As members of Community Board #1 prepare to vote on their recommendation for the proposed future development of the now closed Domino Sugar Factory, more questions than answers remain. Undisclosed connections between certain community board members, and the Williamsburg based non-profit organizations they are associated with, to the developer of the site, have made an already tough process in clarity even more convoluted.
There’s been no shortage of discussion amongst community activists, media outlets, and even CB #1 board members themselves as to the lack of transparency emerging from Community Preservation Corporation’s development proposal. Calls for explanations and clarifications regarding profit projections, expected public subsidies, and incoming private investment capital have all been calmly and consistently ignored by CPC brass.
The lack of response on such seemingly crucial project information, coupled with concerns over project density and the as-of-yet unmitigated impact on area transportation and infrastructure, led CB #1’s Land Use Committee to reject CPC’s plans for the “New Domino” at their February 23rd meeting.
CPC staff members and their press officials have been equally less-than-forthcoming about their past work in the Williamsburg area. During the full CB #1 Board meeting held on February 9, Susan Pollack, senior vice president of the developer’s for-profit wing, CPC Resources, mentioned that the 35-year-old CPC had invested “over $200 million dollars” in Williamsburg during their “decades” of involvement in the neighborhood.
However both Pollack and CPC spokespeople declined to elaborate on the specifics regarding which local groups they have done business with in the past, as well the extent of those projects. Some neighborhood insiders feel that CPC’s support for local organizations has gone beyond the organization’s basic facilities as a loan officer.
Among them is Brooklyn Legal Services attorney and CB #1 resident Martin Needelman. “CPC, which is essentially a non-profit organization, has given broad support for non-profit and community groups in the neighborhood surrounding the proposed Domino development for some time now,” said Needelman. “That includes co-sponsoring events and other traditional forms of non-profit donation.”
Beyond the issue of further obfuscatory actions by CPC surrounding the details of their proposal, the withholding of this information brings the connections several CB #1 members hold with organizations that have conducted business or received contributions from CPC in the past into seemingly greater scrutiny.
At press time, it appeared that six members of CB #1: Jose Leon, Marie Leanza, Karen Nieves, Israel Rosario, Robert Solano and Esteban Duran either work directly for or sit on the board of directors of Williamsburg-based non-profits that have benefited some way in the past from dealings with CPC.
Leon holds the position of deputy executive director of St Nicks Alliance, formerly known as St. Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corp. Leanza also works at St. Nicks Alliance as the senior housing project manager, and Nieves works for St. Nicks subsidiary organization EWVIDCO as the Greenpoint-Williamsburg IBZ business services manager.
St. Nicks Alliance openly lists CPC under the supporter category on their website. According to St. Nicks Alliance executive director Michael Rochford, the relationship was limited to a small building refinancing provided by CPC that was mandated by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. However the aforementioned supporter page holds the organization’s plea for donations and lists their development director Stephen Arrendell as the contact person, in addition to naming CPC as one of “St. Nicks’ Funders.” Rochford refused to make Leon or Leanza available for comment. Leon voted in support of the new Domino development at the last Land Use committee meeting.
Rosario sits as the treasurer on the board of directors of Southside United Housing Development Fund Corp., better known as Los Sures. That organization received a $2.775 million low-interest mortgage for a property at 160 South 2nd Street in 2005 (that would become a 25-unit housing development), and has more recently been loudly vocal with its support of the proposed Domino development at CB #1 public hearings. Mr. Rosario did not return calls to address his organization’s connections to CPC or the potential conflict of interest that might arise from their interactions together.
For Churches United For Fair Housing, where Solano and Duran are the executive director and board of directors chair respectively, the connections to CPC are less easily identified. However a Williamsburg activist and insider, speaking on the terms of anonymity, brought up allegations that CPC provided support for the recently established non-profit’s annual awards dinner, and also that CPC allegedly promised benefits, including administration of a vocational training and placement program, if and when the new Domino development is begun. Solano has also made statements at CB #1 meetings that greatly allude to his strong support of the CPC proposal, specifically mentioning CPC’s proposed job training component as a “home run.” Neither Solano nor Duran responded to requests for comment.
If all this seems familiar, that is because the matter of conflict of interest was raised during the recent Broadway Triangle development debate. In that instance, several CB #1 board members acquiesced with calls to recuse themselves from the vote after their connections to an organization involved in the development were acknowledged. Two of the community activists leading the charge for recusement were Solano and Duran, who openly criticized the board members in question for their lack of transparency.
Whether or not the existing links between CPC and the CB #1 members in question are tenuous, the fact remains that none of them have acted in their official capacity to further elucidate transparency on the Domino development issue. The full CB #1 board meets on March 9 to vote on their final recommendation for the project.