Sugar Rush

Sugar Rush

Looking from the waterfront beneath the Williamsburg Bridge in a rendering of the approved Domino Sugar Factory redevelopment in Williamsburg
Rafael Viioly Architects

A last ditch effort to stop development at the Domino Sugar refinery fell through on May 25 when State Supreme Court Judge Eileen Rakower dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Williamsburg Community Preservation Corporation. The group claimed that the project’s developer, the Community Preservation Resources Corporation’s (CPRC), along with Department of City Planning and City Council, did not conduct the proper land use and environmental reviews.

Though City Council-member Steve Levin opposed the development, he was pleased to see the lawsuit dismissed. “The accusations in the lawsuit were unfounded,” said Levin. “It named the City Council as a respondent, and it seems pretty clear to me that the Council didn’t act in an arbitrary or capricious manner. So I agree with the ruling, but that doesn’t negate that I still have issues with the project.” Levin said that the density and height of the proposed complex would stress the area’s overburdened transportation and infrastructure.

the multiuse plan envisions an office tower on the esplanade

Opponents are still grumbling about several issues they have with the Council. The plan for the 220,000-square-foot multiuse development designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects includes 2,200 housing units and a promise from the developer that 30 percent will be set aside for low to moderate income, but City Council only required 20 percent. “They don’t really care about affordable housing,” said Stephanie Eisenberg, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “They never intended to build 30 percent. The City Council was not duped; they read.” Still, Eisenberg and Levin share some common ground. “It leaves the city footing the bill for all the infrastructure,” she continued. “Plus, you can’t put more people on the L [train] or the JMZ.”

Levin held out the hope that East River Ferry Service launched on June 14 might alleviate some of the commuter congestion. It’s an idea that has been floated before, but seems to have gained momentum with New York City Economic Development Corporation’s (NYCEDC) pilot program. There are already stops north and south of the site at North Sixth Street and Schaefer Landing. CPRC Vice President Susan Pollock said the developer has been in contact with NYCEDC. “As the demographics change we hope to have a stop at the project,” she said.

Beyer Blinder Belle will be responsible for renovating the factory

It’s exactly such critical mass that concerns Eisenberg. “It’s just so dense on a very narrow site,” she said. Architect Rafael Viñoly finds the crowds appealing. “I think that density is what makes New York. If you had to refine some parts of the city, then Brooklyn has a ways to go,” he said. “The people who are concerned don’t see that the proposals for density are completely normal. The city continues the evolve.”

Before any crowds, the money must be found. Pollock said that while developers were “having a lot of productive conversations” regarding some $2 billion in financing, legal issues are complicating matters.

For Viñoly, there are certain priorities within the plan. “It’s very important to complete the waterfront park, and that will make a huge difference in how the project is read,” said the architect. Pollock agrees, noting that the developers invited members of the community to the site for an event and was surprised to hear how many had never seen the view. “It was astounding the number of old timers who have never before been to the waterfront there,” she said. “The site runs along five streets that stop dead at Kent Avenue. It is very important that it integrate into the community.” The new plan extends the streets onto the property, culminating on a great public lawn overlooking the East River and Manhattan skyline. Pollock said that the project is on target to start construction in 2012.