Billyburg’s “New Domino” Mixes Parking Disaster With Bike-Ped Benefits

The New Domino development proposed for the Williamsburg waterfront made headlines last week when a Brooklyn Community Board 1 committee voted against enabling its construction. This privately financed project is worth a close look because it exemplifies how developers can embrace certain livable streets goals while ignoring the big picture of traffic. It’s the kind of development the city will have to guide with a firmer hand in order to meet the sustainability goals of PlaNYC.

New_Domino_across_River.jpgThe New Domino development will reshape the waterfront and the streets just north of the Williamsburg Bridge. Image: The New Domino.

The New Domino’s 2,200 residences would transform 11.2 acres just north of the Williamsburg Bridge, at a former sugar refinery about three-quarters of a mile from the two nearest subway stations. It fronts the Kent Avenue bike lane and the future path of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway. At a site so large and so integral to the city’s bike network, but with mediocre transit access, the developer’s transportation decisions are critically important. 

Determining how much parking to construct is one such transportation decision, and on that score the New Domino abandons good planning.

The development’s 1,694 off-street parking spaces would bring a flood of new motorists to Williamsburg. This is, in a way, intentional. The developer is attempting to match current car ownership rates in the area, according to Martin Hopp, who’s overseeing the project design for Rafael Viñoly Architects. "We felt that it was important to accommodate the anticipated parking need on-site," said Hopp, "rather than to substantially increase vehicles circling the neighborhood for the already limited on-street spaces."

Building so many parking spaces will induce New Domino residents to drive. Research indicates that free parking spaces at home encourage New Yorkers to commute by car. "The amount of parking infrastructure to provide should be based on the neighborhood’s and the city’s street capacity, the city’s goals in terms of carbon reduction, traffic flow, pedestrian safety and so forth," said UPenn professor Rachel Weinberger, co-author of the study "Guaranteed Parking — Guaranteed Driving" [PDF]. "Deciding how many parking spaces to provide on the basis of what is profitable and/or on the rate of car ownership in the surrounding area is completely inappropriate and represents the city’s abdication of its responsibility to protect the public health and welfare."

The expense of building underground parking will probably cost the developer between $30,000 and $50,000 per space, according to Columbia planning professor David King. That means reducing parking would free up quite a lot of money, which could be spent instead on transit improvements. King recommended that New Domino provide shuttle buses to the subway, a
practice that he said is common in Riverdale and some nearby suburbs, and that the developer construct less parking. "It’s certainly worrisome that all this parking is being supplied,"
said King. "That’s 1,700 cars and it’s going to really overwhelm the
community; there’s no doubt about that."

Usually developers face pressure from local residents to provide parking for new arrivals, but in this case, some locals oppose the addition of so much storage for vehicles in
their neighborhood. "It’s interesting because they say
they’re going for LEED certification, they’re going for green roofs,"
said Lacey Tauber of Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, a local advocacy group which has criticized parts of the New Domino plan. Her organization is calling for the developer to pare down the number of parking spaces to the
city’s required minimum — 1,042 spots — and to work with the MTA on providing more transit
options. 

New_Domino_Street_Life.jpgThe developer’s rendering of Kent Avenue prominently features bike lanes and ground floor retail. Car traffic is noticeably absent. Image: The New Domino.

The decision to construct so much parking conflicts with the developer’s significant investments in livable streets. The New Domino will add a four-block waterfront park, allowing people to walk to that segment of the East River shoreline for the first time in 150 years, said Hopp. The developer also intends to widen sidewalks and plant street trees to create a welcoming pedestrian environment. 

Tauber credits the developer for including significant ground-floor retail in its plans. Between the retail and the waterfront access, she said, "it will be very pedestrian friendly once the construction is done." Tauber also sees the New Domino’s bike infrastructure as sufficient, noting that "they’re pretty supportive" of local cyclists. Those improvements will include public bike racks outside and bike storage and changing rooms inside.

The developers of New Domino want to make their 11 acres an attractive place to walk and bike. But they also want to build nearly 1,700 parking spaces that will generate traffic and encroach upon pedestrians and cyclists. It’s a contradiction that could be resolved if the city aligns its parking policy with urban design and sustainability goals. "For most U.S. cities simply doing away with parking minimums is a good first step in parking reform," said Weinberger. "For NYC it’s imperative that the city think about parking maximums."

  • Mike

    Excellent post. This is a tsunami of parking — and will just stimulate driving. And the costs of constructing the parking will make the housing more expensive even for non-drivers.

  • Maybe bike parking should count towards parking minimums. JSK & the mayor are trying to convince New Yorkers that “cycling is transportation”, what better statement would that make?

  • rlb

    30 to 50,000 per space? That comes in on the low side at about 60 million dollars. I wonder how much it would cost to build a station on the JMZ line at kent/wythe.

