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City Planning Set To Approve Two Trees' Domino Development

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The Williamsburg waterfront inches closer to its tower-tastic transformation, thanks to an agreement that was made late yesterday to increase the amount of affordable housing in the redevelopment plan for the old Domino Sugar Factory. Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio threw a wrench in developer Two Trees' plans, which include soaring towers designed by SHoP Architects, when he demanded additional affordable housing. Two Tree's principal Jed Walentas was, obviously, less than pleased and threatened to revert to the old plan if a deal with the city could not be reached. But clearly, the weekend put him in a more amenable mood, and he has now agreed to build 537,000-square-feet of affordable housing, about 700 units out of the project's 2,300 total. The number of family-sized two- and three-bedroom affordable units will also be increased. Two Trees previously promised 660 units in 427,000-square-feet, which is still more than 20 percent they are required to build.

So what does Two Trees get out of the deal? Zoning changes that will allow the developer to build towers up to 55 stories tall, nearly double what current regulations allow. City Planning is expected to sign off on the agreement today, paving the way for the final approval from City Council. The Times reports that Two Trees will also be allowed to charge higher rents for some low-income units than they would have been allowed before. Additionally, the affordable units will be permanently affordable. Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development, told the Times, "Buildings don't get shorter over time. Just like the buildings are permanently taller, the affordable units will be permanently affordable."

The de Blasio administration is touting the agreement as a victory (even though they originally wanted 550,000-square-feet), but the Journal points out that the deal is not 100 percent solidified. This new deal for affordable housing is binding—a stark contrast from the old deal with the site's former owner, CPC Resources, which was not binding—but local political leaders still want more. City councilman Antonio Reynoso told the Journal there's still "a lot of work to do" and voiced concerns over the size of the affordable units and the income levels required to qualify for the units. They will be for low- to moderate-income families, but exact price points have not been revealed. Local city council members play key roles in approval for big projects; other council members are reluctant to approve projects if the district leader does not agree (see: Midtown East Rezoning), so Reynoso will likely be influential for final approval.

This is the first major project to come before the de Blasio administration, and the deal is extremely important for both his administration and the real estate industry. On one hand, it shows that the mayor is not backing down from his promise to build more affordable housing. City Planning Commissioner Carl Weisbrod told Crain's, "Going forward we are going to have a renewed emphasis on affordable housing, as projects are considered for increased density and change of use." While on the other hand, it shows that the administration is still willing to work with developers on huge projects and grant major zoning changes. Since de Blasio's election, the industry has been wary of his policies. As the Times says, if the plan had fallen through, it "could have had a chilling effect on other developers already leery of dealing with a new mayor who has vocally criticized the construction of luxury condominiums and other profitable totems of gentrification."
· Deal Is Reached on Redevelopment of Brooklyn Sugar Refinery [NYT]
· Details Emerge of Deal Between Domino, City [WSJ]
· City claims key victory in Domino battle [Crain's]
· All Domnio coverage [Curbed]