Dock Street Drama

(BHB/Sarah Portlock)

((City Councilmen l>r Simcha Felder, counsel, Tony Avella, and Eric Gioia listen to testimony for and against the proposed Dock Street development project in DUMBO)) (BHB/Sarah Portlock)

The City Council zoning and franchises committee hearing about Dock Street lasted five hours today, with three hours of public testimony and two of the council members grilling the School Construction Authority and developers about the plan.

The hearing marked the beginning of the end for the project, a proposed 17-story residential tower and 43,000-square-foot middle school on Dock Street in DUMBO by Two Trees Management.

The public testimony portion was a rehashing of many of the same arguments already presented for and against the project, but the real drama came during a discussion of the project’s promised school. We have video footage of what went down, and will post it ASAP.

(Update: Here‘s the Brooklyn Paper’s take on the hearing)

During the testimony of SCA counsel Ross Holden, Councilman Eric Gioia of Queens brought up the FOIL request released by Councilman David Yassky, which revealed an email between SCA officials that casts doubt on their seriousness of looking at other possible school sites within District 13.

(The full FOIL request, via PDF, is available here, with a follow-up letter from Yassky asking for more.)

According to the email, the official writes:

“David Yassky referred this guy to me because he has property in Brooklyn on Water Street between Bridge and Jay … 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.”

At the hearing, Holden clarified: “None of the other sites SCA explored provided such an economically feasible option.”

“We prepared our alternative-site analyses as we would anywhere else. No one at all came to SCA with any recommendation that would provide us with as minimum a cost [as Two Trees]. I can’t comment on who wrote that email but there are emails where SCA took issue with Two Trees that were not produced,” he said.

The Eagle published a story this week outlining some of those memos, which revealed information about the SCA’s decision-making process. Holden said on Thursday that the SCA looked at spaces at 72 Poplar St., 37 Hicks St., 205 Water St., and PS 8 itself, but each location would require expensive property aquisitions and build-outs.

But still, Councilman Eric Gioia of Queens would have none of it.

“The way I read these emails is, ‘let’s … humor this guy because we have no interest in it’. This is not how government is supposed to work. This is how people are afraid of how government works,” he said. “It’s refreshingly honest, but disarmingly so.”

He added, “This is probably the most disturbing email I’ve seen in my eight years in government.”

Then Councilman Robert Jackson of West Harlem moved in for the kill. He asked Holden how much it would cost to build out the school and how much the city stands to save.

Holden: “I don’t know precisely,” and fumbled his way through lines of related questioning.

Two Trees’ attorney, Ken Fisher, said the land is worth $100-200 per square foot and $200 per square foot for the shell, and the space will be 43,000 square feet. The SCA has allocated $42 million in its proposed five-year Capital Plan to the project.

Yassky, who loudly opposes the project, was none too pleased with the situation.

“This is a disgrace,” he said. “You can dress up the email anyway you like but that is a betrayal if a public interest and reason alone to distrust the school’s argument here.”

He added, “When this proposal is rejected, you had better come back and build us a middle school or else you have made it clear that you are participating in a sham.”

From there, speakers for and against the project voiced their concerns. For those who have followed the debate so far, many of the same arguments were repeated: Views and the experience of the bridge will be ruined vs. We need this school.

The Council committee will vote in the coming weeks, and we will of course keep you posted.

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  • Publius

    The vote should have been today when the outrage over this disgraceful corruption would be fresh in everyone’s mind.

    Instead, it now moves to the smokey back room where Two Trees will pay even more “political donations” and the lobbyist will be working the phone and walking City Hall overtime.

  • nabeguy

    Pub, wasn’t that exactly what today’s hearing were about? Finding the fault lines on both sides and determining exactly where lobbying money can best be spent on both sides of the issues? As a grass roots movement, the opposition is at a financial disadvantage when combatting the Two Trees coffers. What I find so nauseating is the “wink wink nod nod” attitude towards a corrupt system of political patronage that is so obvious. For Christ’s sake, Councilwoman James might as well change her name to TTish James.

  • BrooklynLove

    the people opposing this project don’t even care about the school. what a charade. approve and move on.

  • nabeguy

    Huh? What exactly is your point Brooklyn Love? And where have you been in regards to this issue in the last year and a half on this particular site? The only charade in question is the one that the SCA and Two Trees have perpetrated on the public in trying to make them believe that this project is the only option open to them for a middle school space. Do your research into all the FOIL documentation and the posts on this site before making such snap statements. Some of us, both pro and con, have worked too hard to get our points across to listen to johnny-come-lately’s like you. As an opponent of this project, I can assure you that my primary opposition to it relates to the school. Call me a nut, but the welfare of my daughter is more important to me than the concerns of a city agency that’s seeking to make themselves look good by entering into the most expedient deal on the table.

  • No One Of Consequence

    Any council member or politician that votes to approve this project is risking their political career, which is the only thing they truly value. I wouldn’t touch this with a ten-foot-pole. There is too much lobbying, too many backroom deals and not enough transparency… the very opposite of what President Obama [allegedly] stands for.

    Who would want to have their name associated with the last great fraud perpetrated on the American public? Not I.

