Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Le Domino Noir (Act II)

Open Process! Open Process! Open Process!... oh wait, we're for this project, aren't we?
10:45 am: The opposing rally breaks up and we head in to Press Row join the hearing which is already in progress. CPCR's Susan Pollock in the middle of a presentation that I’ve heard at least six times already. She’s going over the affordable housing AMI plans, open space, and the office towers. The Domino model is back (Michael Lappin is sitting next to it, and he keeps eyeing it suggestively.). I take a seat next to the Brooklyn Star's Daniel Bush and the Daily News' Erin Durkin. We leave a seat open for the Greenpoint Gazette's Juliet Linderman, who left her press pass at home and glumly retreats to the balcony to sit next to Lentol spokeswoman Amy Cleary.

On the ground 150 South Siders in Domi Yes t-shirts. The only two people without them? El Puente’s Luis Garden Acosta who is rocking his red power tie but is strangely hatless. And Father John Powis who is also wearing a dark suit. In the balcony, mostly Domi-No demonstrators. Rob Solano is in the far right balcony edge, but he gets up and leaves, and is replaced by Ward Dennis. Also up top is Andy Marte and new CB1 member Maria Viera.

Rafael Vinoly architect of the project takes the mic from Susan:

"The intent from the very beginning is to create a mixed-use community, with the introduction of affordable housing. It’s not a separate type of architecture but created in the same system. We’re proud of the fact that this is a breakthrough."

10:52 am; Is that Warren Cohn? What is Warren doing here! Did he get off on the wrong 4-train stop? Warren finds Steve Levin and Steve agrees to give him a quick tour of City Hall while the landscape architect discusses the four acres of open space that Domino will provide.

Meanwhile, Vito hovers in the back of the room before taking a seat in the back row as Debbie Feinberg and other Lopez staff join him joins him. Steve stands in the back to make sure his staff has a set in the back row.

11 am: Time for questions. Mark Weprin, the zoning subcommittee chairman:

"This is the nuts and bolts for why we’re here today. There’ s a lot of yes, a lot of no, a lot of maybe. Please bear with us, I know it’s not comfortable. Please I’d like to note that there not be any outburts, boos, hisses, applause or karaoke requests."

Mark turns it over to Steve Levin for questions. This is why Press Row is here. I made that last one up. Steve begins his questioning.

Steve Levin: While I commend CPCR for its commitment to affordable housing and community facility space. I believe the project as it is posed today simply bears too much of a burden on our neighborhood’s infrastructure. This development must be seen in context with the 2005 GW rezoning, which must be seen in several ways. There is a cumulative effect on this neighborhood development. The total number of units should not exceed 1600 and that 40 percent of those units remain affordable.

The development site is half a mile to the nearest subway line and close to the Bedford Avenue L stop. It was jam packed at the Bedford Ave L stop. There are 1900 riders a day, fourth busiest station in Brooklyn and the busiest stop in the borough.

CPCR has offered community affordable housing, all affordable units must remain that way for perpetuity. All community space must be locked into community use and not be used for residential or commercial use.

Levin asks Susan a broad question about density/ FAR and why it is there. This is going to be fun.

Susan answers by stating the square footage of the community, commercial and retail.

"This project is very different from other projects on the waterfront.
Our site is a long site, no other site has the proportional area that this site has. The community facility space is not revenue producing. The income levels in this area are lower than other areas in the city, you have to provide additional cross subsidy through the market rate units.

Steve: We are here to look specifically at the zoning of this application and not look into other aspects of the project. Why should CPCR proceed if it does not fit in line with other projects along the waterfront?

Susan: This site is a unique site. City Planning has to address this on its own proposition. TI doesn’t bear any resemblance to Greenpoint and Williamsburg. It far exceeds what has been presented along the waterfront. From a land use perspective, what we’re providing…

11:15 am: Here it is! Rob Solano sends a text that "Father Rick Beuther has 20 people outside and he wants a photo-op", but there’s no way anyone is leaving Press Row. Levin continues.

Levin: The community board voted no with recommendations. It’s the folks who live there who receive its impact.

Susan: I believe the community board has voted no on every board that has come before it.

