Brooklyn Project Draws Fire
The Wall Street Journal 03/02/2011
By Joseph De Avila
A recent agreement to sell property along the East River in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to a developer has come under fire from opponents who say the deal paves the way for condo towers that don’t fit the neighborhood.
The city’s Industrial Development Agency approved the sale of a strip of underwater land to Stiles Properties LLC for $60,000. The sale hasn’t closed yet.
The IDA approved the sale on the condition that the company builds a pier at the end of Java Street. Because of that, zoning regulations allow the developer to add 40,000 square feet of residential housing to its plans to build two luxury condo towers on an adjacent parcel of land, critics said.
“Essentially you have a developer getting 40,000 of additional space for building a pier that nobody asked for,” said Stephen Levin, the local City Council member who has asked the IDA to review the sale. “It serves a dubious public purpose.”
Michael Bailkin, a special counsel for Stiles, said the company applied for the permit to build the pier at the same time it applied to build another pier on nearby India Street that will serve as a ferry landing.
Stiles is already transferring building rights from its planned India Street pier to the condo project, Mr. Bailkin said. As a result, the remaining building rights available from the Java Street pier would only amount to about 4,000 additional square feet, he said.
In 2009, Stiles bought an industrial building on West Street between Java and India streets. Later that year, the developer unveiled plans for the site to construct two of the tallest condo towers along the Brooklyn waterfront. The larger tower would be at least 40 stories.
Last July, the city’s Economic Development Corp. issued a request for a proposal from developers to build a pier at the end of Java Street, right next to Stiles newly acquired property.
Stiles was the only company to apply and was awarded the contract.
The sale of the underwater land “will generate additional economic development in the area,” said David Lombino, a spokesman with the city’s Economic Development Corp.
But critics objected to the process. After the request for a proposal was issued, “there was a lot of outrage that this was done behind the backs of the community-board members,” said Heather Roslund, head of the local community board’s land-use committee.
“It puts us in the position where we don’t have the kind of input for what our mission is, to be the voice of the community,” she said.
Opponents also charge that the request for proposal wasn’t competitive because Stiles and the EDC jointly applied with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build the pier two months before the request for a proposal was issued.
If Stiles wasn’t awarded the contract to build the pier, its application with the Army Corps of Engineers would have been void, Mr. Lombino said.
The property sold to Stiles was appraised by the IDA at $90,000. The sale price of $60,000 takes into account that it would take the developer at least $30,000 to build the pier, Mr. Lombino added.
The Stiles development plan for the Greenpoint waterfront has been in the works for more than two years, Mr. Bailkin said. During that time it “has been discussed to a great degree to a wide range of community groups,” he said.
Jonathan Bernstein, an attorney who in the past has represented developer Donald Trump, is the principal and managing member at Stiles. Mr. Trump isn’t connected with the Stiles condo project in Greenpoint.