By Lore Croghan
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Sugar is sweet – and so is a resounding “Yes” vote from the City Council.
The Walentas family's Domino Sugar Refinery redevelopment project got the Council's green light Wednesday afternoon for a $1.5 billion makeover of the shuttered Williamsburg factory complex.
“It is a good day,” David Lombino, director of special projects at the family's company, Two Trees Management, told the Brooklyn Eagle at City Hall in Lower Manhattan following the vote on the planned 2.95-million-square-foot Kent Avenue development.
“A year and a half ago, we took a big gamble and elected to go back through a public approval process on a site where we already had an approved plan for dense residential development,” he said.
Two Trees bought the property in 2012 from the Community Preservation Corp., which was going to build massive apartment houses that cut off the waterfront from the rest of the neighborhood.
With a team of talented architects and planners, “we came up with a plan we believe is better in every way,” Lombino said. “Today's vote is a final endorsement of that vision.
“And now we're getting moving on delivering housing, commercial space, parks – and jobs – in an integrated fashion with the existing neighborhood.”
The Two Trees plan includes apartment buildings with eye-popping designs by prestigious SHoP Architects, including one that looks like a giant donut plus a pair of needle-thin towers attached by a sky bridge. The street grid will be extended into the site, and 5 acres will be devoted to parks.
Asbestos abatement is finished at the 11-acre site, Lombino said. One large Domino R&D building has been demolished, and the demolition of 20-some structures is ongoing, he said.
A landmarked former factory will be preserved and converted into office space for techies – and Domino's iconic 40-foot yellow neon sign will be saved.
When demolition is finished, crews will start constructing a quarter-mile-long pier, which needs to be completed before waterside apartment buildings can be constructed, Lombino said.
The first apartment building to be constructed will be away from the water, on a lot on the east side of Kent Avenue, he said. Work will begin in December. The lot is currently a pop-up park with a dirt-bike obstacle course.
The Council vote was Two Trees' last hurdle in an approval process that spanned two mayoral administrations.
At the 11th hour, a push by the de Blasio Administration to include a greater amount of affordable housing threatened to stop the project cold.
After negotiations, Two Trees execs agreed in March to increase by 110,000 square feet the amount of affordable housing, to 537,000 square feet.
Under the terms of Two Trees' agreement with the de Blasio administration, 700 apartments will be permanently affordable. The Walentases had originally pledged to make up to 30%, or 660, of the apartments in the mammoth development affordable units.
Two Trees plans to build a total of 2,282 apartments.
City Councilman Stephen Levin (D-Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, Greenpoint, Park Slope and Boerum Hill) gave crucial support to the project after challenging it during a Council subcommittee hearing in April.
During the Wednesday Council meeting, Levin said that by collaborating with the de Blasio Administration, the Council was able to get “deeper affordability” for Domino housing, including maximizing the number of family-sized affordable apartments. And the Council established new public oversight of the development's public spaces.