Jehovah's Witnesses get DUMBO plan OK

Boroughs Daily News/December 3, 2004
By Hugh Son

The controversial Jehovah's Witnesses residential complex in DUMBO all but got the green light yesterday when a key City Council committee voted in favor of a scaled-back version of the project.

Major changes to the 85 Jay St. complex include two of the four planned apartment towers being reduced by a total of 130 feet in height.

"We achieved what we agree is an acceptable compromise," said Councilman Tony Avella (D-Queens), chairman of the Council's Zoning and Franchises Committee.

Avella had "no doubt" the project would be approved at a final Council vote on Dec. 13.

Jehovah's Witnesses spokesman Richard Devine said the project would brighten a "dark and inhospitable" section of DUMBO. Construction is scheduled to start in 2006.

"This will bring a lot of life and activity to an area that really could use it," Devine said.

The four residential towers - the highest of which will be 20 stories - will house about 1,600 people in 888 studio and one-bedroom apartments. That is a significant addition to the estimated 2,000 who live in DUMBO now.

The 800,000-square-foot complex also will include a three-story auditorium, a dining hall and an 1,100-spot underground parking garage.

The two neighborhood groups that have opposed the plan because of its large scale - and who helped to reduce its size - reacted differently to the news.

The improvements are "nothing to sneeze at," said Nicholas Evans-Cato of the Vinegar Hill Association.

But Nancy Webster of the DUMBO Neighborhood Association expressed disappointment that the buildings weren't scaled back further.

"What the Witnesses are building is basically a development that works for them, not the rest of the neighborhood," she said.

Webster also lamented that the project will not include street-level retail shops along Jay St. because the religious group refuses to act as a commercial landlord.

She and other residents have no choice but to adjust to a new presence in DUMBO, Webster admitted.

"We'll try to be good neighbors," she said.

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