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New Domino: Worst Mega-Development in NYC, Or Just One of the Worst?

New Domino Williamsburg gbNYC

For a (very) non-green development, Williamsburg’s New Domino has gotten a lot of attention at this green building website. And not just in this epically pitched bitch of mine from last month — no, the parking lot-intensive, Tampa-style mega-development on the East River waterfront haunts any post even remotely related to it, and has served as a stand-in for the worst sort of one-size-fits-all identikit developments for which the (otherwise impressively green) Bloomberg Administration has shown an unfortunate soft spot. There are two reasons for this. One is that I am one perseverating dude, and this is how I roll, baby. The other is that New Domino is, in more or less every way, the lousiest, lamest and most reprehensible mega-project underway in New York City at the moment. I suppose that Extell’s Riverside Center could’ve been nearly as bad, but a heroic community board’s insistence on LEED Platinum efficiency for the development — I write “heroic” seriously, embarrassingly enough, because the story makes me want to high-five someone — may yet save it. (Thanks to Nick of BetterBuildingsNY for the update in comments, and keep an eye out for super-intern Christine Mule’s story on that in the next few days) New Domino, on the other hand, seems determined to cement its claim as the all-around worst big new real estate development in the city. Their new angle? Backing away from a promise to the City Council to include 30 percent affordable housing in the final plans… by simply submitting plans that instead include 20 percent, without explanation. /Slow clap

In the New York Post, New York’s finest news source that also runs pictures of Shakira and That Fake Nun down the right-hand column, Rich Calder details New Domino’s latest anti-achievement. “For years, [New Domino's development team] has vowed that 30 percent – or 660 – of the project’s 2,200 apartments would be affordable units,” Calder writes. “However, city officials confirmed that when the City Council votes Thursday on the controversial project’s needed zoning change, the zoning amendment’s text will include standard language of the city’s Inclusionary Zoning policy – thus guaranteeing that only 20 percent of the units will be set aside for low- and moderate-income residents. In Domino’s case, that translates into just 440 affordable units. The 30-percent affordable-housing promise, however, has been memorialized in a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ that both the city and the development team of CPC Resources and Isaac Katan recently signed off on. However, as even the document notes, it is a non-binding agreement. City officials yesterday declined to explain why the zoning text wouldn’t include language guaranteeing 30-percent affordability.” I totally bet!

Of course, this particular bit of high-handedness is roughly what New Domino fans expect from the development, but the way in which they’ve gone about depriving the city of 220 affordable units deserves its share of boos, as well. It has long been the city’s (frankly inexplicable) policy to force developers to sign only non-binding MOU’s in cases like this. There is presumably some sort of business-positive explanation for this — allows flexibility, fosters creativity, doesn’t force mega-developers to do things they don’t like to do — but the scandal is bigger than simply New Domino being New Domino. In short, as offensive as New Domino is, they’re hardly the only offenders in this case.

“Alas, this resembles the groundwork of many a development project in New York,” the Observer’s Real Estate Desk notes. “While a good number of developers do end up delivering on promises, other projects are sold to the public on the promise of certain public benefits (in exchange, the public’s representatives grant approvals), only to see those benefits eroded over time as they prove difficult or impossible to fulfill.” Among other offenders named by the Observer are Battery Park City (once intended as affordable housing) and another New Domino contender, the Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project. When private buildings do this sort of thing — say, promise LEED Platinum condos but allegedly deliver something less — residents can sue, as we’ve seen at The Riverhouse. When it happens on the macro scale… well, it’s unclear just yet what kind of consequences, if any, there will be. If anything good comes out of the New Domino project, which seems to be happening no matter what, perhaps it will be that totally necessary riverfront esplanade more attention to and hopefully a cessation of the Memorandum of Understanding thing. New Yorkers of any borough deserve as much, and while the achievement of Community Board 7 with Riverside Center is impressive and admirable, it would surely help a lot if city government was nearly as serious about its responsibilities.

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2 Responses to New Domino: Worst Mega-Development in NYC, Or Just One of the Worst?

  1. Greg July 28, 2010 at 8:06 am #

    I have a graduate degree in urban planning. Before I’d even finished the program I was disillusioned and had lost all interest in going into the field, and this is exactly why. The developers call all the shots in this city. It’s a disgrace and it’s positively revolting.

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