Domino Sugar factory owner Jed Walentas has a backup plan if neighbors don’t like his lofty new vision for the massive waterfront property: go back to the site’s much-maligned previous development blueprint.
Walentas, whose company Two Trees Management Co. bought the shuttered sugar refinery last year, told neighbors he hopes to get the greenlight for his proposal to build skyscraping edifices with eye-catching cutouts in the middle, but if that falls through he will revive the city-approved plan by the past owner Community Preservation Corporation Resources, which call for shorter more monolithic towers.
“We spent $185 million to purchase this site, and we’re going to get a return on our investment,” Walentas said on Thursday in his first meeting with Williamsburgers to discuss the future of Domino.
Neighbors, including many activists who battled the previous Domino development plan, greeted the Two Trees proposal with snark, derision, and anger, criticizing the project for its potential impact on transit, its light-blocking scale, and what they described as Walentas’s “my way or the highway” attitude.
“Maybe you think we are dumb, but we are not DUMBO,” community stalwart Isaac Abraham shouted at the builder, referring to the neighborhood that Walentas and his father David meticulously developed over the past two decades.
Walentas promised his proposal — which calls for taller, thinner, more distinctive buildings with slightly fewer apartments and substantially more office space and open space — is sensitive to the neighborhood and its values.
“We see tons of energy and talent and creative people who looking to start businesses or do things in their community,” said Walentas, who vowed to turn away big box stores and chain retailers in favor of “mom and pop” merchants, and insisted he chose a less lucrative plan by boosting commercial space and reducing residential units.
But critics say the development is all about the money.
“He comes across like Jesse Eisenberg with his tennis shoes and his hoodie, but he’s a total capitalist,” said activist Susan Pellegrino.
Other neighbors at the meeting, which was organized by critics of the previous Domino plan from Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, fear the giant buildings — one of which could become the tallest in the borough — will obstruct light and eventually house so many people that the community’s overburdened trains will become even more jam-packed.
Attendees also wanted guarantees that the 660 units of below-market rate housing slated to be included in the development will actually be affordable to Williamsburgers.
After the meeting, Two Trees director of special projects Dave Lombino, said he hopes neighbors come to embrace Walentas’ new design.
“Every change we’ve made has been in the interest of making it better,” he said.