BIG + field operations reveal updated masterplan of williamsburg waterfront 'river ring'

Mar 24, 2021

bjarke ingels group (BIG) and james corner field operations share images of their newly updated masterplan of the williamsburg waterfront, ‘river ring.’ developed by two trees management, the project is sited along the east river and seeks to introduce a new model for urban waterfront resiliency and transform the way new yorkers interact with the water. the masterplan’s most significant update since its last iteration in 2019 involves the redesign of its two gently sloping towers. while the BIG-designed towers were initially planned to rise to a height of 600 feet and 650 feet, they will now measure 710 feet and 560 feet. the structures will offer a mix of uses vital to the williamsburg community — housing, community space, local retail and offices.

BIG, field operations, and two trees management, aim to break ground on williamsburg’s ‘river ring‘ before the end of mayor de blasio’s final term later this year. while bjarke ingels group is responsible for the design of the buildings, james corner field operations designed the waterfront park. the park aims to restore the critical ecology of its riverfront site, while the masterplan includes three acres of public open space and three acres of protected in-water access. the plan is anchored by a first-of-its-kind protected public beach with a storm resilient edge will protect over 500 inland properties from flooding.

the field operations-designed ‘river ring’ waterfront park in williamsburg is defined by its circular esplanade that extends into the east river. this element promotes access in and around the river, and introduces an amphitheater, large sandy beach, tidal pools, and a salt marsh. the ring connects to the park’s breakwaters which provide protection and form a series of nature trails that extend out to the existing concrete caissons. meanwhile, 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 BIG- and field operations-designed river ring masterplan will introduce a new green energy plan within the fabric of williamsburg. the development will integrate a cutting edge microgrid system for the large mixed-use complex. this system will mitigate demand from the overtaxed con edison system and will offload excess power to neighboring facilities and buildings, serving as a backup energy source for the community in case of a power outage.

project info:

project title: river ring location: williamsburg, brooklyn, NY developer: two trees management design: james corner field operations and BIG-bjarke ingels group

The fact that his article mentions nothing of the substantial community opposition to this project is curious.

Over the past two years, Sustainable Williamsburg, a community group working to encourage the thoughtful and sustainable development of our neighborhood, has examined the progress on (and proposals for) the North Brooklyn Waterfront. As a community, we were surprised a rezoning would even be considered on this site given the massive strain the neighborhood has seen on its infrastructure and services, as well as the corresponding displacement, from the massive development that has happened in the past 12 years from the 2005 rezoning, especially considering there are ~7500 more units in the pipeline already. A pandemic is not a time to approve 2500 more units, especially when the developer has only finished 1/2 of their 2300 units next door.

Further, the River St proposal is heavily skewed and full of many representations. The developers have built their website to seem as if they are environmentalists building a “waterfront resiliency plan” and a “park” when in-fact the proposal is for 60&65 story towers which would double the value of their site and is from the developer’s point of view necessary to recoup the bet that the developer made in purchasing the land at a value that assumed a rezoning was a sure thing. Their website is not an honest representation of their intentions at a time when the community needs to heal from COVID and rethink priorities for local communities, not be forced into another thoughtless developer-led rezoning.

Furthermore, a recent survey revealed nearly 80% of residents “with an opinion on this proposal are against rezoning,” and there has been little to no community engagement in the rezoning discussion despite Two Trees’ recent assertion to the Community Board that they have engaged in “intensive community outreach.” Invite-only zoom sessions with select community members is not appropriate community outreach. As a result, 77.4% are unfamiliar with the proposal, meaning that the community has not been engaged by the developer, which is nearly impossible to do during COVID when it’s not possible to have open/in-person meetings. And despite significant resistance at the few public meetings that did occur prior to the pandemic, there are no significant changes to the proposal that address any of the concerns raised.

You can find more data and information on sustainablewilliamsburg.com. We have also launched riverringtruth.com to fact check the many erroneous or misleading statements in the Two Trees proposal. Some highlights:

The developer is pushing this rezoning to happen during a pandemic because key decision-makers include is our current city council member, Stephen Levin, whose term ends this year as well as the outgoing Mayor. All eight candidates running for Levin’s seat are against this project.

As noted in the halted Gowanus rezoning, it is not possible to adequately engage the community when in-person meetings cannot be held, on top of the fact that it is in the best interest of the community to consider our post-COVID world before approving more density. If the proposal stands on its merits, then it will pass at a time that we can appropriately review it. Our community deserves better.

The proposed above ground park space does not come close to meeting the city recommended standard of 2.5 acres per thousand people. This park will be more than saturated by the residents of these towers.

The developer is seeking a 35-year 421-a tax abatement worth hundreds of millions in exchange for affordable units. Worryingly, Two Trees has not released a single affordable unit at their neighboring development, One South First, inaccurately blaming the city for delays. The community has little trust that the developer will deliver affordable units at River Street as promised, and luxury high-rises that saturate public infrastructure should not be receiving tax breaks while the city struggles through budget cuts. Studies show that affordable housing when married with luxury development causes further displacement, ultimately making our neighborhood less affordable. Essentially, we’re subsidizing private developers to build more towers, that strain our infrastructure, raise our rents…all built on a small amount of park space that’s overwhelmed by the population that lives on top of it. It’s a bad deal.