Crain’s New York Business
Erik Engquist – (212) 210-0745
Jeremy Smerd – (212) 210-0267
A Greenpoint Development Project Grows Through Underwater Deal
Another project in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has raised the ire of freshman City Councilman Steve Levin, who last year fought, with limited success, to reduce the size of the Domino Sugar housing development. Last month, the city sold underwater property to rookie developer Jonathan Bernstein for $60,000 so he could build what the Bloomberg administration calls “a publicly accessible recreational pier.” Locals say its sole purpose is to increase the footprint of Bernstein’s planned apartment complex, allowing the Florida-based builder to increase his 80,000-square-foot development by 50%.
The city Economic Development Corp. made the deal because Bernstein, Donald Trump’s former lawyer, agreed to build a ferry terminal on an adjacent pier, which is now 90% finished.
“Apparently, the developer wouldn’t build the ferry pier, which I support, without being able to build the second pier, which I do not,” said Levin. “The bottom line is that the developer will be able to build a lot bigger—and make a lot more profit—by building a pier, on EDC-owned land, that no one asked for.”
One insider complained, “The city’s being held hostage by a first-time developer.”
But the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance likes the plan, which will allow the EDC to open the ferry terminal this spring. A new East River ferry will make one other stop in Williamsburg and will also dock at Fulton Ferry Landing in Brooklyn, in Queens, and in Manhattan at Pier 11 and East 34th Street.
Some thought the EDC was making an end run around the public review process. Indeed, combining two piers with the main project site allows for a massive as-of-right development. However, according to an apologetic letter that EDC President Seth Pinsky wrote to Community Board 1 last month, the extra building allowance “cannot be readily utilized on the adjacent upland site without discretionary land use approvals.”
In other words, elements of the project will still go through the uniform land use review procedure, subject to community board review and City Council approval. But those elements don’t appear to be essential to the project, limiting Levin’s negotiating leverage.