Judge Rules The City Council Was Not Duped About Domino Affordable Housing

domino sugar factor by benjamin lovosky

photo by Benjamin Lovosky

Sad, all those yellow 660 T-shirts gone to waste. In case you haven’t followed the local news the past few years, a quick refresher. The New Domino developer Community Preservation Corporation Resources (CPCR) said they would go 50% better than the “encouraged” 20% affordable housing component in developing the old Domino Sugar site to build 30% or 660 affordable units. They claim to be friends of the community and committed to affordable housing. They also want the benefit of the 25-year property tax abatement, a perk for adding affordable housing. Oh, and let’s not forget they want government subsidies even though they’re a not-for-profit lender for affordable housing.

They really, really want to max out market rate housing on the eleven-acre waterfront/upland site. Project Manager Susan Pollock stated repeatedly in community meetings that in order to build this “generous” amount of affordable housing, huge zoning changes—vastly beyond those approved in the Williamsburg-Greenpoint 2005 waterfront rezoning—would be required. This translated into 16-story buildings upland (whereas the 2005 rezoning calls for no higher than six on upland blocks facing Kent Ave.), and 40-story giants on the waterfront parcel negotiated down to 34 stories, but still high enough to dwarf the towers of the Williamsburg Bridge.

They want, they want, they want, and last month they got: New York State Supreme Court Judge Eileen A. Rakower dismissed a suit brought by a small group of Williamsburg locals to stop the CPCR project on two basic grounds. The first is a flawed environmental impact study. The height and density rezoning would burden the community (think traffic, already stressed L, J, M, Z trains, schools, fire, police, hospitals—the infrastructure). The second is that the proposed 30% affordable housing, though a huge selling point in public testimony, was never guaranteed. Community Board #1 and the Borough President sought guarantees. None were given. Apparently, misleading self-promotional lobbying and adverts are not a point of law. City Council members stood behind the affordable component—in particular Diana Reyna (District 34), who stood shoulder to shoulder on the steps of City Hall with constituents in favor of CPCR’s The New Domino and the 660 affordable units “promised.”

So what? So the judge said, in dismissing the case, the City Council had the documents stating CPCR’s goal was to build 30% affordable housing—not a promise, not a guarantee (more like a spit and a prayer)—when they voted to approve the rezoned project. It seems it didn’t matter that nothing was written in stone—or even on a scrap of paper—stating CPCR would in fact build 660 units of affordable housing (along with the 2,200 + market rate units). In fact, no affordable housing is required at all. But CPCR got the rezoning they wanted based on what? Judge Rakower indicated the height and density bonus was not based on affordable housing, yet CPCR claimed that more market rate housing (density) would equal more affordable housing.

Now what? Reissue the pro-Domino T-shirts at 20% or 440 affordable units? Realize this: only half of those units would go to community residents; the other half by law goes into a citywide lottery. Or maybe blank T-shirts, since who knows what will be built, if anything? Say CPCR bails, flips the property, they would have zoning change advantages in place that far exceed those of any other developer in Williamsburg-Greenpoint.

And what do the locals get? Duped. And the people in the community who desperately need affordable housing? Double duped—by the developer and by their City Council representatives. Not to leave out the developer’s supporters—Paul Cogley of Churches United, Father Rick of St. Peter and Paul Church, Eugene Garden Acosta of El Puente, and Rob Solano of Churches United for Fair Housing, who all rallied support for the affordable housing. (Queries to most of the above went unanswered.) Council Member Stephen Levin (District 33) stood shoulder to shoulder on the same City Hall steps with anti-Domino crowds, leading the chant: “Affordable Housing, YES; Forty Stories NO!” What happened, why did he vote yes to all of CPCR’s demands? Council Member Levin has not returned a call to comment. Did he read the long CPCR document before voting, as Judge Rakower suggested the City Council members must have done in her dismissal remarks? Did 660 cheerleader Diana Reyna read it? She also has not returned a call to comment for this piece.

So, was the affordable housing scheme a ruse to get zoning advantages? A con or a housing mirage? Or, just business as usual, a sale’s pitch to our elected officials, who bought it, hook, line and sinker, in what certainly has the whiff of self-serving lies.

Comments

  1. Virginia Gilbert says

    Great piece. I agree with the writer 100%. Especially, her idea of having blank T-shirts. The developer’s supporters should be ashamed of themselves.