Skip to main content

Is the New Domino AY the sequel? Not with ULURP, but...

So, would the $1 billion, 11.2-acre New Domino project in Williamsburg really be an echo of Atlantic Yards? On the one hand, as I wrote, the fundamental issue is whether a developer can get a zoning change (ND) or zoning override (AY) to increase the value of development rights. And affordable housing is being used to justify the scale of the development and generate support from some neighborhood groups.

On the other, the New Domino will go through the city's land use review process, which involves much more public scrutiny than the Empire State Development Corporation's fast-track process. Also, there would be deeper affordability, the preservation of a historic structure, and the open space plan, offering connections to the Williamsburg waterfront, likely wouldn't seem like the private enclave feared at the Atlantic Yards site.

[updated] But there's one crucial consistency: in both cases we're asked to take on faith that the project should be as big as proposed, without seeing the developer's expected return.

A pre-ULURP meeting

Given the greater need for community input and approval, that's why representatives of affordable housing developer CPC Resources (CPCR, the for-profit arm of the nonprofit Community Preservation Corporation, or CPC), the controlling partner that owns the former Domino Sugar factory site, appeared Tuesday night before Brooklyn Community Board 1's ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) Committee.

They answered--or, in some cases, not quite answered--some cordial but often challenging questions from community members. About 75 people attended the meeting, held at the Swinging Sixties Senior Center on Ainslie Street, in a more placid segment of the Williamsburg two stops east on the L train.

(The official New Domino web site so far offers renderings, as at top, with little context for the tallest buildings, two 300 feet and two 400 feet. A site set up by community members concerned about the project,, offers views with more context, such as this perspective from Grand Street, right. That's not to say that other views of the waterfront don't show large buildings. Northside Piers is pretty big, but the development on the northside waterfront is not nearly as extensive as that proposed for the New Domino, just north of the Williamsburg Bridge.)

The meeting Tuesday was preliminary to ULURP, which likely would begin next year and last some seven months, involving at least two public hearings, an advisory vote by the Community Board and the Borough President, and votes by the City Planning Commission and the City Council.

By contrast, Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner didn't have to answer questions before community boards, though an entourage made a one-night sweep of the three affected community boards to offer testimony in August 2006 during the period of environmental review, and point man Jim Stuckey did answer some written questions at a raucous (but allegedly packed and without city or state involvement) 11/29/04 informational meeting sponsored by the three CBs. And there was that highly contentious meeting, in March 2004, sponsored by the Park Slope Civic Council, the only time a representative of Frank Gehry's office participated.

Some constraints

On Tuesday, CPCR's project manager, VP Susan M. Pollock, was joined by project team members, including architects and a landscape architect, as well as in-house staffers, p.r. people, lobbyists, and a lawyer. (The p.r.firm Geto & de Milly has also worked for Forest City Ratner, as has the ubiquitous environmental consulting firm AKRF.)

She described the project as an effort to create the most affordable housing given the constraints of the site and other costs. The cost of preserving the 250' x 144' refinery building, which has been landmarked, is considerable; a new interior structure must be created, with a 60' x 100' courtyard carved out to supply light and air. The building also would offer community facility space, retail space on Kent Avenue, and parking below grade.

Also, because the income range of the promised affordable units (30% of the 2200 units) stretches lower than in many other projects, market-rate units would cross-subsidize the affordable ones, along with city subsidies.

And that's why the developer seeks significantly increased development rights for the "upland site," a nearly one-block parcel east of Kent Avenue in a former parking lot, creating buildings that could go up to 140 feet tall, at bottom in image (right) from New Domino site.

They want to transfer 190,000 square feet of development rights--a good-sized tower--from the waterfront site to the upland site. The site would have a floor area ratio (FAR) of 6.0, significantly higher than the 3.6 FAR allowed via the recent rezoning of other parts of the neighborhood and also the existing FAR of 2.0 for a heavy manufacturing district.

While residents in the audience expressed general sympathy with the goals of the project, some were sharply critical of the details. Steven Frankel questioned the density of the upland parcel, wondering if it would set a precedent for future requests for zoning variances.

(Image with building heights from The web site for now does not identify the people responsible for it.)

Pollock said no. With the exception of "two towers that are taller," she said, the upland segment shouldn't feel out of scale. "I don't feel it sets a precedent," she said, because other upland projects likely would not offer the justification of affordable housing and thus not get a zoning variance. (Well, maybe. Quadriad is already asking for a density bonus in exchange for affordable housing on a project farther from the waterfront.)

