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City green lights Two Trees’ Williamsburg waterfront plan

The New York City Council has approved the revised River Ring proposal for the Williamsburg waterfront, ushering in a mixed-use development that will provide 263 residences for low- and middle-income New Yorkers, out of 1,050 new units, and will be anchored by a waterfront park.

The final proposal includes funding the construction of approximately 150 new units in the Williamsburg community designated as affordable homes for senior residents. The Council vote follows three years of community engagement with local residents, business owners and stakeholders across the city, and recent approvals during the land use process by Brooklyn Community Board 1, Borough President Eric Adams, and the New York City Planning Commission. Two Trees Management expects to begin construction in 2024. 

Key highlights of Two Trees Management’s final River Ring Waterfront Master Plan include:

  • Significant new affordable housing, including 263 permanently affordable apartments (out of 1050 total on-site homes), which feature the same design and amenities as market rate units, available at an average of 60% AMI with some units as low as 40% AMI. 
  • More than 150 new units of affordable housing for seniors, to be built in Community Board 1 on land funded by Two Trees. 
  • A 3-acre world-class public park to be financed and maintained by Two Trees Management, plus an additional 3 acres designated for previously unavailable in-water recreational opportunities, including kayaking, marine ecology, education, tidal wetlands and an accessible beach.
  • $100 million investment in resiliency infrastructure and open space also that protects hundreds of properties upland and up-river from River Ring.
  • A state-of-the-art, 50,000 square foot YMCA facility featuring a full-service community swim program that includes free swimming lessons for second grade students in CB1.
  • 2,000 construction jobs and more than 500 permanent jobs with a subsidized training program and local hiring, in collaboration with local workforce development partners. 
  • $1.75 million in funding for community initiatives, including a new environmental benefits fund to help retrofit neighborhood buildings and a major open space planning study of the community district to connect new and existing parks.
  • Green technology and sustainable design, including a commitment to all-electric buildings and the development of on-site wastewater treatment.
  • Ongoing meaningful dialogue with community partners to bring new access to the waterfront and support environmental justice and education.

“After more than two years of conversations with residents, stakeholders and leaders, we’re grateful to Council Member Levin, the Zoning Subcommittee, and the Land Use Committee for their support of a precedent-setting project,” said Jed Walentas, Principal of Two Trees Management.

 “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. We will bring the same commitment and dedication to River Ring that we’ve brought to the Domino redevelopment and Domino Park. Taken together, these two projects will provide approximately 1,000 units of affordable housing integrated within new, world-class buildings. Thanks to Council Member Levin, we have also committed to creating an acquisition fund to support the development of over 150 units of senior housing within Community Board 1. And by connecting River Ring and Domino, we will finally fill the missing link in North Brooklyn’s waterfront greenway.”

The River Ring Waterfront Master Plan, designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and James Corner Field Operations (Field Operations), will enhance the connectivity of the public waterfront, reinstate natural habitats, elevate the standard for urban waterfront resiliency, and transform the way New Yorkers interact with the East River. 

In total, the River Ring Plan will create approximately 3 acres of public open space and another 3 acres of protected in-water access, including natural habitat — far beyond the 0.7 acres required under zoning regulations. Combined with the neighboring Domino Park, Two Trees is poised to deliver more than 8 acres above the required amount of accessible waterfront public space along the East River waterfront in Williamsburg.

The site features a pair of mixed-income residential buildings designed by BIG. The project is designed around cutting-edge open space designed by Field Operations (including three acres of protected water for aquatic uses) and ecological infrastructure that will increase resilience for the site and surrounding area. The project’s public and community spaces — which have been tailored through direct community input — will introduce a first-of-its-kind protected public beach and in-water areas for New Yorkers to enjoy an array of aquatic activities including boating, fishing, tide pool exploration and potentially in the future: swimming. 

The introduction of a public waterfront park at the former industrial site, directly north of Two Trees’ award-winning Domino development, will help to complete a stretch of continuous waterfront access that will eventually extend from South Williamsburg to Greenpoint. 

“The River Ring project is unlike almost any waterfront development proposal, and Two Trees is pioneering how we can build innovative public spaces in a way that directly confronts the impacts of climate change,” said Cortney Koenig Worrall, CEO and President, Waterfront Alliance. “The project promises to transform how New Yorkers relate to water while protecting communities from rising waters using technologies that honor the local habitat, raising the bar for how we as a city can build safety and responsibly along our waterfronts.”

“The River Ring proposal creates desperately needed open space for New Yorkers, delivers critical support for the city’s resilience infrastructure, and brings online significant affordable housing. That’s a triple-win for New York City. We thank the City Council for helping to realize this transformative vision which addresses multiple challenges for the city head on while delivering major investments for the local community,” said Adam Ganser, Executive Director, New Yorkers for Parks.

