Freshman Councilman Steve Levin has come out against the $1.2-billion redevelopment of the old Domino Sugar refinery on the Williamsburg waterfront, calling its 2,200 units too big for a neighborhood that has seen massive growth since a 2005 rezoning that encouraged just such development.
“The project is simply too big,” Levin said in a statement read by an aide at a hearing at Borough Hall last Thursday.
That hearing, held by Borough President Markowitz, was the latest stop for the Domino developers, the Community Preservation Corporation, on the city’s eight-month land-use review process — and came just days after Community Board 1 rejected the residential conversion of the defunct sugar refinery in a 23-12 vote.
Like the community board, Levin focused on the impact of so many apartments on a historic 11-acre site along Kent Avenue just north of the Williamsburg Bridge.
“The plan would introduce over 6,000 new residents to the neighborhood, a nearly 25-percent population increase for the half-mile area surrounding the site,” Levin’s statement said.
The councilman, making his first foray into a project that will define his first term and the future of the Williamsburg waterfront, did commend CPC’s commitment to affordable housing, which exceeds the requirement of a controversial 2005 rezoning of the waterfront to allow high-density residential construction — but Levin reiterated that he would not support the plan “unless the issues of height and density, transportation, and open space, among others, are addressed.”
Levin’s position is a significant blow to CPC, which is hoping that Markowitz will use his land-use review vote to approve their project on the grounds that it creates much-needed affordable housing, reuses a derelict site and opens up the waterfront for public access.
“Our vision is to create an economically balanced need,” said company President Michael Lappin. “Affordable housing continues to be the most-pressing need for the community.”
Levin’s opposition to the project will carry significant weight in the City Council, where members tend to defer to the local councilmember on land-use issues. As a result, Domino supporters were incensed by their new lawmaker’s statement.
“The south side is solid and fervent in its support” for Domino,” said Churches United Executive Director Paul Cogley, referring mostly to the promise of many new affordable units.
During his public hearing, Markowitz gave little indication of his position, asking questions about the amount of commercial space that the project would provide and the number of local jobs that could arise from its construction.
He needs to issue a recommendation within a month, sending the project to its next step in the review, the City Planning Commission, which is expected to approve it. After that, the project goes for review by the City Council, which no longer appears to be the shoo-in that it once was, thanks to Levin’s opposition.