  • Noah, what is the rationale for building a 2,200-family complex three-quarters of a mile from the subway station? This thing sounds like another Hunters Point; a monstrosity on the East River waterfront that is convenient to nothing.

  • MRN

    Not building the parking would not “free up alot of money” that could be used for transit improvements – those costs are passed in to the ownership cost of the units; those costs and costs for transit improvements are always borne by the consumer.

  • MRN

    Oh, response to Mike #1 – because there are fewer parking spaces than units, it’s likely the plan is to have “unbundled” parking which is sold or leased to residents. My quick math says, at a rate of about $500/mo. Although you are right, even residents who don’t require parking are probably left paying for some portion of the interest on the additional construction loans.

    and to #2 Sean, they’re below the ITE minimums already. The number is based on their projection of market demand for parking. This is likely the number they’d choose if there were no parking minimum.

  • Tacony Palmyra

    “The developer is attempting to match current car ownership rates in the area”

    77% of households in the area have cars? Really?

  • J

    Someone desperately needs to debunk the notion that parking demand is fixed. The developer is building all this parking to prevent an “increase (in) vehicles circling the neighborhood for the already limited on-street spaces.” This is completely bogus. At a certain point people simply won’t own a car there or won’t live that far from transit. The notion of people circling for hours to find parking each day is nonsense. Rational human beings simply won’t put up with it.

    In addition, there are very simple and proven ways to bring that parking number down. Zipcars have been shown to replace the demand for 10 or more private vehicles. Even if the developer wants to meet the same demand, he could provide space for 169 zipcars and 100 private cars (for the random people that work in the suburbs) and be just fine. Most people in inner neighborhoods that do own cars mostly use them on weekends, anyway. Even they don’t want to be that drastic, simply accommodate half the parking demand with zipcars. That would still lower the # of spaces to 935 (850 private + 85 zipcars). The developer here is simply being lazy, which in the end is going to cost him money and make Williamsburg a crappier place to live. No wonder the CB voted against it.

  • JK

    The ITE’s Parking Generation is total baloney. New York City and most of Western Europe could not exist under ITE parking minimums. Parking Generation is ostensibly a scientifically constructed reference but it fails the basic “does this match reality test.” It is also unbelievably shoddy from an analytical, empirical and quantitative perspective. If ITE had any intellectual or engineering integrity, it would have pulled Parking Generation from the shelves after Don Shoup’s comprehensive debunking in the “High Cost of Free Parking.” Back to the article, the Domino developer could sell these units out without any parking. They just wouldn’t make as much money. This is another development travesty completely at odds with PlaNYC and DOT’s recent great accomplishments.

  • teresa

    When checking car ownership rates, the developer relied on census tracts immediately near the project area, which has the highest car ownership rates in the community district. That’s why you’re seeing such a bizarrely high figure. At the last census, less than half of Brooklyn CB1’s households owned a car. (So it might be a disingenuous effort by the developer to justify the outrageous parking supply.)

    The unfortunate reality is that Domino’s proposed project is in an extremely transit-poor corner of the community which is also heavily residential instead of mixed-use, so important things like supermarkets, hardware stores, coffee shops, etc. are farther away. I’m not justifying the car dependence – in my opinion, that corner of Williamsburg is crying out for diverse businesses so residents can be less car dependent, and Domino has been mum about the commercial portion of the development which makes me skeptical – just answering Tacony’s question.

  • JW

    not to mention, those buildings are hideous

    this whole project is a dud, rip it up and start over.

  • The first question seems to be if there is enough demand from carfree people and (potential) carshare-users to make this project viable with a very small amount of parking, say just for guests. (In other words building housing for carpeople which does not have direct access to a highway etc is nuts.)

    The shuttle sounds like a schlep — is that new JMZ station technically-feasible? How about some small ferries to the Financial District and the soon-to-come 34th St. Anti-Schlepping Corridor? Also, in addition to the carshare, have every 10 or so units share a cargobike (also for under 16s, people without licenses, etc.)

  • Jonathan: if the neighborhood is walkable, and has good ferry access, then there’s nothing wrong with building luxury units where there’s demand for them. The main problem, as usual, is the needs of the non-luxury market, where car ownership rates are lower than 77% per household and where affordable housing is a serious issue.

  • Mike

    MRN: $500/month is about 3x the market rate for off-street parking in this area. They won’t be able to charge that much. Which means they’ll lose money on the parking, and the money presumably has to come from higher profit margins on the rest of the housing (or less affordable housing).

  • I wouldn’t call for scrapping the entire project. I am actually quite impressed with the extension of public streets, with ground-level retail, extending from the existing street grid, through the development, and to the water front. It’s one of few recent large-scale developments not to be built as a superblock.

    The infusion of so many new autos into the neighborhood is just plain rude, though. How would the developer feel if I went to HIS neighborhood and let loose a huge herd of two-ton stampeding morons?

