the view plane of the Brooklyn Bridge is not reasonable. Did Walentas think that just because he included a school in his plan, that everyone would shout “Hooray”? This is the most selfish proposal I’ve ever come across and I HOPE IT GETS VOTED DOWN!

  • fulton ferry res

    Davo, I wish you could have been there to see the SCA “hard-working” professional get grilled by the Council committee. And it wasn’t even Yassky.
    Maybe your buddy Carlo will fill you in, as he even admitted in his testimony that the SCA guy (Ross Holden, VP and General Counsel) did poorly. Councilman Gioia read directly from an email in the FOIL, which said “Now I know that if we don’t do the Walentas project that we don’t really want to do anything else over there but I think we have to follow up on this just so we can say that the Walentas project is such a good deal.” That was written by Lorraine Grillo, who is the Chief of Staff/Executive Director of SCA. Holden tried to pawn it off as being written by some underling. He did such a poor job of answering this line of questioning, that Gioia laced into him even more!

    It got so bad that at one point he was told,”You are digging yourself a bigger hole.” The word embarrassing was tossed in for good measure. Other council members weighed in, including Robert Jackson, chair of the Education Committee, who was troubled by what he was hearing. Even Melinda Katz seemed slightly perturbed. One councilmember said, “This is exactly why people are cynical about what goes on in government.”

    And by the way, Letitia James performance was deplorable, insinuating that the opposition is all from 30 Main and 70 Washington. But the award for most outrageous conduct unbecoming of a politician goes to Simcha Felder, who tried to belittle an opponent who testified that the school was inappropriate adjacent to a known terrorist target. He seemed to have a hard time following the connection, because he thought she was saying that building Dock Street would increase the chances of a terrorist plot. What an ass!

  • Publius

    Tish James is a disgrace on this matter. What was promised between Papa Walentas and James? Their Cheshire Cat smiles, handshakes and “today is a great day” exchanged during the Borough Hall Hearings.

    James told her rubber stamps appointees on CB2 to support the project, yet she got NOTHING binding in writing after giving Two Trees a blank check. Disgraceful. She’s either incompetent or there’s something else going on to fuel her motivation. Or both.

    Why wasn’t the vote today while the iron of embarassing corruption and duplicity was hot? The delay will only give Jeb time to write more checks to politicians and Two Trees’ lobby firm to cruise City Hall and work the phones.

    Refreshing to hear the numerous scandals surrounding this now corrupt process being called out into the sunshine of public scrutiny.

  • Harry the Horse

    According to a very good inside source, the vote was not called today for one simple reason- Chris Quinn, benefactor of Walentas’ largesse, and one of his people pushing this thing through (in return for so little money- they really do get bought cheap, don’t they?) DOES NOT HAVE THE VOTES YET- and right, after the embarrassing moments today, they undoubtedly feel it best to wait a few weeks to see if they can switch a couple of votes. I understand it is very, very close; they only need two more votes I hear. And yes, James and Felder (forget about the SCA ‘s Holden!) are embarrassing “duly elected representatives.”

  • nabeguy

    Harry, if you have any specific evidence that Quinn or any other council member is on the take in support of either side of this issue, lay it out here for all of us to see. It’s a given that Two Trees has spent upwards of $200K to lobby for their position, but I’d really like to know how much of that ended up in the campaign coffers of council members. I’m not attempting to refute your claims in this respect, but trying to get across the point that if these claims hold water, there is a much larger issue at play here…namely, that the public trust has been reduced to a commodity.

  • davoyager

    Yes and by the same token we should be able to learn of the campaign contributions made to Yassky and De Blasio and Avella to name a few by the deep pockets arrayed against Dock St.

  • epc

    All contributions to any NYC politicians should be viewable on The current election cycle is split between “2009” and “2009F”, I don’t know why, may be an artifact of the term-limits change.

    Yassky has raised 1.4MM for the Comptroller’s race. 382 contributions from 11201 of $290k (approximately 20%) out of 2151 contributions through 5/21’s filing.

    Quinn’s 2009 fund has raised $94k including $1k from one contributor in 11201 who is not a Walentas. Quinn’s 2009F fund (no, I don’t know the difference, perhaps it’s for a different office) raised $3.018MM from contributions. $43.6k was from 63 contributions from 11201. David, Jed and Jane Walentas are listed as donating $4950 a piece (a total of $14850) in January 2008.

    This is all public data, feel free to research it further.

    Note: I intentionally wrote “contributions” and not “contributors” as a given contributor can make multiple contributions and the data is inconsistent enough to make it a pain to collapse individuals together.

    Note: I’m just posting factual data from the NYCCFB, and am not intending anything other than to point out that this data is publicly available.

  • fulton ferry res

    Harry, the vote was never going to happen today because of the length of the hearing. Besides, the full Council vote is 2 steps away. First, 9 members of Zoning and Franchises will vote, then it goes to the 23 members of the Land Use Committee, and then the full Council. I’m not too sure about your source.
    Davo, your accusations about the opposition having deep pockets is laughable. Money is scrounged together just to be able to print and mail postcards. Two trees spent $400,000+ to lobby various politicians, so get real!
    EPC, $4950 is the maximum that can be given, but it can be funneled through others too.

