Williamsburg residents will have one of their last chances to weigh in on the Domino Sugar factory development tomorrow, as Two Trees Management submits its plan to Community Board 1 and kicks off the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure that will determine the project’s fate.
It’s been a long and tortuous route, but the final pieces may be falling into place for Two Trees. When the developer purchased the troubled Domino property from the Community Preservation Corporation (CPC) in 2012, the CPC plan had already undergone a ULURP and been approved, meaning Two Trees could begin building according to the approved zoning restrictions.
But rather than proceed under what they considered to be a flawed plan, the developer hired the architects at SHoP to design a new proposal. Wednesday’s hearing will address changes to the existing plan to allow for taller towers, a redistribution of the floor area across various buildings, the permission of residential and commercial units to co-locate in the same building, and a realignment of the public access area to provide for more open space.
Dave Lombino, Director of Special Projects at Two Trees, told us that while he expects the ULURP to be approved without issue, development will proceed under the existing CPC plan if not. He added, “the real question for the [Community Board] is, do you prefer the Two Trees’ plan to the CPC’s?”
Two Trees believe their plan has earned the support of many in the neighborhood. Indeed, after facing a nearly decade-long war of attrition, opponents to development on the waterfront appear to be giving in. As the New York Times reported a few weeks ago, the attitude in the neighborhood seems to be that Two Trees has the best proposal, and if they don’t develop the land, another developer will.
Even the community group Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG), which fought both the developer-friendly 2005 rezoning of Williamsburg and the CPC’s proposal, tepidly supports the new plan. In an unofficial statement posted on their website in September, NAG highlighted the reduction in residential units, a commitment to locally owned business, minimum parking, and more affordable housing as significant improvements over the existing plan. The group will wait until Wednesday’s meeting to release its official position.
At a panel on development hosted by B+B last month, Community Board 1 member Esteban Duran emphasized the importance of affordable housing. He preferred not to say whether he supported the new plan, only admitting that he felt “duped” by CPC when they decided to reduce the number of affordable units they had initial promised by a third. Regarding Two Trees, he said, “I think moving forward there is an opportunity to work together to make sure that whatever happens next is something that we agree is best for everyone, although that’s always hard to find.”
Not everyone, however, is willing to accept this either-or scenario. Long before Two Trees bought the Domino land from the CPC, Save Domino — an organization founded by local landlord Stephanie Eisenberg — had begun bandying about what they called The Alternative Plan. The details of the plan remained vague, but central to its goal was turning the sugar refinery into a cultural center modeled after the Tate Modern in London. Last night, Save Domino member Colin Miles assured us the plan was moving forward and that they had secured an investor, but for reasons sensitive to the efficacy of the project, they would be waiting until after the CB1 hearing to provide more information.
With demolition work already well underway at the bottom of Grand Street and the initial stages of building on the current site of Havemeyer Park penciled in for as early as next year, it seems unlikely that a group like Save Domino will be able to stem the tide of development along the waterfront. That doesn’t mean they are giving up.
“If the current plan passes as is, I would be very surprised,” said Miles. “Two Trees came too late to the game. If it were five years ago, [the plan] would have shot through.”
Miles added, “I don’t think [Two Trees] will go with the CPC plan, they’d make more money if the sell it. ”
The ULURP is a long process involving additional reviews by the borough president, the City Planning Commission, the City Council and the mayor. Even by the most optimistic estimates, it will be sometime in March before it is completed. Save Domino is hoping that by that time the city will have a change in attitude brought on by newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to the development,” Miles admitted. “It would be nice to have a center for climate change and a center for urban agriculture. It would be nice to forget the whole thing and build a park. That’s not going to happen, but it would be nice.”
If the failure of the CPC to develop the Domino Property is any indication, nothing is certain until the last piece has fallen. While the Two Trees plan appears poised to succeed, if it doesn’t, there are always people willing to restack the pieces and start again.
Correction: The original version of this post was revised to correct the spelling of David Lombino’s name.