City Planning Commission is sweet on Domino

Judge says ‘Domi-YES’ in dismissing suit against sugar refinery redevelopment

The $1.2-billion redevelopment of the defunct Domino Sugar refinery — which could add 6,000 new residents to an already saturated Williamsburg waterfront — passed another hurdle today with the unanimous approval of the City Planning Commission.

The 13 commission members praised the plan for its higher-than-mandated levels of affordable housing, and commitment to preserving historic structures on the site of the refinery, which closed in 2004.

The plan also calls for four acres of publicly accessible open space at a waterfront site that has been fenced off for years.

“This project will bring high-quality design and architecture, ample open space, significant community facilities, and much needed housing, both market rate and affordable, to the Williamsburg community,” said City Planning Chairwoman Amanda Burden. “I am pleased to vote yes.”

The panel requested only minor concessions from the developer, Community Preservation Corporation Resources, which agreed to eliminate several hundred parking spaces and shorten three tall towers to eliminate some shadows on Grand Ferry Park at the northern end of the sprawling site.

After the vote, Susan Pollock, vice president of the development company, celebrated the commission’s decision, while accepting the tweaks.

The vote, which came six months after Community Preservation Corporation Resources introduced its plan to the city, was hardly as contentious as previous rezoning battles in Williamsburg, such as the Broadway Triangle and Rose Plaza on the River, despite being several times larger.

But many local groups and politicos still object to the project, which will bring an estimated 2,400 new units to the Williamsburg waterfront in eight residential towers.

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D-Williamsburg), Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Williamsburg), and Councilman Steve Levin (D-Williamsburg) all questioned the proposal’s density and its effect on crowding on the L and J trains, and on Kent and Wythe avenues.

“The applicant has not adequately addressed the transportation and congestion problems associated with the project,” Levin reiterated after the vote. “The height and density of the Domino plan will have a negative impact on the community.”

Earlier this year, Community Board 1 rejected the developer’s original proposal by a nearly 2-1 margin, with Land Use Committee Chairman Ward Dennis characterizing it as “simply too big.”

Despite the unanimous Planning Commission vote on Monday, panel member Angela Battaglia echoed many of these concerns, saying that she has often “waited for three to four packed trains before getting on another packed train.”

But she nevertheless voted for the project because she was “absolutely thrilled” with the inclusion of 660 below-market rate units.

The project now moves to the City Council, where Levin may have an advantage, given that councilmembers tend to defer to the member in whose district a rezoning occurs. Levin has said he wants to chop 800 more units from the project.

But the planning commission clearly believed that Domino’s developers achieved the balance between affordable housing and density, which Commission member Irwin Cantor jokingly compared to the song, “Love and Marriage.”
“Affordability and density: you can’t have one without the other,” said Cantor, mercifully not singing.