It’s safe to assume that the relationship between Williamsburg residents and Two Trees, the developers responsible for the Domino Sugar factory mega-development, is somewhat fraught. But last night at The Woods, which was uncharacteristically serious, the tension was all too palpable as nearby tenants and homeowners packed the darkened bar to hear updates about the development from Two Trees principal Jed Walentas.
Amongst other things, Walentas announced plans to build a community recreation center (complete with an indoor swimming pool and basketball courts), and confirmed that the site’s 700 units of affordable housing will be the same size as the market rate units and “roughly evenly distributed throughout the buildings.” Walentas also announced that though Havemeyer Park will no longer exist at its current location, it will be “replicated” on the other side of Kent come next spring.
However, Walentas once again confirmed the ephemerality of the park. “It will eventually be displaced,” and the new park will “definitely have a different flavor to it,” he said, given that the City’s Parks Department always has a heavy hand in public spaces like this one and will most likely dictate plans for its design and landscape.
Participants at the front of the audience voiced most of the frustrations. Tenants and homeowners complained of parking issues and noise from demolition, which has been going on for about a year. “Right now, it’s really bad,” one man said.
Another audience member voiced their concern about the types of tenants Two Trees would be courting for the site’s retail space. “We’ve had zero conversations with retailers,” Walentas responded. “But we want to rent to local entrepreneurs. We’re not going to have a Duane Reade or national retailers.”
Listeners at the back sipped their beers and giggled when things spiraled downward into ridiculousness late in the Q+A session. One woman requested that the community center have ping-pong tables, while another issued an impassioned complaint about “the stink” emanating from the East River. “It’s awful,” she said, before asking if Two Trees had a solution. “I don’t know anything about that,” Walentas responded.
Certain complaints might have seemed arbitrary or clearly out of the developer’s control, but the residents’ collective anxiety was real. Walentas readily admitted, “We’re not going to build a 600,000 square foot building here without annoying some people.”
But residents and homeowners also voiced concerns that extended well beyond the construction project and into a future involving thousands of new neighbors. Walentas’s response to concerns about how the neighborhood’s existing infrastructure and school system would handle this influx was basically that the city needs to come up with a better growth plan. However, he pointed to Two Trees’ plans to include office space in the development as one way in which they are seeking to alleviate a dramatic increase in commuter traffic. Walentas said the plan is proceeding “with the hope that more people would stay in the neighborhood [for work] instead of commuting to the city.”
One resident pushed Walentas for an answer regarding the transportation impact of the development. Walentas sighed and declined to summarize the extensive report issued by the Department of City Planning regarding environmental impact, though he did confirm that the city is requiring Two Trees to provide a shuttle service that would transport commuters to particular trains. He added that Two Trees is “definitely” working on implementing a ferry stop near the development.
The night provided a glimpse of the tedious balancing act developers must perform while undertaking an enormous project like Domino, and demonstrated just how enormous of an impact the Domino development will have on an existing community. While the news that Havemeyer Park will be restored at a different location next spring was a delight to many residents, it seems any hope of leverage against the project proceeding in its current form has waned. Still, some residents were clearly still ready to squabble with Two Trees over how construction would proceed. “Why doesn’t it have viewing panes?” a resident asked of the construction barrier. The audience audibly guffawed and Walentas had to confirm he heard right, before responding: “We will add viewing panes, Al — can we add viewing panes?”