Levin: The community board’s vote would still be a no if the modifications were followed. I’d like to pivot a bit to the effect on the neighborhood.
The adjacent street Kent Avenue, and Wythe Avenue, Berry and Bedford. If you walk around on any of these streets. What would be the impact on traffic?

11:22 AM: A woman from ARKF, who did the Environmental Impact Study, takes over. Dan Bush shows me a text he just received on his phone from the United States Tennis Association:

USTA PR Guy: "Your request for press credentials for the 2010 US Open in Corona Park Queens has been approved."

This concludes possibly the only time that I may be jealous of a Queens publication. Lets rejoin the action.

AKRF Lady: “When we did the impact statement for the development we did disclose the effects that would occur.” She continues to explain there would be few mitigating effects from the added population on the neighborhood’s infrastructure.

Levin: I have to disagree with that

AKRF lady: "Well then we’ll just agree to disagre..."

Levin, with the best exchange of the day:
Levin: “How long does it take to walk from the Domino sugar site to those subway stations.”

“What I’ve done myself…”

“If it’s say raining or snowing, and you have to get to work, and some folks cant walk… my question… this is what City Planning is all about. Have you engaged with the city, with the state, with the MTA…. I know people who take the train back from Canarsie just to get a seat. The L train is the most likely train to least get a seat on... what measures is CPCR taking with the MTA, City Transit, what discussion have you taken. Because it is only going to get worse.”

11:22 am: Press Row starts grumbling. I may have clipped a few of Steve’s words above, but his questions are starting to meander.

Susan: “The only mitigation is congestion is the Marcy line on the JMZ and we believe that transit will work. The J line is underserved not overserved and there is capacity on every station. Certainly the L train is [overserved]. The MTA has a history of adding more lines to the L train. There is capacity on the L line to absorb additional trains.

Steve continues his line about community facility space and the threat of secondary and primary displacement. Susan shoots down the suggestion.

Susan: it is a social condition that occurs in an area. It’s not the result of one project. Whatever the causes of secondary displacement have already occurred in this community. Most of the people who support this project have already felt the threat of displacement.

Steve: I want to talk about open space. The project has been lauded for its open space. In reality it would result in the decrease of open space ratios per capita. Does CPCR admit that there is a decrease?

Susan: We are providing four acres of open space. If we had been required to meet the rezoning agreement’s percentage, open space would have dropped far further. What I do know about our open space is that it is there and it will be there forever. It is space that the community can use and it connects to Grand Ferry Park.

11:41 am Mark tells Steve to Wrap it Up and Steve mentions that he has been lampooned in the Daily News and wants to clarify that CPCR is a for-profit subsidiary of a nonprofit organization and is the developer of the project. Susan acknowledges this.

Steve: The characterization in the press that this project is being developed by a nonprofit is both specious and wrong.

Susan: I can’t speak to what the press writes...

Steve: As a representative of the area, people have concerns about the height, the density, the transportation negative impacts, open space negative impacts that this project will have. This is a refrain that I hear from everyone, even if they support this project. It is my hope that CPCR will in the coming days significantly address these concerns, because that is a voice I am hearing.

11:42 AM Reyna takes over and Susan Pollock.

Diana: I look forward to working with my colleague (Steve? Is she talking about Steve?) about transportation and open space concerns. It is valuable to have ongoing dialogues, not just during a rezoning, with the MTA and the Parks Department.

Diana pivots to Susan Pollock. Lots of pivoting today. I feel like I'm watching a figure skating tournament.

"The matter as far as the Domino Sugar and issues of transportation, you’ve said that you will have ongoing negotiations with city agencies and New York City Transit…"

Diana asks whether the plan will effect the preservation neighborhoods negatively or positively. Her questions are starting to meander as well. She’s trying to do a lot to focus on the neighborhood’s decline of Latino population and whether the project could bring back displaced residents to her neighborhood.

Susan explains that fifty percent of the affordable housing is reserved for applicants from Community Board 1 and the rest is an open lottery. Diana presses on about the opportunities that immigrant families don’t have just before Steve leaves the chamber to grab a coffee.

Unless I missed a presentation from the beginning, CPCR President Michael Lappin hasn’t said anything. He’s like the Derek Fisher to Susan Pollock’s Kobe Bryant.

