[UPDATE BELOW] The ball's gotten rolling on plans for the new development over at the Domino Sugar Refinery, with the project's Uniform Land Use Review Process kicking off earlier this month. And though protests have been somewhat subdued since initial plans were released earlier this year, the ULURP hearings have reintroduced some of the Domino development backlash—which last night included a large papier mache carrot. More on that in a minute.
In March, real estate company Two Trees Management revealed principal Jed Walentas's plans for the transformation of the abandoned refinery, which includes 2,284 proposed residential units and over 630,000 square feet of proposed office space. Activists have been quick to point out over the past couple of weeks that any large-scale residential and office-space development warrants some concern—particularly when the development is along the condo-ed out Williamsburg waterfront; and some of that pushback seems to be making its mark.
"Instead of giving the usual power point selling all the benefits, it was a very defensive presentation," Brian Paul, one of the filmmakers behind documentaryThe Domino Effect, told us of Two Trees' testimony. He noted there were a lot more people speaking out against the project than he'd seen at the first ULURP hearing last week. "It was unusual. [Two Trees] was having more success with their fantasy-land presentation selling the benefits."
Paul argues that developers need to focus more on adding affordable housing, public space and diverse office space—not just tech startups—to the area. He notes that Two Trees' argument that more commercial space will open up jobs in the neighborhood "are really hollow promises that are not appropriately calibrated for local community in Williamsburg." And he's not alone: Bedford & Bowery reported today that Colin Miles, an activist with Domino protest group Save Domino, showed up at last night's hearing with a papier-mache carrot covered in development company buzzwords like "vibrant," "affordable housing" and "amenity."
Also on hand last night was councilman elect Antonio Reynoso, who, according to Paul, noted that outside neighborhood groups were also demanding the project add more comprehensive and binding amenities with affordable housing. Local leadership group El Puente also testified against the proposal, asking for similar community benefits. And opponent Stephanie Eisenberg called the plan “the continuation of class warfare through rezoning.”
Walentas, meanwhile, maintained that Two Trees' proposal was a "dramatic improvement" over a previous developer's failed plan from a few years back, and that “Development is certainly inevitable on this site." The Community Board will vote on his plan on December 10th.
Update 4:58 p.m.: A spokesman for Two Trees provided us with the following statement regarding yesterday's hearing:
While we have the right to build the previously approved plan, Two Trees has presented the community with a proposal for an improved development that includes more affordable housing, more open space, more space for small companies, more local retail and less impact on the transit system. We have been meeting with the community for more than a year and are committed to addressing concerns as we move forward. In the end, there will be a clear choice between the old, flawed proposal and our vastly improved proposal. It's a shame that a few individuals have distracted from this productive dialogue with props or by suggesting unfeasible alternatives.
In addition, El Puente is neither testifying in favor of nor against Two Trees' proposal, but a spokesperson tells us they testified with the intent to "raise questions and pose potential solutions in relation to equity in the community."