What cost, what profit?

The size of the project relates to the costs of the project, and the ambitious goals, proponents said. "We think this density is necessary to make it work, on an economic basis," said Mark Levine, an attorney for the project.

That begged a fundamental question I got to ask: what does "make it work" mean in terms of expected profit? Does CPCR expect a 5%, 10%, or 20% return? Pollock wouldn't give a number, but said "we have been pushed to the limit," noting that CPCR typically runs through complicated financial models to figure out how much affordable housing it can develop.

As with other projects, she added, the project must work for investors and to gain financing. Therein lies the black box; unlike, say, with the stated (but unmet) requirement that Forest City Ratner provide a pro forma statement of expected profits when it bid for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard, the developer of the New Domino need not produce such estimates. [Updated] Only after approval were some ambiguous documents released regarding the projected rates of return, though they still didn't specify the developer's profits.]

And CPCR, for which this project is an ambitious stretch in terms of new construction (it has managed the large-scale revamp of the Parkchester development and has a significant track record in Williamsburg), is not working just for itself or another nonprofit entity. In the case of the New Domino, the silent partner is Isaac Katan, a Brooklyn developer known for aggressive, out-scale development in places like the South Slope.

So even if CPCR is not bound to maximize its own return, it still may be contractually required to deliver a profit beyond its usual return. (Katan gets very short shrift in publicity material for the project.)

AY redux?

Project critics point to the New Domino as the second largest project after Atlantic Yards, and the comparison came up on Tuesday. Stephanie Eisenberg, a vocal critic of the project, asked Pollock a leading question: "People are calling the New Domino 'Atlantic Yards the sequel;' how do you respond to that?"

"I don't think that's valid, but I don't want to be dragged into that," Pollock responded. Without making any reference to Atlantic Yards, she added that CPCR has made "a sincere, wholehearted effort" to work with the community.

Pollock, who has a longstanding background in affordable housing, comes off as less slick than former AY point man Stuckey in representing a giant project that mixes market-rate and affordable units; Stuckey's track record is more rooted in developing mega-projects and office space, and Forest City Ratner had previously not developed housing.

No one wants to be compared with Atlantic Yards, apparently. Still, CPCR has taken a page out of the mega-developer book; they recently ran an advertisement in local weeklies touting a poll in which Williamsburg residents said they supported increased density if it resulted in greater affordability.

That's not surprising, but the details would be intriguing. However, the questions and answers are not yet available; CPCR has promised an exclusive to one news outlet, which has not yet published its story.

Transportation questions

CPCR touts a new water taxi stop and shuttle bus to deal with new transportation demands posed by at least 4500 new residents, but Teresa Toro, chair of CB1's Transportation Committee, said she didn't think that was enough.

Toro suggested that the developer partner with a car-sharing service and would have to ensure that pathways to the water taxi stop, across the truck route of Kent Avenue, would be safe.

Pollock said CPCR would consider car-sharing and other improvements. "We are trying to do what we can," she said. "We can't solve the city's transportation problem."

She also said the developer has "a tremendous interest" in preserving the old Domino sign, but "we're not ready to make a full commitment; we don't know where it's going yet."

No crystal ball

Levine said the affordable housing would be made enforceable through contractual language known as restrictive declarations. However, he allowed that some details regarding the project could change.

"This is going to be built over eight years," he said. "Nobody's smart enough to know the market over time."

In that statement, he was a little more candid than those representing Atlantic Yards, who, though they express to investment analysts generic qualms about predicting the future, have persisted in insisting that the project would take ten years and the arena would open in 2009. (Well, on the latter, there's finally some movement.)


Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

For Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting Sept. 19, another bare-bones agenda (green wall?)

A message from Empire State Development (ESD) reminds us that the next Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life Meeting--which aims to update community members on construction and other issues--will be held:
Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 6 pm
Shirley Chisholm State Office Building
55 Hanson Place
1st Floor Conference Room
Brooklyn, NY 11217 The typically bare-bones, agenda, below, tells us nothing about the content of the presentation. One thing to look for is any hint of plans to start a new building on the southeast block of the project by the end of the year.

If not, ESD is supposed to re-evaluate a longstanding request from project neighbors to move back a giant wall encroaching on part of Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues. It's said to enclose construction activity, but, in recent months, has significantly served to protect worker parking.

Also, by the way, if you search for Atlantic Yards on Google or the ESD website, it leads to this page for the Atlantic Ya…