New Domino plan adds parkland, stores, offices; changes send project back to ULURP

March 4, 2013 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Two Trees Management, which bought the former Domino Sugar Factory site in Williamsburg from Community Preservation Corp. (CPC) last fall, plans to add more green space, recreational facilities and an office building to CPC’s older plans for a residential development on the site.

In doing so, it will have to “crunch” the residential component, making the buildings somewhat taller, according to Lisa Schwert of SHoP Architects, the designer of the new proposal. 

And because the plan has been substantially revised, it will have to go again through the city’s time-consuming Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), even though the CPC proposal was already approved, adds Jed Walentas, principal for Two Trees.

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In looking at CPC’s original proposal, said Schwert, Two Trees, best known for developing the DUMBO area, was dissatisfied with the small amount of green waterfront space—“more like someone’s front lawn.”

The new plan will increase the waterfront park, and improve access by extending the already-existing Water Street through the park. The park would have areas for volleyball, kayaking, fishing and other activities near the Williamsburg Bridge end, as well as a more “quiet area” near its north side.

In addition, one of the high-rise buildings slated to be built by CPC would be removed and replaced by an open-space “Domino Square.” This square could be configured, at different times of the year, for public performances, an ice-skating rink, a farmers’ market and more.

Walentas added that the ground floor of the remaining residential buildings would be dedicated to retail space – but he would target small, local retailers and not “big-box” stores. 

The amount of retail space, all in all, would decrease from 127,537 to 79,250 square feet. Similarly, the number of parking spaces would decrease from the originally planned 1,694 to 1,193.

The office space would be put into the old Domino Sugar refinery building (the one with the famous sign), which, Walentas said, is “really not suitable for residential.” Although the other old factory buildings will be torn down, some of the former industrial components, such as sugar tanks, will be preserved in an “Artifacts Row.”

While the previous proposal had the affordable-housing units in a separate building, further away from the waterfront, Two Trees plans to integrate them with the market-rate units in the same buildings. 

Some recent housing developments, he said, went so far as to deny affordable tenants the use of amenities such as swimming pools, but “this is unacceptable from a social point of view.”

Finally, the new plan will include an elementary school, as well as a YMCA. 

Soon after Two Trees acquired the property, it announced its intention to reach out to the community – perhaps in order to sweeten the proposal, so to speak. Those it reached out included the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, several elected officials, the Williamsburg civic group El Puente, the environmental group Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, Steve Hindy of the Brooklyn Brewery, Churches United and others.

Finally, a note on the buildings themselves, which have been substantially redesigned. They are rather unusual, to say the least. 

Picture, for example, two slab-like vertical structures with a large expanse of open space between them, connected at the bottom and at the top but otherwise open in the middle to provide a view for those looking toward the water. The outside will have a somewhat jagged surface, but the inside of the “hole” will be as smooth as glass. .

The vibrant, artistic community of Williamsburg, Schwert said, deserves something better than the somewhat prosaic, box-like buildings that have been erected on the waterfront during recent years. 

While CPC planned a condo development for the DUMBO site, Two Trees’ business model has been rental development. Asked whether some condos would be included, Walentas smiled but didn’t answer directly.

The Domino Sugar Refinery in Brooklyn was built in the 1880s, with more buildings added on over time. At one time, it was the largest sugar factory in the U.S. The company was sold to the British firm Tate & Lyle in 1988, and soon began downsizing operations in Brooklyn. After a series of bitter strikes, the company closed the Brooklyn refinery in 2004. Another Domino sugar refinery in Baltimore is still active.

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