The Community Board 1 Land Use Committee voted against the $1.2-billion redevelopment of the old Domino Sugar factory on Tuesday night, the first public rejection of the project as it enters the eight-month review process for a rezoning along the Williamsburg waterfront that would allow a multiple-skyscraper project that is larger than the law currently allows.
The 5-3 vote is merely a suggestion to the full community board, whose vote on March 9 is itself merely advisory to Borough President Markowitz, the City Planning Commission and the City Council, all of which have a say on the proposal.
But the rejection was a stumble for the Community Preservation Corporation, which seeks to rezone the old refinery site from manufacturing to residential in order to build a 2,200-unit waterfront complex with multiple skyscrapers.
In exchange, the developers promise publicly accessible waterfront open space and a far higher-than-required rate of affordable housing.
But even that affordable housing became a source of controversy, as board members complained that CPC has only committed to maintaining the below-market-rate rents for 15 years at the site. Other panelists complained that there is limited public transportation to the area, whose population is expected to boom.
“The bottom line is, we need proof that this is really needed,” said committee Chairman Ward Dennis. “We’re all for affordable housing, but we want permanent affordability — it’s a must for something we’ll sign off on.”
CPC executives said that the company is adamant about its offer of an unusually high 30-percent below-market-rate housing, or 660 units, but no official commitments were made to the permanence of those units.
Others attacked the transparency of the project, maintaining that too many questions have been left unanswered. CPC representatives did say that they are willing to change their heavily subsidized, six-phase project if the system of housing and retail space in the first site — the refinery’s former parking lot on Kent Avenue between South Third and South Fourth streets — doesn’t work as planned.
“The density of this project is required in order to make the entire program work,” said Susan Pollock, senior vice president of the development company, which bought the site just north of the Williamsburg Bridge in 2004 after Domino shut down operations.
“The [parking lot] site is so dense because we chose not to build on the [four acres] of open, public space that this community needs.”
But the developer’s promises to work on concerns didn’t faze the committee, which spent nearly three hours discussing changes that it wants — changes that would buffer the neighborhood’s ability to absorb the influx of people and transportation to the area.
The panel’s rejection will move to the full community board on March 9, and then to Markowitz, who will hold his own public hearing. It’s unclear whether those entities will echo the committee’s apparent disdain for the project.
It is typical in large land-use projects for local community boards to object on specific, parochial issues such as transportation or density, only to have those issues be ignored by the larger jurisdictions that have different interests.
One potential “adverse impact” of the new Domino not mentioned at the meeting — but outlined in the project’s Environmental Impact Statement — will fall on schools within a half mile of the site.
Two public schools — an elementary school and a middle school, both on North Fifth Street — are near or above capacity already, and the impact statement notes that these and other schools would see an influx of new students if the Domino plant is fully built out.
The CPC offers several solutions, mostly pertaining to changes within the school district: shift the catchment areas within the school district, move students to schools with available capacity, create new satellite facilities in other schools or construct new schools all together.
In the end, the members of the land-use committee who voted against the Domino project expressed frustration at the hearing, which took place at the Capital One Bank building in Greenpoint.
“We should just shoot ourselves right now,” said board member Heather Roslund, an opponent. “If this is the future of New York City, it’s just sad.”
The full Community Board 1 will take up the debate at its next meeting on March 9 at 6:30 pm at the Swinging Sixties Senior Citizens Center [211 Ainslie St. at Manhattan Avenue in Williamsburg, (718) 389-0009].
©2010 Community News Group
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