The City Council unanimously approved the mammoth 2,200-unit Domino Sugar redevelopment plan on Thursday afternoon — a show of unity on a controversial project that will bring thousands of new residents to a Williamsburg waterfront that has been divided over the project since its unveiling six years ago.
The relatively anti-climactic vote ends the $1.2-billion project’s turbulent path through the city’s land use review process, from is rejection by Community Board 1 in March to its approval by the council’s Land Use committee late last month.
Opponents of the Domino project had mounted a last-minute attack, questioning the developers’ and the city’s commitment to making good on the promise to set aside 30 percent of the units at below-market rates.
That promise is contained in a “memorandum of understanding” between the city and the developers, Community Preservation Corporation Resources and the Katan Group — but opponents say that such documents are weaker than other agreements.
Indeed, the MOU specifically describes itself as “not a legally binding instrument.”
“If it’s not iron-clad, it’s not guaranteed, and you can’t oversee it,” said Phil DePaolo, a Williamsburg resident who opposes the project. “And all the promises made … are nowhere in sight. This is business as usual at the City Council!”
DePaolo said that a “restrictive deed,” rather than a “memorandum of understanding” would not only be legally binding, but would also require any subsequent owners of the waterfront property to uphold the 30-percent mandate.
Under current zoning, the Domino project must provide set aside at least 20 percent of its units as affordable housing.
City officials said that they were confident that Community Preservation Corporation Resources would live up to its commitments.
“[The developer] has earned a reputation as a responsible and respected developer of affordable housing in New York City,” said Eric Bederman, a spokesman for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
Councilman Steve Levin (D–Williamsburg), who convinced the developers to reduce the project’s two highest towers from 40 stories to 34, said that opponents’ concerns over the developer’s commitments were a “tempest in a teapot.”
Despite his vote in favor, Levin remains more concerned about the project’s effects on local infrastructure.
“We should be more concerned with the impact of large scale development on the community and what do we want to see on the waterfront,” said Levin.
But Community Board 1 member Ward Dennis remained critical of the city’s land-use process, which he believes enables development without firm legal commitments that concessions are upheld even if administrations and financial markets change.
“[What is] the wisdom of an ad hoc approval process that relies on unenforceable community benefit agreements?” Dennis wrote on his blog, 11211.