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City Limits sees AY housing echoes in New Domino plan; Yassky, DePaolo differ

The proposed New Domino development in Williamsburg, according to an article in City Limits headlined CULTIVATE THE GRASSROOTS: A NEW DEVELOPMENT MODEL, has taken a page from the Atlantic Yards project in the way developers have gained community support, promising significant chunks of affordable housing in exchange for project that requires a major rezoning or override of current zoning.

The New York Community Council's Phil DePaolo--who left the People's Firehouse, a Williamsburg group that is working with developers on another project--criticized the Rev. Jim O'Shea of Churches United, a supporter of the New Domino plan. City Limits reports:
"Jim O’Shea is always crying about how people are being priced out, so why team up with these developers? He’s allowing himself to be used just like Bertha Lewis and ACORN with Atlantic Yards," says DePaolo. "These projects aren’t encouraging the creation of stable communities. It’s really a land grab."

O’Shea counters that grassroots organizations should be flexible in negotiating with developers to obtain affordable housing. "Housing for 600 families isn’t crumbs," he says. "Either the housing gets built or it doesn’t."

The question: are the tradeoffs worth it?

Yassky on board

City Council Member David Yassky thinks so. Citing the provision of affordable housing, Yassky Friday submitted comments to the Department of City Planning (DCP) fully supporting the New Domino, which would bring some 2200 apartments, including two 30-story and 40-story towers each, to an 11.2-acre site on and near the Williamsburg waterfront. (Yassky isn't mentioned in the City Limits article.)

By contrast, Yassky's position on the Atlantic Yards project has always been closer to the fence: supportive of some aspects, especially the affordable housing, but concerned about the environmental impact, especially traffic. It's interesting to note that Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the Brooklyn Democratic leader, has withheld his support for the project, citing Jane Jacobs and the need for more balanced development. After all, Lopez considers affordable housing one of his main issues.

Yassky's 33rd District includes the zone where the project would be built, just above the Willamsburg Bridge. He did not, for example, urge any historic preservation beyond the main Domino building expected to be landmarked. Yassky in 2005 led the Council to overrule the Landmarks Preservation Commission's designation of a Williamsburg waterfront building as a landmark.

Positions differ

Council Member Diane Reyna, whose 34th District includes a significant chunk of Williamsburg, has not endorsed the plan as presented but instead requested 1000 rather than 660 units of affordable housing, according to the Brooklyn Paper. (That would invariably require larger subsidies.)

And local housing activist DePaolo, whose New York Community Council recently co-sponsored a report on Williamsburg gentrification by Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, has withheld support until "density, zoning, public safety and neighborhood identity and preservation are addressed alongside affordability."

DCP is not voting up or down on the project, rather refining the scope of work, a prelude to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Supporters and opponents have generally expressed themselves in broad strokes, though DePaolo's testimony addresses specific tasks within the draft scope.

DDDB's perspective

There's a quote in the City Limits article from Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn:
Goldstein of Develop Don't Destroy doesn't see much unity ahead, however. "It’s to the benefit of the developers to divide communities," he says. "Affordable housing has become the leverage to get out-of-scale rezoning. You can see it with Atlantic Yards and in Williamsburg. Community groups should unite and not just quickly settle for terms that a developer offers."

Goldstein, I'm sure, knows that Atlantic Yards is an override of zoning rather than a rezoning, so he was apparently using sloppy shorthand (for which I've criticized the New York Times in the past.) Zoning is a political issue. It's understandable that a group committed to affordable housing would focus, as Bertha Lewis of ACORN has explained, exclusively on housing. But that's why political leaders should try to see the issues in all their complexity.

[Update] Goldstein sends me a clarification:
I'm pretty sure I did not call Atlantic Yards a rezoning. I specifically explained that the key difference between Atlantic Yards and the Domino plan is that for Atlantic Yards the state enacted a zoning override, whereas the Williamsburg project is going through ULURP and in the end will receive a negotiated rezoning.

Yassky's testimony

I am writing to express support for Community Preservation Corp’s (CPC) plan for the former Domino Sugar Plant. The site is a complex area to develop since there are a number of community wishes for area, including affordable housing and preservation. These do not easily go hand in hand due to several issues, financial and other, but I feel that CPC has stuck a balance.

I submitted testimony several weeks ago in support of landmarking the Domino refinery. I would like to reiterate the historical significance of this building in our City. Williamsburg has been one of the centers of industry in New York for centuries, and was the center for Brooklyn’s sugar production during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Domino Plant is the largest and most imposing reminder of this past that remains on our Waterfront today. In addition to representing North Brooklyn’s history, the Domino Sugar Processing Plant is a landmark in the traditional use of the word: every pedestrian, cyclist and automobile driver that crosses the Williamsburg Bridge sees the Domino Sugar Plant as a beacon on the Brooklyn waterfront. It is an imposing visual, and is among the most recognizable buildings in New York.