  • Publius

    The NY Post ran an article about how Two Trees has intentionally flouted the campaign contribution laws by directing their employees to make “donations” to key City Councilmembers, including Quinn and Katz:

  • Carlo Trigiani

    The SCA’s representative was grilled, as one might expect, about the FOIL emails and Dock Street cost savings. His answers left much to be desired. As for the emails – his best defense was that a couple of select correspondences were taken out of context. He was to follow up by providing the council members with additional correspondences that were left out of the oppositions’ packet, showing the SCA had done a thorough search of school locations. He wouldn’t or couldn’t answer how much money Dock Street will save the taxpayers. Why he didn’t answer baffles me. Give a ballpark, some kind of range. The good news – that’s a number that can be quantified and I’m sure will be before the final council vote.

    The SCA guy was the opposition’s best witness – and obviously, isn’t on the take as some of you conspiracy theorists would have us believe.

    I was present for the entire hearing. The majority of speakers were in favor. If I had to guess, I would bet 45 of 80 speakers were supporting the project. The last half, of the three hours of testimony, was all supporters.

    Councilman Felder’s exchange with the woman testified concerning terrorism was fair. I wish he would have asked her where she lives. Had he – he would have learned that she resides at 38 Main – a stone’s throw from the same terrorist target she is concerned about. I’d be willing to bet that she’s losing a view, maybe even a view from her roof top patio. Her husband (another testifier, same last name) has been carting doctored renderings to hearings for the last six months.

    I wish one of the council members would have asked the petition waver where he lives. Had they, they would learn that it’s 30 Main Street. A simple line of questioning would have lead to the fact that for a year and a half, this same gentleman has had his apartment on the market for $3,150,000. (A viewed apartment the public records show he paid $1,800,000 for approximately four years ago.) This same gentleman recently hosted a fundraiser for David Yassky.

    In fairness, I think it’s important that the council members know that two of the DNA executives, the primary force opposing this project, live in 70 Washington and will lose views (as does at least one of the celebrity endorsers and a sibling of one of the executives).

    And finally, a word about David Yassky. If he really wants to show some leadership, he would sit down with the developer, study this proposal, ask lots of questions, cut the best deal he can and get it in writing. And just a personal curiosity – how does a city councilman making $112,500 a year afford two St. Ann’s tuitions (60,000 per year)?


  • anon

    I do believe that part of the TT lobbying money is spent right here on the local blogs. The TT syncophants never join conversations about anything else but TT.

    To repeat my story from the other posting, here’s where time and money get wasted:
    Christine Quinn’s office called me about a program I was to attend with Ms Quinn. I called the number they left and said I had a similar name but was the wrong party. They called again to remind me about the program. Then they emailed me about the same program. I emailed back that we had spoken on the phone and I was the wrong party. They kept sending email reminders anyway. Then to top if off, I recieved an “official” City Hall letterhead thank you note from Ms Quinn’s office tho thank me for showing up to the program I never attended.
    My final conclusion: NO ONE IS LISTENING.

  • Publius

    Carlos: Stay on message with the drumbeat the the “few” (tens of thosands) of people who oppose the project are losing their views. Odd coincidence that Jeb’s letter to celebrities had the exact same message. Is Two Trees writing your “on message” or vice versa?

    I’d love to get an objective count of how many speakers were for and against. We all know from Carlos’ old counts at Borough Hall and the CB that he has trouble counting his oppositions’ turnout.

  • anon

    Carlo, you are a supporter not because you actually want to see an 18 story skyscraper go up next to the Brooklyn Bridge because you’re trying to avoid paying private school tuition for your children. Why would private viewholders’ personal motivations to protect their real estate value be any more scandalous than your motivations to protect your bank account balance? If you say “because my motivations are about education” then how do you know the viewholders’ real estate values they are trying to protect weren’t going to pay for their childrens’ private school tuitions?!

    All these personal motivations are irrelevant to legitimacy of the arguments both sides are making over what’s truly in the public interest. I would define “public” as no special interest group but the population at large. The population at large could give a hoot about condo owner financial woes or parental childrearing woes.

    The population at large treasures the Brooklyn Bridge and free spaces around it. It is the voices of those millions of people that constitute the true public interest. If you disagree with that, put the issue on citywide ballot. Guess where the majority of the votes would come in.

  • Carlo Trigiani

    Dear Anon,
    We should consider all the arguments and have all the relevant information about those making the arguments. If the opposition is stating that the developer is greedy and buying votes, they should be willing to disclose that the reason they are gathering 12,000 signatures is to protect their view (investment). They should also be willing to disclose that they purchased their apartment with the full acknowledgement that their view was not protected.

    As for public education, I attended public schools from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Maybe I take that “all men are created equally’ stuff too seriously, but to me, education is the great equalizer and deserves our attention. It’s simple, improving public schools starts with enrolling our children and making sure they show up, do their work and respect their teachers. That’s my job as a parent and an important contribution to my community. If we all do those simple things, public schools will improve and so will our communities. Sorry if you can’t appreciate that.

