GE [Explored - 2013.06.18]

The landmarked refinery won’t be demolished. (Photo: Dima James’s Flickr)

The Domino Sugar factory has been lying idly all summer on the Williamsburg waterfront, but its condominium future as high-rise apartments is now officially upon us, as part of the complex has been approved for demolition by the Department of Buildings. A rear building at 2 Grand Street was approved on July 29 and multiple attached buildings at 314 Kent Ave were approved a few days ago, on August 20.

According to Dave Lombino, Director of Special Projects at Two Trees, the approvals are the first of many that will be necessary before the company can actually begin demolition, which he projects will take place sometime next month.

Once they’ve received all permits, Two Trees will demolish the northernmost section of the factory, on Kent and Grand, and the large southern section that stretches from the Williamsburg Bridge to the landmarked refinery building, which Two Trees intends to restore, although its interior will be turned into office space.

“We need to demolish some of the buildings now in order to be able to start work on the quarter-mile long waterfront bulkhead,” said Lombino. “The bulkhead is a significant piece of work that needs to happen before any parkland or buildings are constructed west of Kent Avenue many months down the road.”

The first building to be constructed will not be on the waterfront, but on the site of the current Havemeyer Park, the pop-up bike trail, “urban farm,” and outdoor movie theater built by Two Trees on a vacant area of the factory grounds at the corner of Kent Ave and South 3rd Street. It will not be affected by this first burst of work, however, and its lease lasts until May of 2014, at which time Two Trees “may or may not” extend it, according to Lombino. Half the 660 units planned for this first high-rise will be affordable housing.

Brooklyn Bike Park, Domino Sugar Factory lot

Havemeyer Park. (Photo: Scott Lynch’s Flickr)

Megan Sperry, who directed a documentary last year about gentrification in New York called The Domino Effect, and who regularly collaborates with opposition organization Save Domino, believes Two Trees is being “shady” by rushing into demolition. A post on her movie’s blog accuses Two Trees of ignoring the community by beginning demolition without first going through a Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), the series of meetings with the community board and the city planning commission that must take place before the new plan is approved.

“They want to pretend that they are ‘making progress’ so that the community will believe that they have lost the battle,” said Sperry. “I have had conversations with people in the community who believe that it’s a ‘done deal,’ which to me is very disheartening. It seems that the community has gotten used to losing to the developer.”

Two Trees bought the Domino Factory from Community Preservation Corporation Resources (CPC) last year. CPC’s own plan for developing the site was much hated by the community, but the ULURP for rezoning that it held in 2010 nevertheless ended with an approval. In March of this year, Two Trees unveiled their radical redesign of CPC’s plan.

Community organization NAG, which is no fan of gentrification and is currently fighting tooth and nail against the developments in Greenpoint, released a statement two days ago offering its reluctant support of Two Trees’s new version of a developed Domino, citing its increase in open space and affordable housing, as well as its promise to put local businesses in its retail space.

According to Lombino, Two Trees will indeed be conducting a ULURP, and is putting together the first public review for the process this fall. They’ve started the demolition process before the ULURP because they already have the rezoning they need to do so, left over from the previous owner’s approved plan.

“We’re confident it will move forward,” said Lombino, of the plan. “But we have always said that in the event our new plan does not gain approval, we will develop under the existing zoning. The abatement, demo and waterfront work is a prerequisite to developing either plan.”