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Much Ado About Domino: Levin Still Says No

At City Hall, Councilmember Stephen Levin continued the fight against the New Domino, a high-rise housing development slated for the Williamsburg waterfont, which entered the first stages of the City Council approval process on Monday morning, with a hearing of the land use committee.
The plan, put forth by Community Preservation Corporation, encompasses the rezoning of an 11.2 acre site on the Southside waterfront to include four 300-400 foot glass towers and 2,200 residential units—660 of which will be permanently affordable—in addition to retail and commercial space, and more than four acres of open and green space. The plan includes a waterfront esplanade, a complete overhaul of the existing wharf and the preservation of the brick landmark Refinery complex, erected in 1882 and land-marked in 2007, as well as the famous Domino Sugar sign. In addition, the plan calls for a job-training program, and expects to create upwards of 1,000 jobs for community residents.
The plan was unanimously approved by the City Planning Commission at the beginning of June, as every member praised CPC for their efforts and the plan for its proposed 30 per cent affordable housing, four acres of waterfront open space and hundreds of permanent job opportunities for local residents. However, the plan is far from being endorsed by Councilmember Stephen Levin, in whose district the New Domino will fall. Since its initial rejection by Community Board 1 on the basis of height, density and the potential for overcrowding on the existing train and bus lines, Levin and his supporters have been stringently against the plan as it is now presented, calling for more affordable housing, lower density and additional transit infrastructure. In addition to height and density, Levin voiced concern over the already overcrowded bus and subway systems, which he believes cannot possibly support such an influx of new residents.
“It is my opinion that the entire density of this project needs to be brought down significantly,” Levin said. “The project, such as it is, will be so big, so dense, with so many people, that the negative impacts on the community would outweigh the benefits. It is important to look at the context of the neighborhoods while we are facing the challenges of the affordable housing crisis, gentrification and an already overburdened infrastructure. Real, significant changes need to be made before this plan is approved.”
Before the hearing, two very distinct crowds gathered on the steps of City Hall: One in favor of the development, many of whose attendees donned bright yellow CPC-sponsored “Domi-YES!” shirts and were joined by Councilmember Diana Reyna and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez; and one against the development, led by Levin and Assemblymembers Joe Lentol and Vito Lopez.

Lopez called for a significant height reduction, and the implementation of a CPC-sponsored bus service for New Domino residents and those of surrounding developments.
“The sewers are inadequate. The public transit is inadequate. They are bringing 7,000 new people,” Lopez said. “That won’t work. They need to pay for a shuttle bus to Manhattan, 14th Street. They have to bring their buildings to one size—28 stories—and bring down the development to 1,800 or 1,900 units, and build it responsibly.”
Assemblyman Lentol, a longtime champion for open and park space who is largely responsible for the development of East River State Park on the Williamsburg waterfront, echoed Levin’s concerns, and voiced his own regarding the quality and quantity of open space included in the New Domino plan. Though the plan includes nearly four acres of accessible park space, the influx of new residents—an estimated 7,000—will result in a slight ratio reduction of the amount of park space per person.
“This is not against Domino. We are for affordable housing, we are against height and density like Domino wants to build,” Lentol said. “The city promised us open space in their redevelopment plan in 2005. What did we get? A promise.”
On the other hand, Councilmember Diana Reyna applauded the New Domino Plan, citing the waterfront esplanade as a vital necessity that would potentially provide relief to a community that has been historically, consistently and systematically underserved in terms of parkland and open space. Reyna also spoke out in support of the proposed 30 per cent affordable housing units offered in the plan.
“The continued displacement is creating an environment of cynicism, as businesses and families are squeezed out of our neighborhood. New Domino can help relieve this tension,” she said.
As the project creeps closer to a City Council vote, questions about the nature of possible negotiations are on the minds of elected officials and community members alike, as Levin has made it clear that without significant alterations, he won’t budge in his opposition.
“We have had it with overdevelopment in our neighborhood,” Levin said. “We are sick and tired of people trying to divide us, saying that you’re either for affordable housing or you’re for responsible development. We say, we’re here for both, because this is our neighborhood.”

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