The protracted effort to redevelop the former Domino Sugar refinery stumbled unexpectedly on February 24, as a key committee disapproved of a plan to rezone 11.2 acres of the Williamsburg waterfront.
With a vote of 5 to 3, Community Board 1’s Land Use Committee recommended a disapproval of the New Domino plan this week, with several modifications including the reduction of the site’s zoning density to match previously approved levels.
“It seems to me it’s a privately owned site that will be zoned residential, and the question is at what scale, what density,” said Land Use Chair Ward Dennis, who abstained from the vote. “We had a 3.7 density years ago. We lost that battle completely.”
The plan, which was presented to the committee by representatives of the developer, Community Preservation Corporation Resources, consisted of 2,200 units of housing, 660 of which are designated affordable, and includes 147,000 square feet of community facility space, 128,000 square feet of retail space, 98,000 square feet of commercial space, 1,694 parking spaces, and four acres of future park space along the waterfront.
CPC Resources Senior Vice President Susan Pollock defended the New Domino’s density, explaining that the market rate units are subsiziding the affordable units in the development in order to make the program work and that many of the project’s costs are fixed.
“This project has to stand on its own economically or it won’t work. It fails. It’s like pulling a leg out from a chair,” said Pollock.
Yet several Land Use committee members criticized the scale and environmental impact of the proposal. Dennis argued for 33 percent affordable housing units, while Community Board 1 Chair Chris Olechowski questioned the cost and need for parking spaces and Land Use Committee member Del Teague called the project “massive” and lashed into the developers for not considering senior homeownership options.
“I don’t understand how the neighborhood is going to absorb this influx without some commitment form the city to do something,” said Teague. “What’s happening now is going to effect the community for years and years to come. My concern is that 15 years down the road, we’re going to be looked at as imbeciles for selling out this community.”
The committee’s vote was far from unanimous, as members Simon Weiser, Jose Leon and Heather Roslund voted against the resolution. Leon commented that the project was “an opportunity” to bring affordable housing to an area that is largely vacant. CB 1 member Rob Solano, who did not cast a vote but attended the meeting, cited the addition of over 1,000 new construction-related jobs to the area that would result if the project were approved.
On the board’s decision, Pollock said: “This was a close split vote.We will certainly consider the issues raised, and we remain confident that the New Domino is a spectacular development for the community and merits support and approval.”
Borough President Marty Markowitz has already scheduled a public hearing for March 11 to consider the recommendations of the board and the public at large.
Several board members pointed to the absences of influential committee members Monsignor Joseph Calise and Rabbi David Niederman as a strong indication that the full board could vote differently next month. Still, members such as Roslund expressed resignation at the scale of the project.
“This is the future of New York City?” said Roslund. “It’s so sad. We should shoot ourselves right now.”
Note: The story was updated to reflect Simon Weiser, Jose Leon and Heather Roslund's vote. They did not vote for the project, but against the resolution. We regret the error.