Landmarks Preservation Commission to Two Trees: Domino factory makeover plan must be refined

December 17, 2013 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Sugar, ah, honey, honey.

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission sent Two Trees Management’s makeover plan for the historic Domino Sugar Refinery back to the drawing board.

Some of the commissioners at a public hearing in Lower Manhattan Tuesday objected to the height and massing of proposed glass-clad additions to the roof of the iconic former factory on the Williamsburg waterfront.

At the same time, the developer’s decision to turn the shuttered factory into office space for techies and creative types was widely applauded at the hearing.

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The preservation agency’s unwillingness to approve a fancy fix-up for the city landmark at 292-314 Kent Ave. will slow, however slightly, the progress of Two Trees’ planned $1.5 billion development of the 11-acre Domino site.

The proposed additions, designed by distinguished Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners, would obscure the roofline of the shuttered factory, Commissioner Michael Devonshire said, echoing the sentiments of several of his cohort.

The factory – which consists of three 1880s-vintage American round-arch style industrial buildings –

is a rare surviving remnant of waterfront Williamsburg’s industrial past, much cherished by preservationists and admirers of old-time Brooklyn architecture.

The Walentas family company’s plan for the Refinery is an amendation of a design done for the site’s previous owners, the Community Preservation Corp. and the Katan Group.

Their original factory makeover, which LPC approved in 2008, had a glass roof addition four stories tall on the waterfront side of the property – with Domino Sugar’s famous 40-foot yellow neon sign affixed to it.

The Walentas’ plan for the Refinery also calls for the famed sign to be perched atop the former factory – and to place smaller versions of the word “Domino” above building entrances. Some of the  commissioners thought the street-level signs were a bit much.

Since the prior owners planned to turn the Refinery into a residential building, portions of four floors in its core were to be torn down to allow light and air into the apartments.

The Walentas’ Refinery plan also calls for the addition of four floors of glass-covered space facing the East River – plus a three-floor addition on the other side of the property.

Since the core of the building will be retained, the square footage of this project will be larger than what the Commission had previously approved, Nadezhda Williams of the Historic Districts Council pointed out in arguing for the elimination or reduction of the size of the rooftop addition on the main part of the building.

Entrepreneurs who testified applauded Two Trees’ commitment to building office space in the Domino site’s development.

Two Trees plans to surround the revamped sugar factory with modern apartment houses, some 50 stories tall or higher – including one that looks like a rectangular donut and one that’s like twin needles connected by a sky bridge. The project design by SHoP Architects also has five acres of parks, a new office building and retail spaces for independent entrepreneurs.

The plan “is an exciting expression of a revitalized Brooklyn,” Brooklyn Brewery founder Steve Hindy said in a letter that was read on his behalf. “It is not just another bedroom community but a real community, providing space for start-up businesses of all kinds and more open space for people choosing to live and make families in Brooklyn.”

The plan has been the subject of recent public hearings as part of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process, or ULURP. Opposition at those hearings has been heard from groups such as Save Domino, which proposes buying the site from Two Trees and turning it into an arts and science center with affordable housing.

Two Trees, which bought the site for $185 million in October 2012, has said it is not for sale.

The factory, which was designated a city landmark in 2007, was designed by Theodore Havemeyer, whose family company dominated the U.S. sugar market for many decades.

Originally known as the Havemeyers & Elder Refinery, it was made up of three conjoined properties – the Filter House, the Pan House and the Finishing House. It was lit up with 400 electric lights.

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