“The River Ring project is a prime model for how cities can get transformative projects moving in the right direction,” said Tom Wright, President and CEO of Regional Plan Association. “From the beginning it was informed by local engagement and feedback with resiliency and the community in mind. When it becomes reality, it will create new affordable housing and a three-acre resilient waterfront park in Brooklyn – which will transform the way New Yorkers interact with the water. We look forward to seeing this become reality – and become the standard for addressing communities’ development at the water’s edge.”

RESILIENCY AND HABITAT RESTORATION

Borrowing from models used in places like the Netherlands that have come to terms with a wetter future, the River Ring plan embraces the river instead of building walls and hard surfaces that accelerate storm surge and push it to adjacent riverfronts. Waterfront infrastructure and open space will feature berms, breakwaters, marshes and wetlands designed to increase resilience by taking the energy out of storm surges, reducing flooding, providing more room to absorb water and slow down its retreat, reducing erosion risk, and better protecting the local waterfront in the face of habitat loss and climate change. The plan also includes a new tidal basin capable of holding four million gallons of water that is designed to flood, mitigating damage from receding waters.

Additionally, the development expands the shoreline with various wave breaks, attenuating the impacts from severe storms, sustaining intertidal habitat and creating calmer waters to promote in-water access and nurture habitat. The new waterfront park will enable the restoration of salt marshes, wetlands, oyster beds and tidal flats, enriching wildlife and habitat while creating protected areas that will enable more in-water engagement and recreational uses and provide ecological education to the community. 

PARK DESIGN AND COMMUNITY INPUT

Designed by Field Operations, the waterfront park features a circular esplanade extending into the East River that promotes access in and around the river, as well as an amphitheater, large sandy beach, tidal pools, salt marsh, and a fishing pier. This ring connects to the park’s breakwaters which provide protection and form a series of nature trails that extend out to the historic concrete caissons. A boating cove at North 1st Street includes a sandy beach for boat access surrounded by wetlands and is adjacent to a series of community kiosks and a children’s natural play area.

The community kiosks, totaling approximately 5,000 SF, will be made available to local community partners through a request-for-proposal process. Potential users include kayak rental, educational partners, artist installations and other waterfront related uses.

These features were inspired by a series of community charrettes convened by Two Trees Management, where there was a strong consensus for the park to engage the river with places to touch the water, for places of respite and access to nature, and a place that is a model for resiliency. Like Domino Park, the new park will be maintained in perpetuity by Two Trees Management and will operate based on NYC Parks Department rules and regulations.

“The past two years have revealed an increased appreciation of parks and public spaces, and hopefully a shift to understanding them as essential infrastructure. River Ring embodies this way of thinking as an adaptive nature-based solution that rethinks regulatory frameworks and design standards,” says Lisa Switkin, Senior Principal at James Corner Field Operations. “The park showcases integrated co-benefits, designed to increase resilience and waterfront access, provide diverse park experiences and recreational opportunities, restore habitat, and change the mindset from living against water to living with water.”

MIXED-USE BUILDING PLAN

The masterplan includes two Bjarke Ingels Group-designed mixed-use buildings with 1,050 total units of housing, 263 of which will be below-market rate (made available to applicants with low AMIs), a new 50,000-square-foot YMCA, 30,000 square feet of neighborhood retail space and 57,000 square feet for office space. The new YMCA will feature a waterfront aquatic center that will offer subsidized swim lessons for community youth in need. The residential towers are oriented to limit view obstruction from the neighborhood and maximize the Metropolitan Avenue view corridor. Blending the towers with the landscape softens the relationship between building and park, forming a gateway that welcomes the community to the water.

“With the River Ring we close one of the last remaining gaps in the continuous transformation of the Williamsburg waterfront into a post-industrial urban park scape. Rather than stopping at the hard edge of the old dock, Metropolitan avenue is split into a pedestrian loop extending all the way into the river, connecting the dots of the concrete caissons to form an urban archipelago of recreative islands while protecting a beach with tidal pools and wetlands,” said Bjarke Ingels, Founding Partner & Creative Director. “The radical transformation of Copenhagen’s port into a swimmable extension of the public space that we helped pioneer two decades ago, now seems to be knocking at the door in Williamsburg and the entire East River. The River Ring will be the first of many invitations for New Yorkers to dip their toes in the water.”

SITE HISTORY

The site was once home to the No. 6 fuel oil storage complex for Con Edison North First Street Terminal. The above ground fuel oil storage tanks were removed when the terminal was decommissioned. The existing site also includes a number of structures seaward of the bulkhead line that extend to the pierhead line, which are in varying states of repair. Two Trees recently purchased the 3.5 acre site from Con Edison in an auction for $150 million. 

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