Following their purchase of the Domino Sugar site in October 2012, Two Trees Management Company announced that they would be scrapping the City-approved development plans of previous site owner Community Preservation Company (CPC) in favor of one that more fully incorporated input from residents and community groups.
Even the neighborhood’s least cynical residents had doubts whether their ideas would actually be included in the plans for the new, new Domino. After all, the 2005 rezoning and subsequent development boom left North Brooklyn with countless broken promises.
Last week, Two Trees began phase two of their community outreach plan, circling back to the stakeholders they had approached for input to review the new site plans. So far, the developer says the response has been positive, with most agreeing that Two Trees’ plans and community outreach process improve on CPC’s. And while doubts about the ability of the waterfront infrastructure to support all the new housing remain, those will be addressed during a lengthy land use process, beginning with a Community Board 1 meeting on April 4th and ending with a city council vote around December.
“I think, almost overwhelmingly, everyone thinks the plan is infinitely better than the previous plan,” said Two Trees’ Jed Walentas before a meeting with Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG). “People have a critique here and there, but on balance are hugely supportive and I think supportive at every level.”
Among the highlights of the new plans, designed by SHoP Architects, are huge jumps in open and commercial space, with the refinery capable of housing 3-4,000 jobs. There will also be new community space, including a school and a recreational facility, more than five acres of new public parkland, with sports fields, lawns, varied seating options and gardens, a waterfront esplanade with a kayak launch and floating pool and a new public street network with improved waterfront connections and more trees. Small-scale neighborhood retail will be located on the ground floors of the buildings, with no big box retail in the development.
There will also be 660 units of affordable housing, the same number that was envisioned but never committed to in the original plan.
Under the new design there will be an increase in density under 10 percent, which results from the addition of more than 500,000 square feet of office space – a 539 percent jump, and the lowering of retail space by 62 percent to 79,250 square feet. Residential square footage will be reduced by more than 150,000. Open space will be raised by almost 60 percent to 227,000. The plan also calls for taller, but fewer buildings, resulting in greater public access to the waterfront.
In addition, Two Trees took potential flooding from storms like Hurricane Sandy into consideration, choosing to build the new buildings 150 feet from the East River as opposed to CPC, who planned to build 50 feet away.
As the public meetings continue, Walentas noted that rather than complaints, “There have been a lot of questions. I think when people hear the thought process that went through it, making the plan and all the decisions, it makes sense to most people.”
One of those people is Rob Solano, Executive Director of Churches United For Fair Housing, a tenant advocacy group that hosted a meeting with more than 400 attendees to discuss the Domino plans. While he intends to remain vigilant that the Southside’s needs for affordable housing, open space and jobs are met, so far, he said the plans are mostly on target. “I think [Two Trees] is committed to ensuring that these buildings represent the people of this community,” he said. “There is no use for affordable housing if it’s for people that make $140,000 or more. There’s also a need for larger apartments for four and five member families and a need for senior housing. What we heard was a commitment from Two Trees to match the project with the needs of the longtime community.”
Community leaders were also positive about Two Trees’ neighborhood outreach. Assemblyman Joe Lentol said, “The new Domino plan has shown Two Trees’ commitment to involving the community in the process. This new proposal is much more imaginative than the original plan, which now includes plans for a much needed public high school and it has definitely found ways to provide for the exponential growth of North Brooklyn’s creative economy.”
Councilmember Steve Levin added, “I’m glad to see that Two Trees is willing to involve the community by holding meetings and gathering feedback. I will continue to work with them and members of the community so that the project will address the need for affordable housing, open space, and the many other issues that are of concern.”
Of course, when you’re redeveloping more than 3 million square feet, the land use process is sure to be a lengthy one, and it begins with Community Board 1. Because her committee had not yet reviewed the plans, Land Use Chair Heather Roslund couldn’t comment in an official capacity. Her initial opinion of the plans remained in line with her concerns from the original design. “No matter how you slice it, 3.1 million square feet does not fit on that site,” she said. “And that was the discussion the first time around, ‘there’s too much density.’ There’s still too much density.”
Roslund was, however, professionally intrigued by SHoP’s design. “There’s so much potential for the site. As an architect, when you’re in school they teach you to ask ‘what does the project want to be?’ I think SHoP has done a better job in terms of site planning issues and the dynamic of the buildings, but again, they have 3.1 million square feet.”
“The plan is not set in stone,” concluded Walentas. “There are still opportunities for improvement, but we’re certainly really pleased with what the response has been so far.”
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