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City Council Reaches Deal on Domino Factory Redevelopment

By Dana Varinsky | April 25, 2014 11:18am
 The Land Use Committee approved the massive Domino Sugar Factory develop project Thursday, in exchange for new affordability standards.
The Land Use Committee approved the massive Domino Sugar Factory develop project Thursday, in exchange for new affordability standards.
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DNAinfo/Meredith Hoffman

WILLIAMSBURG — The Domino Sugar Factory project has gotten the green light from the City Council’s Land Use Committee.

The committee reached a deal to allow the construction of new residential and commercial towers at the old factory site late Thursday afternoon, after a lengthy negotiation. Under the new agreement, the development’s affordable housing will only be leased to tenants who make 70 percent or less of the area’s median income.

"After weeks of discussions we have reached an agreement on the project at the Domino Sugar factory site that will build on the gains made by the de Blasio Administration to maximize affordable housing and open space to the Williamsburg community," said Councilman Steve Levin in a statement.

Previously, the proposal did not specify a limit on income levels that would be accommodated in the affordable housing units. According to Councilman David Greenfield, who chairs the Land Use Committee, this meant income requirements could have been as high as $100,000 — 25 percent more than the neighborhood's median.

Greenfield explained that the deal will now mean rent prices will be determined based on their affordability for families of four making about $60,000 per year.

"When you approve a project of this magnitude, you want to at least lock this in," he said of the income specification. "This is the kind of thing that you really don’t get a second chance at."

In exchange for this concession, the city agreed to provide tax-exempt financing to Two Trees Management, the development firm behind the project, if necessary to keep tenants’ income requirements low. The Domino proposal did not previously include any subsidies from the city.

"This guarantee allows the deal to go forward, because the administration will now make sure this happens," Councilman Greenfield said. "The city will make sure that those units are subsidized, whether it's by giving low interest loans or by giving those actual subsidies."

David Lombino, director of special projects for Two Trees Management, says the firm intends to seek the tax-exempt bonds in order to fund the affordable housing.

"We’re happy they’ve given us additional assurance that they’ll be available," he said, adding that the firm is glad to have nailed down the affordability standards.

"We think that by locking in this level of affordability on the project, that these units will be accessible to local residents, and that’s important to us," Lombino said.

Negotiations over the Domino Sugar Factory project gained public attention after the de Blasio administration insisted that Two Trees Management add more affordable housing in exchange for the zoning changes that would pave the way for the construction of tall waterfront towers. 

The city announced that it had come to an agreement with Two Trees Management in March. The development firm promised to bump the number of affordable units from 660 to 700, out of a total of more than 2,200 apartments in the project. In exchange, the city agreed to a zoning change that would allow a 55-story tower to be built on the site. The Planning Commission unanimously approved the proposal shortly thereafter.

The Land Use Committee’s approval all but ensures the project will get the green light from the City Council, which is expected to vote on the new iteration of the Domino proposal May 14, after the City Planning Commission votes on the newest modifications.

Lombino said Two Trees Management expects to break ground on the first building in December.