Council strikes deal on Two Trees’ River Ring in Williamsburg

Developer races through land use review in just four months

Jed Walentas and renderings of the proposed project (River Ring, Getty)
Jed Walentas and renderings of the proposed project (River Ring, BIG-Bjark Ingels Group, Getty)

It’s going to be a happy holiday season for Two Trees Development.

The Dumbo-dominating developer has struck a deal with Brooklyn City Council member Stephen Levin that ensures approval of River Ring, its 1,050-unit development on the Williamsburg waterfront.

The pact wraps up a breakneck land use review in which Two Trees steered its project through the community board, borough president, City Planning Commission and City Council in an astounding four months, which is about as fast as it has ever been done.

The timing was important because Levin, on whose approval the project depends, leaves office at the end of the year.

In a last-minute concession he negotiated, Two Trees agreed to fund more than 150 units of senior housing within the community district and steer $1.7 million toward neighborhood environmental improvements.

River Ring entered public review in August, presenting a daunting task for Two Trees. Council member-elect Lincoln Restler, Levin’s replacement, wants a majority of new housing in rezoned areas to be affordable, according to his campaign platform. Such a demand would have upended the economics of River Ring and possibly resulted in no project at all.

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Two Trees had traveled that road eight years ago, when the review for its Domino Sugar megadevelopment spilled into the administration of Bill de Blasio, whose demands for more affordable housing nearly derailed the project.

But Two Trees exec Jed Walentas got his way this time. Community Board 1, Borough President Eric Adams and the planning commission all signed off on River Ring well before their deadlines, shortening a process that typically takes seven months.

The senior housing and community commitments were not the only carrots Two Trees extended to get its towers approved. River Ring will include 263 permanently affordable units, meaning a quarter of the project’s 1,050 apartments will rent for an average of 60 percent of the area median income. That is deeper affordability than de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law requires.

The developer will also build a 50,000-square-foot YMCA and invest $100 million in climate resiliency projects around the development. They include a three-acre public park with a three-acre ring of previously inaccessible water which will mitigate storm damage and host aquatic activities, such as kayaking.

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“River Ring will change how New Yorkers interact with our waterfront while also increasing affordable housing, providing a new model for resiliency, building a new public park and investing in community programs and spaces,” Walentas said in a statement.

The full Council will vote on the plan Wednesday morning. After it passes, River Ring will head to the mayor for final approval. Both steps are now formalities.