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Oh, oh, Domino! Lawsuit seeks to halt megaproject on Williamsburg waterfront

The ambitious Domino Sugar redevelopment is the target of a lawsuit.
The Brooklyn Paper

Hold the sugar!

Critics of the $1.5-billion redevelopment of the former Domino Sugar factory into 2,200 units housing sued the city and the project’s developer last week to reverse the rezoning of the waterfront site.

The suit, filed in State Supreme Court by the Williamsburg Community Preservation Coalition, argues that the City Council, Department of City Planning, and the project’s developer, Community Preservation Resources Corporation, failed to conduct the required thorough environmental review of the project.

The suit was first reported on Monday in The Real Deal.

The 34-page lawsuit contends that the review “failed to take a hard look at the adverse environmental impacts of the project,” including its deleterious effect on traffic, nearby schools and subway lines, and publicly accessible open space.

An attorney for the plaintiffs argued that the city approved the plan based on an “artificial analysis.” The project that the City Council ultimately passed promised that 30 percent of the units would be priced at below-market rates but only required 20 percent of the project comprise such units.

“Either lock in the 30 percent … or realistically redesign the project to an appropriate scale,” said Jeff Baker, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. “We believe the project is oversized for the area and not necessary. I don’t believe the applicant ever intended to do it to 30 percent.”

An executive with the project’s developer dismissed the lawsuit, saying she was “confident that the rigorous and comprehensive review process culminating in the approval of the New Domino complied with all applicable legal requirements.” A city spokeswoman said basically the same thing.

Six plaintiffs, which include Domino opponents Stephanie Eisenberg, a metal working factory owner and real estate developer; and Brandon Cole, a screenwriter, signed onto the lawsuit, which was filed last Wednesday.

In his testimony to the City Planning Commission in April, Cole argued that the developer should consider 50 percent below-market rate units while calling the architectural design of the project “mediocre.”

“When I look at this proposed development I ask myself two basic architectural questions: does it fit on the land and does it connect to its surroundings,” said Cole. “My answer to both these questions is no, it doesn’t do either one.”

But the Planning Commission gave its unanimous approval to the project on June 7 and a key city council committee hammered out what would be the final design on the project three weeks later.

The project, conceived five years ago, could take more than a decade to complete. Construction on the first part of the project, an upland parcel on S. Fourth Street and Kent Avenue, is scheduled to begin late next year — pending litigation, of course.

Updated 4:12 pm, December 1, 2010: Includes more context — and a spelling correction!
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Local from W'burg says:
Part of the issue here is that the affordability covenants, sold to the Council as integral to the rezoning, are not--in fact--deed restricted. The purported 660 units of affordable housing are not part of the zoning deal. The inclusionary zoning requirements of the rezoning only provide either (a) 20% (i.e., 440) units at 80% AMI (e.g., a 1BR rent of $1,200), or (b) 10% (220) units at 80%, and 15% (330) units at 125% AMI (e.g., a 1BR rent of $1,900). The 'promise' (FWIW) of 660 units affordable at rents down to 30% AMI (1BRs @ $300) has always been a 'goal' of the developer, which is reflected only in a non-binding agreement with the City, and which would only be provided if and when the City ponies up the funds to pay for that depth and extent of affordable housing. In other words, the Council approved the rezoning on the basis of an affordable housing dynamic that it failed to require as part of that rezoning.

Insofar as the EIS, it 'solves' the public transit issue by suggesting that the Marcy Ave station can handle the increased volume by installing two more turnstiles. It does not mention the Bedford L, because technically it isn't the closest station, and therefore need not be addressed. It proposes to address the schools issue by agreeing to provide commercial space for a school, but makes such agreement contingent on city funding for the school itself. It proposes to provide public space along the water, contingent on funding from DPR for upkeep. The EIS is pretty contrived to provide a predetermined answer: that all the impacts of 2200 units can be mitigated, but all that mitigation will fall on the City's wallet.
Dec. 1, 2010, 3:52 pm

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