CPC’s commitment to include 30% affordable housing in their design is laudable. I have worked hard throughout the years to create and increase affordable housing along Brooklyn’s East River waterfront. During the rezoning we succeeded in creating a program that achieved 20% affordable housing in many of those buildings, and I am happy to see that CPC helping to preserve current Williamsburg communities by including 30% affordable housing.

Lastly, Community Preservation Corp. has pledged to create public access to the waterfront. The Mayor’s PlaNYC set goals to ensure that all New Yorkers have easy access to public open space, and I strongly support this goal. I applaud CPC’s commitment to enhance this goal.

Community Preservation Corp. has created a plan for the Domino Sugar site that will benefit the neighborhood. No plan can perfect for everyone, but I believe that CPC has done a competent job of creating a good balance between competing wishes for the site. This is a significant and positive step towards the continued development of Brooklyn’s waterfront.

DePaolo's testimony

Task: Land Use, Zoning and Public Policy

The draft EIS should study, as an alternative, a reduction of units to 2000 with 800 units set aside as affordable housing. The Bloomberg administration's failure to downzone the Southside of Williamsburg during the 2005 rezoning call for a close look at the impact of the proposed 400-foot towers.

Northside Williamsburg was downzoned with R6a or R6b zoning to offset some of the increased density of the towers now being built on the Northside of Williamsburg. These important protections were not granted to the Southside of Williamsburg.

Task: Socioeconomic Conditions

The draft EIS should study the economic feasibility of 40% affordable housing with 1/2 low-income ($18,000 to $35,000), and 1/2 moderate-income ($35,000 to $57,000) The Draft EIS should examine the effects of the action on socioeconomic conditions in the study area, including population characteristics, increase in economic activity, and the potential displacement of businesses and employment from the proposed action area. The analysis should follow the guidelines of the 2001 CEQR Technical Manual in assessing the proposed actions effects on socioeconomic conditions within ¼- and ½-mile study areas The principal issues of concern with respect to socioeconomic conditions are whether a proposed action would result in significant impacts due to: indirect residential displacement; and indirect business displacement. In conformance with the CEQR Technical Manual guidelines, the assessment of these areas of concern should begin with a detailed analysis.

Task: Historic Resources

The New York Community Council is pleased that the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has calendared a significant north Brooklyn industrial site for designation as a New York City Landmark. LPC voted unanimously to designate the processing house of the Domino Sugar refinery in Williamsburg Brooklyn. The processing house, which dates to 1883, is an icon of the Brooklyn waterfront. The structure housed three separate sugar refining operations in one vertically-integrated factory: the Filter House; the Pan House; and the Finishing House.

The calendaring focuses on only one building in a six-block site located on either side of Kent Avenue between Grand Street and the Williamsburg Bridge. While much of the remainder of the site consists of more recent structures of lesser architectural value, the calendaring omits the Adant House at South 5th Street, an 1883 building in which sugar cubes were manufactured, and a smaller 1883 power house located adjacent to the processing plant. The New York Community Council has advocated for the preservation of these two structures, and will continue to do so.

Task: Public Safety

The draft EIS should consider the impact on response times to Fire, Medical and Police emergencies. With a 45-second increase in response time to structural fires in the area formerly served by closed Engine Company 212 at 136 Wythe Ave., what impact will 2400 residential units and 220,000 square feet of retail have on response times? Response times increases for medical emergencies and police incident [sic] must be included in the draft EIS.

Task: Energy

The draft EIS should consider requiring new or rehabilitated buildings that comply with green building standards as set forth by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), minimum silver standards.

Task: Traffic, Parking and Mass Transit

The draft EIS should consider the impact of up to 2400 residential units and 220,000 square feet of retail on traffic and parking. What will the impact of this proposal have on our already stressed roads and lack of parking for current residents? 1,450 accessory parking spaces would be located on the project site, in below-grade parking. With the L train already severely overcrowded, and the J and G trains overflowing during rush hour, drastic population increase can have only one of two results: a greater number of people driving through Williamsburg, or a significant increase in rider-ship on public transit lines.

Task: Air Quality

Williamsburg, which is in Brooklyn Community District 1, has one of the highest asthma rates in the City. Asthma, which causes wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath, is the most common chronic disease among the children of Williamsburg. Air pollution and high concentrations of traffic in a densely populated area are factors contributing to the asthma problem. Approximately 5-10% of fine particle pollution is from soot from diesel exhaust, which seems to have the worst effect on the children’s asthma. Williamsburg is one area of the City that exceeds current federal air quality standards for fine-particle pollution. New York State will be required to submit a plan to the federal Environmental Protection Administration by 2008 detailing how it will bring its fine-particle pollution levels into compliance with federal clean air standards. Therefore, consideration should given in the draft EIS to limiting truck access to the proposed site, for morning delivery and pickup only, limit diesel-fueled buses and encourage electric-operated buses.

Until concerns regarding density, zoning, public safety and neighborhood identity and preservation are addressed alongside affordability, The New York Community Council cannot lend its support to CPC’s development of Domino Sugar.


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