  • Publius

    NOOC: Well said. The Bush Era (error) is finally over. Unbridled greed must give way to respect for our environment, our history, and the public interest. Two Tree’s Machivellian machinations are an example of how monied interests and not the public interest have held sway for too long. Boss Tweed would be proud of Dear Jeb.

  • Brooklyn Guy

    NOOC – You will soon learn that the Council member whose coffers will/have benefited the most and who will support this project the most will be Speaker Christine T.T. Quinn, a past supported of TT projects. Ask her if she cares. And Tish was her usual uninformed, dismissive, and biased self.

  • anon

    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.

  • No One of Consequence

    How’s the video footage coming along?

  • Homer Fink

    later today

  • fulton ferry res

    Letitia James on Atlantic Yards: “Typically, backers of a new stadium promise it will bring jobs, jobs and more, jobs. Supporters
    of this stadium project have been hypnotized by similar claims. The
    reality is that Yankee stadium at 57,000 seats, which is double the
    size of the proposed stadium in Brooklyn, only offers 65 full-time
    positions. Any claim that this proposed stadium would provide for
    significant and permanent employment is a pipe dream.”

    Dock Street DUMBO will have 65 affordable apartments. Funny how the number 65 works both ways for her.

  • fulton ferry res

    From the NYC Council website:

    Another victory for James came with the City approval of rezoning 99 blocks of Clinton Hill and Fort Greene in July 2007. The architectural integrity of Brooklyn’s historic neighborhoods has been a high priority for James since her election. Highlights of the rezoning include reinforcing the established row-house character by preventing out-of-scale development adjacent to historic districts. Also, a three to four-story height limit will be put in place where low-rise housing predominates within the zone.

    So, Tish believes that out-of-scale development has no place in HER district, but has no qualms about putting it elsewhere. And Dock Street DUMBO would border not one, but two historic districts, DUMBO and Fulton Ferry.

    What a hypocrite.

  • Publius

    Hypocrisy, thy name is Tish James.

    What’s behind the James/Papa Walentas handshake, Cheshire smiles, “it’s a great day” greeting at the Borough Hall hearings?

  • Bingo

    Not for nothing, but that scale model at the hearing is a total fraud. The Dock Street building appears as a small unassuming little building just to the right of the BB tower. In truth, the building, as proposed will be larger than the Clocktower (1 Main), which is currently the tallest building Between the Bridges.

  • davoyager

    you guys are all on about the “campaign coffers” and I too would like to see the numbers of who gave how much to whom. You scream all this nasty dirt as councilwoman James and Quinn, I would like to see who’s paying Yassky, Gioia, De Blasio and Avella, to name a few.

  • No2Walentas2Trees

    DaVoyager, that would be irrelevant to the issue. First, the neighborhood associations involved wouldn’t be paying off politicians because they don’t have the cash to spare. They are non-profits.

    There is no need to pay a politician to keep a law on the books. There is however a need to pay a tribute to convince a politician to change a law, especially if said politician would normally not. You keep trying to figure if there is a ‘mystery’ person behind the opposition, there is not. This is a case of Davey and Goliath, with Walentas being the Goliath. You keep trying to portray him as the person that is being bullied. He is the one who is trying to change the landscape and is throwing money around to do it. You should be skeptical of his intentions, not the opposition. If you want a school fine. But it shouldn’t be achieved in this manner. All you have is Walentas’ ‘word’ that there will be a school, but history has shown is ‘word’ isn’t worth much. He has evicted a school recently, and is only offering a proposal for a school because he thinks it is the way to buy people like yourself out. And you know, he is right. He offers a school and you follow. You claim that Yassky is the one that needs to get it in writing, but why should he? He wants a school, but in an alternate location. Why should he change his opinion about a hideous building when he knows there are other viable locations? Perhaps Walentas is the one that needs to change his plans and lower the height of the building and include a school, then everyone would agree. But no, the proponents say that we all have to follow Walentas. Why? The only thing he cares about is money. He couldn’t care less about a school. And if this goes forward, the moment he has the chance, he will drop the school like a bad habit, and we will be back at square one with no school but a hideous building in DUMBO. I have been on the BB several times over the past week and you know, honestly, I didn’t realize how close this thing will be. The space for the building is barely noticable from the walkway. Boy will we notice this if it gets built. The SCA didn’t do it’s work. This is clear now. Walntas has shown he can’t be trusted. He is shifty and calculating. He is probably an excellent Chess player, but that is another topic. His building on Court St is a prime example of how much respect he has for zoning regulations.

    If you want a school, then press on the SCA to look for alternatives, real alternatives. Because, honestly, if Dock st goes forward and Walentas doesn’t come through, the chance of a school at DUMBO has just falling to non-existent.

  • davoyager

    My fear my friend is that we fail to get this project approved and eventually the property gets sold and quick as you know it there will be some 25 storied something or other awful there with no elements included for the public good. I’ve seen it happen too often in the past where the not too bad idea gets defeated and so the more muscular but far worse alternative is built. That’s my fear. You may hold off development a few years but NY, perhaps the greatest city on earth continues to grow. I don’t think even Bernie Madoff is gonna bring down NY so watch out and hold on to your hats.