Domino project can be a ‘template’ for handling the city’s affordable housing needs, Planning Commissioner says

March 5, 2014 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Two Trees’ victory for its Domino project came after a last-minute push by Mayor de Blasio to increase the amount of affordable housing in it.

Two Trees threatened to sell the site, the New York Daily News reported Monday – but ultimately the developer agreed to do things de Blasio’s way.

Monday evening, the Mayor announced that the firm helmed by the Walentas family had agreed to add another 110,000 square feet of affordable housing to the proposed Williamsburg project.

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Planning Commissioners applauded the detente during the Wednesday vote.

“This is an impressive achievement,” City Planning Commission Chairman Carl Weisbrod said before voicing the first of 13 “aye” votes for a zoning amendment and special permits for the project.

“What we are today approving sows the seeds for an economically healthy mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhood of the future,” Weisbrod said.

“We want to encourage development with bold designs and great site plans like Domino.”

The Walentas family’s agreement with the Mayor increased the amount of affordable housing to 537,000 square feet, with 700 permanently affordable apartments for a range of incomes rather than an initially proposed 660.

De Blasio’s aim is to create and preserve 200,000 affordable apartments over the next decade.

Following the compromise, Two Trees got the Planning Commission’s okay to build apartment towers as much as 20 stories taller than those in a previously approved 2010 plan by the Domino site’s former owner, the Community Preservation Corp.

Two Trees faces a final hurdle for the 11-acre Kent Avenue project: A City Council vote. A Council hearing is expected in four to six weeks.

Newly elected Councilman Antonio Reynoso (D-Williamsburg, Bushwick, Ridgewood) is concerned about the size of the promised affordable apartments, residents’ income levels and hiring for local residents, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“We’re confident we can reach an agreement with the local elected officials and the City Council going forward,” David Lombino, Two Trees director of special projects, told reporters after the vote.

He said Two Trees officials have been in touch with elected officials throughout the planning process.

Lombino said officials at his firm were “elated” about getting the Planning Commission’s seal of approval.

“We’re relieved. We’re also extraordinarily proud,” he said.

“We’re one step closer to getting to start construction on this plan we’ve been working on for a year and a half,” he said.

“We look forward to getting this project across the finish line and starting construction this year.”

Construction unions launched a campaign Wednesday to get Two Trees to use all-union workers on the the 2.95 million-square-foot project.

“We’re here to make sure Two Trees hires responsible contractors that pay area standard wages,” Tammy Rivera of the New York City District Council of Carpenters told the Brooklyn Eagle before the Commission vote.

“This is about raising the standard of living in the communities,” she said as workers distributed leaflets saying “BUILD IT UNION!” outside the Planning Commission’s office in Lower Manhattan.

Two Trees exec Lombino told reporters the developer employs a variety of union and non-union construction firms to build its projects – and will look at every qualified bidder for every Domino contract.

When asked what would stop Two Trees from hiring 100% union labor for the job, he said, “With public benefits there are costs.”

Those public benefits include making 30% of the housing units affordable and building five acres of parks and a public school.

As for the issue of local hires for construction, he said it will be a priority, as it is at the firm’s Dock Street development in DUMBO.

Two Trees’ revised plans call for a total of 2,282 apartments, with construction work to begin on the first residential building in December.

The plans include dramatic designs by prestigious SHoP Architects – with one building that looks like a giant donut and a pair of thin twin towers connected by a sky bridge.

A landmarked factory building will be turned into innovative office space for techies and creative types. The famous yellow neon Domino sign will be preserved.

Planning Commissioner Irwin Cantor said during the vote that there had been “at times tense negotiations” with Two Trees about enlarging Domino’s affordable housing component. But he and other commissioners were all smiles Wednesday about the Domino plan.

“I think in many ways this is a template project that can become an approach that can be utilized as we pursue the very crucial need of affordable housing,” Vice Chairman Kenneth Knuckles said.

“The community spoke. The commission listened and deliberated,” Commissioner Angela Battaglia said. “And at the end of the day … it resulted in a better project.”

Commissioner Michelle de la Uz, who heads the Fifth Avenue Committee in Park Slope, said, “When decisions are made with equity and fairness as your filter, the result is different. And that is what we have here today.”


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