    I do find spending $30,000 a year for kindergarten troubling. Something about it doesn’t seem right.


  • fulton ferry res

    Will the store owners who keep crying for more foot traffic in DUMBO disclose that they had their eyes closed when they picked this location to open in, and didn’t notice that DUMBO is bordered by a river on one side, the Navy Yard and Con Edison parcel to the east, and separated from downtown Brooklyn by super-wide Sands Street?

  • davoyager

    Thank you anon, that is the distinction.
    It’s about public views vs. private views, it’s about public school vs. private school, public access to the magnificent Brooklyn waterfront vs. private ownership of every angle of view.
    That kind of says it all.

  • since47

    davoyager: It’s not just the people with views of the Brooklyn Bridge or the River who are against this God-awful plan, but, as anon said, those who treasure the Brooklyn Bridge and the free spaces around it. And Carlo Trigiani? – I don’t think you had much say in what school you attended from Kindergarten through 12th Grade – you make that statement like the decision was yours. A school, a school, a school! – what a brilliant plan Walentas has: Throw a school into the self-serving mix and how can anyone be against it? If there was no school involved, might you say that the plan was nothing more than horrifying and selfish? Why then, with all this hoopla, doesn’t Walentas just build the school and forget about the residential side of it? Apologies to anyone I have offended with this posting, but I can’t believe that EVERYONE doesn’t shudder at the thought of this possible reality.

  • Publius

    The NY Times yet again publishes a fair article about the Dock St/DUMBO story:

  • No One of Consequence

    “The acre that the company now wants to develop was left out of earlier zoning changes through a series of flukes, Mr. Walentas said.”

    No, it was left out of earlier zoning changes because the previous plans were REJECTED (with a CB resolution to not approve anything higher than the roadway: what happened to that?) and because they hadn’t yet pulled their a-hole moves to wrest it from Boymelgreen. The fluke is that they weren’t smart enough back then to first make sure they sent out enough payola to the pols.

    “Mr. Walentas said he needed the height of the building to pay for the school below.”

    He makes it so easy, it’s like friggin’ amateur hour…
    Really? Then why didn’t TT offer a middle school in the previously rejected plans which were both taller and more massive?
    He needs the school below to get the zoning change to allow the height variance.

    If he was his father there would be no DUMBO to quibble over.

  • nabeguy

    As an opponent of this project, I’m apparently either 1) a disgruntled Dumbo resident or 2) a conspiracy theorist. As a Heights resident, I guess I can scratch off the first one. As for the second argument, given the proximity of the dots laid out in the FOIL documents pointing to collusion between the SCA and TT combined with the revelations of lobbying money ending up in the campaign chests of certain council members, it won’t require too much ink to connect those dots to arrive at the conclusion that certain people did, in fact, conspire to flout the public trust on behalf of their own self-interests and those of Two Trees.
    Having read Dwyer’s NYT article in which JW is quoted as saying that he’s made “obscene” amounts of money in past developments, but that Dock Street does not fall into that category, can anyone from the proponents side explain to us why, in the face of such public opposition, he continues to pursue a project that he won’t make money on? Is he acting out of hubris, egomania or a pathological need to defy his opponents? Or is he applying for canonization?

  • Publius

    Jeb won’t be happy until over cocktails at the horse farm, he can crow to Daddy and The Donald how he screwed the public interest for personal gain. Those polo teams are very expensive, you know.

  • Don’t live in Brooklyn

    Mr. Yassky may take out student loans for part of the money for his daughter’s tuition. Also his wife Diane Fortuna is an accomplished public servant. Between the two of their income, if they make their daughter’s tuition their financial priority, it can be done.

    Melinda Katz should look perturbed, she sold her soul to the devil a long time ago.

  • davoyager

    To give you an honest answer although I can only guess: maybe as a business decision they realized that the only way they were going to build on this valuable property would be to give the city the best most attractive deal they could muster. Sure they would make far less money but they would make some and it would be a tremendous asset to the community they are invested in unlike the run down condition the properties are today.

  • bornhere

    I would tend to believe that, wherever large amounts of money and political entities coexist, shenanigans might abound. I’m not sure what can be done about that. But, on a more intimate level, I still think this building plan is a nightmare. If my son were young enough to be in the middle-school mix, I would not choose to send him to Dock Street; maybe it’s over-the-top Mom angst, but I think the area is horrific for all pedestrians, let alone buckets of freewheeling kids being kids. And I do believe that the ugly (!!) structure in question could do so much to ruin the context of the Brooklyn Bridge (and if the view from my expensive window were to be obliterated, I’d be beside myself: I think that’s understandable). The notion that everything should be “built up” and, thereby, improved, is unclear thinking; of course, I’m on the side of those who preferred South Street Seaport before Pier 17 was made into the circus it is. But that’s just me. I’m not sure that the area around the Bridge is quite “Paradise,” but I do seem to hear Joni Mitchell somewhere in the distance.