December 5, 2004 — Jehovah’s Witnesses are knocking on DUMBO’s door, and residents are fuming about it.
With the approval last week by the City Council’s zoning subcommittee, a controversial plan to transform a three-acre plot in that old industrial enclave on Brooklyn’s waterfront into a mammoth Jehovah’s Witnesses colony is on track to begin construction next year. “I’m outraged and disgusted with the outcome,” said DUMBO resident Amanda Barrow, who lives across from the site. “The neighborhood is losing its character.”
The huge residential complex will comprise four towers, the tallest 20 stories high, a large, glassed-in welcome center, a dining hall, a church and a 1,110-car underground garage. It will house about 1,600 of the religion’s faithful working at the Witnesses’ Brooklyn Heights headquarters. There are currently about 3,500 people living in DUMBO.
Community foes claim the towers don’t conform to the neighborhood aesthetic and signal a patchwork approach to development in the former industrial enclave. Opponents say the influx of traffic will be dangerous and the new residents won’t help the neighborhood economy.
The approved plan is a compromise from the original design, which called for all four towers to be higher than 14 stories. Two of them will now rise nine stories. The new plan also includes promises from Watchtower, the religion’s business arm, to renovate two neighborhood parks and install security cameras at the nearby York Street subway station.
The zoning subcommittee’s 15-1 approval all but guarantees a rubber stamp from the full council later this month. Charles Barron, the only council member to vote against the plan, said he opposes all development that disregards community concerns.
Watchtower disagrees with that characterization. “This is going to be a real asset to the community,” said Richard Devine, supervisor of construction for Watchtower.
Moreover, the influx of people in the neighborhood will cut down on crime at the York Street station, said Devine, and the new residential units will allow Watchtower to sell some of its other properties.
Nicholas Evans-Cato, president of the Vinegar Hill Neighborhood Association, was not persuaded. “This sets a precedent,” he said. “Rather than focusing on re-use of former industrial buildings, which are seven stories high, there will be a focus on building new 17-story high-rises.”