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Domino builds momentum

Holey mackerel: Two Trees unveiled its new plans for the old Domino sugar factory, deciding to ditch bulkier buildings for taller, skinnier skyscrapers with giant holes in the middle. The one on the right could wind up being the tallest building in Brooklyn.
Courtesy of Two Trees Management Company

The developer of the Domino Sugar Factory officially got the zoning process rolling on Wednesday, backed by a slew of supporters who said they were anxious to bring below-market-rate housing and office space to Williamsburg.

Developer Two Trees presented its vision for the tall, skyline-redefining tower town on the East River to Community Board 1, the first voting body in the approval process for the zoning variance the project needs, on Wednesday night. Company reps and big-name backers testified that the proposal on the table now is a big step up from its previous incarnation.

“We think these plans are a significant improvement to the plans that won approval several years ago,” said Jed Walentas, who is the principal of Two Trees. “We wanted to create an atmosphere that replicates the atmosphere that is in the neighborhood today, not just an atmosphere of luxury housing.”

A bevy of backers showed up to tout the project’s virtues at the standing-room-only meeting, including representatives of Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D-Williamsburg), Brooklyn Brewery owner Steve Hindy, and the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance.

“This is in the long-term economic interest of out neighborhood,” said Nicholas Griffith, a member of the North Brooklyn Creative Economy Group. “We are not considering between this plan and nothing. We are considering two starkly different plans for this site and we support this one.”

Two Trees purchased the waterfront site, as well as the pre-approved plans, from Community Preservation Corporation Resources for $185-million last year.

The new high-rises are far taller than the original Domino design — one tower is shaped like a giant, rectangular zero, another balances apartments on offices like a hockey stick resting on a cinder-block, a third features terraced residences stacked along Kent Avenue, and the southernmost edifice is a pair of pencil-thin towers connected by a bridge that could become Brooklyn’s tallest structure at 598 feet and 55 stories.

The dramatic changes, including a request to build 20 stories taller than the previous owners, meant that Two Trees had to start the approval process all over again.

Two Trees’ plan calls for 2,284 apartments, down from 2,400 under Community Preservation Corporation Resources. The design also calls for more office space and smaller retail spaces that will not allow for big-box stores.

Walentas has claimed he will not abandon a non-binding promise by the previous owner to offer 660 units of below-market-rate housing and reiterated that promise Wednesday night.

But not everyone believed him or endorsed the plan.

“There are a lot of commitments being thrown around, but there is nothing binding,” said Brian Paul, one of the directors of “The Domino Effect,” an activist documentary tracking the dramatic neighborhood changes that have accompanied the project’s slow advance.

The design firm SHoP drew up the renderings and SHoP principal Vishaan Chakrabarti has been tag-teaming the presentation with Walentas since March, but Chakrabarti said the company will not prepare the final draft for all the proposed buildings.

“We are only going to design two, and no two adjacent, buildings,” said Chakrabarti. “We think different architects should bring their ideas and designs to the project.”

Because there were so many speakers, the board is hosting another meeting on Nov. 21 to accommodate additional public comment. The board is expected to vote on the proposal by Dec. 10, but its decision will not affect whether the development is ultimately built.

Hearing on Domino Sugar Factory development (250 Berry Street between Grand Street and S. First Street in Williamsburg). Nov. 21 at 6:30 pm.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.

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