Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Le Domino Noir (Act I)
Steve Levin prepares to rally the troops XXin favor of the Broadway TriangleXX, in opposition to New Domino.
First off, apologies for the back-dated running diary post for the Domino Sugar subcommittee hearing. Blame the midnight passage of the Loft Law on Monday. Let's just say that General Stanley McChrystal and EWVIDCO's Leah Archibald may have been the two unhappiest people in the city papers on Tuesday. But enough inside chatter. Let's take a listen at the political posturing behind Domino at City Hall, in all its saccharine-y glory:
9:45 AM: This is it. The New Domino Zoning Subcommittee Hearing! The last opportunity for the public to share its thoughts on the hulking $1.2 billion plan to redevelop the former Domino Sugar factory. The developers, Community Preservation Corporation Resources and The Kattan Group, have not budged from their plan, which includes 2,200 to 2,400 units of housing (30 percent of which are below-market rate) and towers up to 40 stories high, on 11.2 acres of the south side waterfront. Councilman Steve Levin (and his mentor, Assemblyman Vito Lopez) have been begging for concessions such as fewer units and shorter tower heights, for months, but Michael Lappin and Susan "The Dominotrix" Pollock are sticking to their guns behind heavy support from Mayor Bloomberg.
A pro-Domino rally that was supposed to start at 9:30 AM is now running perilously behind as the principal speakers (Rep. Nydia Velazquez and Councilwoman Diana Reyna) are late. About sixty Williamsburg and East Brooklyn residents wearing softball-yellow Domi-Yes! t-shirts are milling about on the left side of the steps of City Hall as Domino lobbyists hand out large green and white "Jobs!" and "Open Space" signs. A crowd of reporters, including NY1's Grace Rauth, NYTimes' Charles Bagli, NYObserver's Eliot Brown, Brooklyn Star's Daniel Bush, Greenpoint Gazette's Juliet Linderman, and Crain's Amanda Fung (though I don't know this for certain) are straggling around, waiting for the rally to start.
Richard Edmonds and Rebecca Regal, the spokespeople for the project's developers, are anxiously leaning against the flagpole. Apparently Vito reserved the steps at 10 am for an anti-rally (or maybe it's called a pro-anti-rally) and they are worried they are going to get kicked off. One of the buses carrying another thirty pro-Domino ralliers is stuck in traffic and The Dominotrix is running late too.
On the other side of the steps, staffers for Councilman Steve Levin and Assemblyman Vito Lopez chatter on their cell phones, eagerly awaiting to shift the anti-Domino ralliers to their prime press spot. I run into Lopez super-intern Andy Marte who didn't like that I called him a "rookie" which he still technically is and he didn't like my OFA-Bushwick politics link either. Duly noted. Andy Marte is the Hanley Ramirez of Brooklyn politics, circa 2004.
"I've been in politics since I was 13!" said Marte. "I started when Steve Levin started [at RBSCC]."
Just before we begin, design writer Stephen Zachs introduces himself and asks me if I have seen his facebook campaign to bring a university to the Domino site. I was aware of the idea, which Samuel Farr raised at a Domino town hall sponsored by Levin's office, but Zachs has a letter detailing more. Arch Paper's Matt Chaban, who is not at the rally, wrote a piece about it in The Architect's Newspaper, which is worth checking out just to see what Zachs is proposing.
9:55 AM Diana and Nydia finally arrive and the first rally begins. Pollock arrives shortly after As they begin speaking, Vito Lopez, Joe Lentol, and Lentol spokeswoman Amy Cleary move through security.
Diana: "This is a visual for what our community has worked for so many years, now we look forward to preserving out history and culture in Williamsburg. The continued development here is creating a culture of tension and displacement.
Nydia: While I remain troubled by the city's limited zoning policy and failure to develop a comprehensive transportation study, CPC is making an effort to expand affordable housing. It is time for the community to stand up and fight for what's fair.
Diana reads some statistics showing how the Latino population in Williamsburg has declined from 60,000 to 38,000 between 2000 and 2008,
"We are having families being replaced by single households. You tell me whether communities are being preserved in CB1.
10:01 am: ...and time is up! Diana cuts her own speech short and about 100 Domi-Yeasayers file into City Hall for the beginning of the hearing. Meanwhile Rauth corners Vito who is patiently waiting on the steps with is staff and begins asking questions. Vito just can't help himself. He starts his own impromptu press conference before the anti-Domino rally. Meanwhile, the other reporters quickly file around him to hear his arguments against the plan.
Vito: "I'm not in favor of 660 units, I'm in favor of 800 units, of 1,000 units [of affordable housing]... They need a bus shuttle from 6 am to 10 am from the site to Union Square in Manhattan every day. They're going to bring 6,000 people to the neighborhood and there's no way to get them to the city.... I want free or equivalent shuttles from the development from 6 am to 10 am that would provide relief for the trains."
"I think the highest the towers should be are 28 stories. Two are 40 stories. We're getting a Gold Coast in Greenpoint and Williamsburg. Those are the hottest neighborhoods in the city.
[CPCR] has not been willing to negotiate at all and they're going to pay their way there."
Vito mentions CPCR's million dollar lobbying budget and their allocations which helped organizers bring supporters to the rally, even paying for the t-shirts and the colorful signs, while the opponents don't have any t-shirts and made homemade signs.
While Vito is speaking, Councilman Al Vann enters, wearing matching key lime-green slacks and a short-sleeve shirt, with a straw hat. On anyone else, it would look like OR scrubs. A Short Story nods in appreciation. The nod is reciprocated.
Meanwhile, Assemblyman Joe Lentol is standing about two steps above him, politely refraining from interjecting his comments.
Lentol has been opposed to the project longer than any other elected at the rallyAt this point, Vito is John Holmes in a late 70s snuff film and Joe Lentol is one of the other actors hanging out with the crew, saying "Look, I'm not going to compete with that." (and yes, that's a Sports Guy reference. Look it up.)
10:10 am: Steve Levin begins the press conference and the rally with some good ole' fashioned call and repeat cheering.
Steve and the crowd alternating: AFFORDABLE HOUSING! YES! 40 STORIES! NO!
AFFORDABLE HOUSING! YES! 40 STORIES! NO!
Steve: I'm very proud to be here. We have had it with overdevelopment in the neighborhood. Megadevelopments in Greenpoint, in the northside, on the southside, in South Williamsburg, yeeeeahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!.... (note: yeeeeahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!! added for effect. Steve did not actually say yeeeeahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!)
This is all about neighborhoods. We're here for both. This is our neighborhood!"
Steve hands the mic over to Andy Marte who handles emcee duties. He gives it to new CB1 member (and RBSCC staffer in charge of Medicaid disbursements) Maria Viera for her comments, as she lives on Kent Avenue and would be personally affected by the congestion. Joe Lentol says a few words, before heading back to Albany, and CB1's brand new Land Use Chairwoman Heather Roslund adds her thoughts about how the board's input regarding special permits for that upland site has basically been ignored. Marte finally turns the mic back to Vito, who adds more thoughts.
Vito: Nobody was paid to be here. The Kattan Group has spent $400 million. They have not compromised. We have met with them 15 times. They are arrogant! They don't want to deal with the community.
Right now, other developments [on the waterfront] have tower heights of 24, 30 stories, and they want to go to 40. Why? Profit! That's where all the money is.
As we zone this, there's a possibility they are going to build to those heights.
This is a farce!
And with that, the overture for Le Domino Noir is over. Inside we go!