Diana asks about the possibility of a school on the project, which was not part of the original project. The school for hotel swap, which was mentioned in City Planning’s final environmental impact statement is a small part of the debate, though it appears that Diana wants to see both in the project. Diana also raises an issue of illegal hotels in her district.

Diana: I want to express for the record what is now a crisis, discussing further the potential use of commercial space.

Pollock says that if the market holds up, she would consider putting a hotel into the project.

Diana: Landlords are conspiring for illegal hotel use, further exacerbating housing in my district.
I want to thank CPC for its tremendous amount of community outreach. I believe that this project will meet the needs of our community as long as it is built properly.

12:00 PM Councilmember Lappin, no relation to Michael Lappin has a few words.

‘I get asked all the time,” said Lappin. “I wanted to speak to the preservation aspect of this project. I think we should preserve this site as best we can. I very much like the look o if it, it recaptures the look of the factory. I want to talk about the sign. I love that sign. When you think about the Domino project, you think about that sign. My only question is about the park space. Who will maintain it? Will there be a fund to maintain it?"

Susan answers that it will be maintained by a special fund operated by the Open Space Alliance from the market rate owners on that site, collected from the common charges from the site. Interesting. Many OSA members (I’m thinking Adam Perlmutter and other board members) have been opposed to the site because of its density, but

LeRoy Comrie asks about shadows on surrounding streets. The AKRF rep says that shadows won’t reach Kent Avenue until late afternoon and notes that the towers closest to Grand Ferry Park will have fewer shadows due since they have been reduced.

LeRoy, who lives in St. Albans Queens, calls the Kent Avenue bike lane “ridiculous” and asks about transportation effects on Kent and urges them to reconsider that. Susan says that’s not going to happen. LeRoy then asks about the upland site.

12:31 PM: Let’s end this with Vito on the stand, I missed the beginning of Vito’s testimony. Vito is on a roll, Steve Levin is smiling and Diana Reyna is deeply engrossed in her blackberry.

Vito: CPC is a for profit developer, CPCR has more lobbyists in this room than there are residents in this room. If I had the authority, I would kill this whole project and build 2000 units of affordable housing. The question before your committee is to move on this project responsibly, not to meet the agenda of a developer who wants t make an enormous project.

Williamsburg is at a turning point. Without major changes, you will create a gold coast. I know there’s been talk of a ferry. It doesn’t work, there’s no ferry for three months. Other projects have mandated that transportation should be provided. The B39 bus, we don’t know what’s going to happen to, the M train…

We’re going to add 7,000 people and they’re not going to fly you to Manhattan. They're going to use the subway. 15 minute walk? It takes half an hour in the snow and rain. If you’re elderly you’re not going ot get there. The bottom line is that it’s too big, and it has to be brought down.”

I fought hard in Albany. Something has to give. This developer, cannot function on profit margin. They need to bring it down, increase the affordability. Maybe we can bring it from 660 to 800 and even 1,000 units of affordable housing, We need to stay there. We’re selling thousands of luxury houses to residents who are not going to get it.

Talk to your social services person, Williamsburg and Bushwick has the fastest population going into the shelters. They can’t afford it. It’s the ramification sof gentrification. You are going to destroy this community. I pray that as councilmember’s, you would not want massive luxury development in this district. This group has not yet compromised, not an inch.

Steve asks Vito what heights he would like to see on this development. I don’t hear Vito say 30 stories, which is what Debbie Feinberg told me he would like to see the tower heights capped at. Instead, Vito finishes his speech regarding his legacy to preserve and create affordable housing and urges councilmember’s to hear his concerns.

Vito: We have to fight for the working person, fight for the people who have gave up a day who dream for an apartment, not the people who can buy an apartment, pay $6000 rent, We don’t need to help those people. They can help themselves.

Mark thanks Vito, reminds him to drive carefully on his way up to Albany. Vito mumbles something about bringing money down to the city and Mark thanks him for doing that “as soon as he can.”

The hearing continues until after 4 pm, but it's time to head out. With that, Act II is complete. Check back next week for the conclusion of Le Domino Noir

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