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Not-Green Buildings NYC: Brooklyn’s Tampa-esque New Domino Development Gets Go-Ahead

New Domino Williamsburg gbnyc

A week away from gbNYC — and NYCNYC — and we come back to what? To what? There are still some problems with LEED and green roofs still haven’t caught on and the Second Avenue subway is not somehow miraculously finished yet — although the part of it that connects to the Q train and runs up to 105th is on track for 2016, apparently. If I’d known it was going to be like this, I might’ve just stayed in Los Angeles and continued eating delicious tacos and hamburgers for the rest of my days. But perhaps I’m being too harsh. I’m back, and it’s nice to be back — the 106% humidity is great, loving it! — and… wait, the City Planning Commission signed off on that terrible New Domino development? And it’s still got 1,428 parking spots despite the fact that it’s a shortish walk to several different subway lines? It’s enough to make you wish you’d stayed out in the land of ensenada-style tacos and totally isolated green buildings, honestly. In fact, on its own merits, New Domino would fit in much better in Los Angeles than it would in Williamsburg.

The New Domino project has had an almost gravitational certainty about it since 2007, when the privately-funded, Bloomberg-approved development really got rolling. While ambitious plans existed on how to develop the 11.2 acre site surrounding the old Domino Sugar refinery, what the developers — The Katan Group and Community Preservation Corporation, who brought on such notable architects as Rafael Vinoly and Beyer Blinder Belle to consult on the project — wanted is largely what we’re all going to get. That is: 2,200 new residences spread across several Vinoly-designed buildings of varying size, a 150-room hotel and 220,000 square feet of commercial space, with 1,428 parking spaces to go with all that. (Oh, and 1,000 permanent jobs! Guaranteed!) Astonishingly, the New Domino’s mammoth parking lot is actually notably smaller than the original number proposed by Katan/CPC, which originally requested 1,694 but acceded to Brooklyn Boro President Marty Markowitz’s request that they downsize. There are still 660 units of affordable housing on offer alongside all those un-affordable units, and still plans for new green space, an esplanade, and all the other things one expects from ambitious Brooklyn mega-developments that wish to look less like ambitious Brooklyn mega-developments.

Besides Beyer Blinder Belle’s appealing adaptive reuse plans for the old Domino refinery building itself, there isn’t even the slightest nod in the direction of green building or sustainability in the New Domino project, and perhaps the developers deserve some praise for truth-in-advertising, there. But the refusal to deploy a hefty coat of greenwash shouldn’t absolve New Domino — or the rubber-stamp-happy City Planning Commission — for creating what appears to be one of the most fulsomely un-New York real estate developments in New York City in many years. With its resolutely meh design, sprawling layout and a baffling car-friendliness that recalls such gold-standard avatars of sustainability as Houston and Tampa, New Domino has the feel of an Anycity USA development that just happened to blunder onto prime waterfront real estate in Brooklyn. In its aesthetic tone-deafness and NYC inappropriateness, New Domino makes a fanny-packed tourist in a Wicked t-shirt look like Lou Freaking Reed, is what I’m saying. It makes those sad, glassy UWS luxury condos look like the Chrysler Building at night, is what I’m saying. I don’t really like it, and I’ve gone on about this before, and I’m sorry. I just kind of needed to get all that out of my system. Deep breaths. New graf? Yes, new graf.

I’m not nearly enough of an architecture dork to go any deeper than sarcasm on my aesthetic objections to New Domino, but the sustainability issue with all those new parking spots is obvious to even an armchair urbanist like your author. As per usual, Streetsblog is the place to go for a simple, lucid explanation of this urban planning failure. “While the reduction was a victory for livable streets, the fact that more than 1,400 parking spaces remain highlights the immense disconnect between the developer’s initial proposal and goals like reducing traffic or encouraging sustainable transportation,” Noah Kazis writes at Streetsblog. “To make the Williamsburg waterfront a real beacon of sustainable planning, it’s clear that the New Domino would have to include substantially fewer than 1,428 spaces. ‘It’s still going to be an auto-oriented development,’ said David King, a professor of planning at Columbia University who specializes in parking. ’1,400 is just a lot of parking spaces, however you cut it.’” Considering the well-established correlation between car ownership and off-street parking — namely that the former doesn’t really happen without the latter — and given that NYC’s surprisingly small per-capita carbon footprint is based on the fact that it’s not a car-oriented city, the addition of those 1,428 parking spots would seem like a 1,428-fold bad idea. Leaving aside those carbon footprint considerations, have you ever tried driving in NYC?

Which begs the question of what all those parking spots are doing there, anyway, even in a development that was apparently constructed with the idiotic sprawl of the Southeast as an unofficial blueprint. The answer, Kazis writes, is that a privately funded development like New Domino is heavily dependent on banks, which are in turn heavily dependent on a one-size-fits-all model for profitable urban development in which a development without parking spaces just doesn’t make sense. (The fact that a faction in NYC’s Department of City Planning believes the same thing doesn’t help, either) And sure, a parking-free development admittedly doesn’t make sense in Tampa or Houston or Los Angeles, but that is hardly relevant here in New York City. You’d think that New York-based banks or savvy developers or the City Planning Committee would be hip to all this, and perhaps find some better use for all that to-be-tarmac. But then you see the emergence of a TGI Friday’s in Union Square and you find yourself nodding while reading the heartsick sign-off from the Lost City guy and you realize: the vacation is very much over, but you’re not nearly as far from LA as you feel.

Anyway, this whole post to the contrary, it’s nice to be back. Regularly scheduled programming begins now.

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