Two Trees says it will sell Williamsburg site if rezoning isn’t approved

Developer says waterfront site will most likely be built as logistics warehouse

New York /
Jun.June 04, 2021 02:52 PM
Two Trees CEO Jed Walentas and renderings of the controversial project. (Getty, James Corner Field Operations / Bjarke Ingels Group)

Two Trees CEO Jed Walentas and renderings of the controversial project. (Getty, James Corner Field Operations / Bjarke Ingels Group)

Be careful what you wish for. That’s the message Two Trees Management has for opponents who want to block the developer’s plans for a pair of apartment towers on the Williamsburg waterfront.

The Brooklyn-based developer is contending with pushback on its plan to rezone a large property along the East River to make way for its “River Ring” mixed-use project, which would include 1,250 rental apartments, office space, a pool and beach.

But if opponents are successful in shooting the rezoning down, Two Trees says it will sell the site, and the most likely buyer will be a logistics-developer that will build a last-mile distribution warehouse.

“We’re totally invested in the plan we put forward, and we think the best use for this site is mixed-income rental housing and a world-class park,” Two Trees spokesperson David Lombino told The Real Deal.

These kinds of large mixed-use residential projects, Lombino added, are Two Trees’ speciality. So if the plan isn’t approved, the company will sell the site.

“There’s been an incredible explosion in demand for last-mile delivery and our phone has been ringing regularly from last-mile developers who see our site as a potential location for a large facility,” he said.

The main opposition to Two Trees’ proposal comes from a group called Sustainable Williamsburg, which argues the plan will increase gentrification and strain neighborhood infrastructure like the subway.

They say there are other alternatives to Two Trees’ large rezoning proposal, such as a smaller residential project, or developing a retail/light manufacturing building that’s allowed as-of-right. And they’re skeptical that the developer will sell if the large-scale rezoning isn’t approved.

“It’s a threat the developer has been propagating for some time now,” a representative for the group wrote in an email. “We believe it would be unlikely TwoTrees would sell such valuable land for a logistics warehouse, of course that would be their decision.”

Two Trees’ Lombino, however, said it’s no bluff.

“There’s this perception out there that if our plan doesn’t work we’ll stick around and hold onto it and produce something different,” he said. “I think that’s a fiction.”

Two Trees bought the 3.2-acre site from Con Edison in early 2020 for $150 million. The developer filed a scoping draft in March with the Department of City Planning outlining its proposal for 1,250 apartments — 313 of which would be set aside as affordable housing — 83,000 square feet of commercial space and a 3.1-acre park.

The proposal would need to go through the city’s land-use process, and with a city-wide election scheduled for later this year, that means a new Williamsburg council member and new mayoral administration will make the decision on the project’s fate.

All eight candidates vying for Williamsburg’s council seat signed a petition in October opposing Two Trees’ plan.

Meanwhile, demand for warehouse space around the city is booming.

Prologis Senior Vice President Jeremiah Kane said the Two Trees site is attractive to last-mile distribution tenants, which are becoming more nimble by relying on things like bicycles and foot traffic to get deliveries out, as opposed to large trucks.

He said Prologis will be interested in the developer’s site if it becomes available.

“When it came to market, we missed it, candidly,” he said. “If it came to market today, I think logistics companies would be competitive.”





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