  • Shemp

    NAG should call for the developer to apply to city planning for an exemption to go below the city minimum. Also go look at like North 4th or N 5th Street between Kent and Wythe and see that there is room for on-street parking in the hood. I dunno about S. 5th, S. 4th as much but this is not yet Park Slope or Manhattan in terms of parking crunch.

  • Perhaps this would be the kind of project that would support a water taxi network? I know their finances are precarious, but this is a lot of potential demand right on the water.

  • Larry Littlefield

    This get back to the point I made earlier. Those who park on the street will object to the buildings without the parking. But if you hand permit parking, with those licensed and insured in the area now having a low rate permanently, new parkers having to bid for additional permits, and no additional permits once there is a “parking shortage” declared, that goes away. You want to live there? Ride your bike over the Williamsburg Bridge. There is plenty of capacity there.

  • John

    Mike: I’m pretty sure the market rate for parking in similar projects up the river is about $200 a month. But, you’re absolutely right that CPC will have to charge more to make up for capital costs. They’re also not planning on building the affordable units until after the market rate condos, so those stand a pretty good chance of being slashed (if the city will let them).

    As for other transportation options, I would imagine that it would be a huge expense to build a J/V (RIP, M&Z) station at Kent or Wythe. Marcy Ave is only a half mile away, and Bedford is 3/4ths. That’s a lot closer than many people in the city are to the nearest station. Also, if the ferry goes in at N6th, that’s another fairly convenient option.

  • Mike

    It’s more like 2/3 mile to Marcy and 0.7 to Bedford. Not a great hike by NYC standards, but still substantial when you consider the density that’s proposed here.

    Building a station on the Williamsburg Bridge structure seems like a massive undertaking. Also, the bridge is likely landmarked (?).

  • JK

    Larry, as you know, Residential Parking Permits require state legislative approval. This seems like a good location to try car share and unbundle parking costs and build below minimums per Shemp.

    To your larger point, this is indeed the fundamental issue “Those who park on the street will object to the buildings without the parking.”

    “Those who park on the street” effectively dictate city parking policy. The developer determines the number of spots it will build based on their real net cost and political net cost. The developer here probably could make a profit building far less parking. But the politics don’t work without lots of parking.

  • daniel

    this is depressing. they’ve developed and built so many new buildings in the area and there are more on the way. we don’t need anymore. i wish they would just turn the rest of the waterfront along kent ave into parklands. that would be beauitful. those new buildings along kent are so big and imposing looking. the schools and subway line in the ‘hood are so overcrowded as it is. why can’t we stop expanding for a change and just work on improving what’s around us. bloomberg and burden just want to build build build. enough already!!!

  • Ian Turner

    Daniel, maybe you don’t need any more housing, but New York City undeniably has a housing crunch, and the only way to address it is with more housing. New developments do require new schools and new transportation infrastructure, but need not overwhelm a community; Long Island City is a great example of this sort of respectful neighborhood development.

  • zach

    Sean: nice idea. Have the city pass a law that developers can use some bicycle parking spaces toward their parking requirement. They can still charge a monthly fee for the bicycle parking spaces, the same fee per square foot as for the car spaces (maybe marginally more for administrative costs). A developer can thus reduce the total area devoted to parking considerably and still provide the same number of spaces. If it really comes to pass that not enough cyclists are willing to pony up for the space, it can be repainted for (albeit fewer) cars or storage lockers.

  • Underground automobile parking is bad for bicycles. They need to be in a straight line between a residential unit and the street, so best would be to have small clusters of indoor bike parking all over the complex.

    Also those buildings will block the morning sun to the riverfront for most of the year. Bad.

  • Yes, it is really simple: Carshare implementation in the proper ratio, no private automobile parking and a new station on the bridge, plus small, fast ferries to Finan. Dist. and 34th St. This place can have some of the best collective transport collections in the entire universe… but only if that stupid underground parking is not built.

  • Blue

    Yes, it is frightfully expensive to build parking, particularly below grade on what is essentially historical landfill. The builder has to build a “bathtub” which has to be dewatered at great expense throughout construction of the foundation. In addition, it is very expensive to ship all of the soil, which will have some degree of contamination, to sites in Pennylvania. Developers believe that Brooklyn residents want cars, and there is reason to believe they are correct, particularly in a location where the nearest subway is a long walk and catching a yellow cab is nearly impossible. So, despite the cost, developers of large projects build parking. In addition, some of the previous commenters point out that the neighborhood is desperate for supermarkets and other services. True- but supermarket tenants want parking available for their shoppers. One of the reasons that Brooklyn is under retailed as compared to other locations is that retail chains (like Whole Foods) view Brooklyn as a “suburban” location and demand lots of parking, even if there’s no room to build it. It’s a difficult puzzle.

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