The City Planning Commission is now weighing Jed Walentas' proposal for a bold redo of the plan to develop the Domino Sugar factory site in Williamsburg with an exciting series of buildings that would create a new vision of a 21st-century Brooklyn.
Walentas' vision changes the Domino plan from a residential development to a mixed-use development, making space for the many tech and culinary startups that are clamoring for more commercial and industrial space in the city. That means jobs as well as affordable housing.The Walentas plan, embraced by many critics, offers some interesting and potentially valuable changes: new offices and more open space. Whether it would contain the same amount of affordable housing, and whether it would provide more benefit for the developer, require more analysis than Hindy provides.
By going higher, it opens up much more space for the people of Williamsburg, one of the most park-starved neighborhoods in the city
It's not just a question of design, and of jobs. It's an overall business decision.
Looking at the numbers
Brian Paul, a producer of The Domino Effect documentary, wrote last month in response to some of the enthusiasm:
As a planner and a resident of the area, I am increasingly dismayed with each new celebratory article on Two Trees’ plan that fails to properly consider the impact of extreme density or consider any kind of alternative to Battery Park City-style residential tower development. Commentators that are usually intelligent are allowing themselves to be boxed into Two Trees’ public relations framework of this project as a triumphant improvement on the “bland” poorly designed developments that have been built (or are soon to be built) elsewhere on the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront.He warned that the new project is a way to leverage more development rights:
Two Trees is effectively using the 2010 CPC zoning as a gun to the community’s head – “We already have the right to build 3 million square feet. Give us 400,000 more square feet and we’ll do some things you like – adding mixed-use and local retail – or else we will just build the CPC plan or sell it to someone who will.”He tries to parse the numbers:
So we see that a project of much less overwhelming density and much greater public benefit is indeed financially feasible and an extremely profitable long term investment for Two Trees. Just less profitable than the proposed development.The AY mention
Of course Two Trees does not need to build so big to turn a healthy profit. And of course Two Trees could provide more public benefit. But in the public-private partnership model we’ve seen on the waterfront and elsewhere in the City under the leadership of Mayor Bloomberg, the public is always the junior partner and the greater public good is constantly sacrificed for the developer’s profits.
Hindy invokes Atlantic Yards in his conclusion:
Bruce Ratner was the last developer to try to sell Brooklyn a new vision. His Frank Gehry-designed Atlantic Yards faded after opponents fought it from every possible angle for almost a decade. SHoP's Barclays Arena is a wonderful addition to downtown Brooklyn. Most arenas and stadiums around the country look like airplane hangars with signs. I hope the Planning Commission allows the Domino project to proceed. Brooklyn is ready to soar.That's a trifle simplistic.
Atlantic Yards still offers a cautionary tale. Gehry's arena was unbuildable, given the recession and the impossibility of constructing four towers at the same time.
As for the "wonderful addition," well, remember that Bruce Ratner would likely have produced a "hangar" had the design not leaked to Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff. Ratner then hired SHoP to improve the arena significantly.
But what Hindy doesn't acknowledge is that Atlantic Yards was sold to the public as a ten-year project, but Ratner later said that was never the timetable. It wasn't the fault of his opponents. It was his business plan.
Is the Domino business plan also a bait-and-switch? Based on the Atlantic Yards record, we can hardly be sure that the "exciting series" of buildings devised by architects will be built as promised.
Or can the city lock in the benefits and timetable that are in the project that it approves? Because it will, of course, get approved. Maybe all parties ought to be reading Gib Veconi on accountability.