Two Trees: Less-Parking-for-More-Affordable-Housing a No Go at Domino

A rendering of the Domino Sugar Factory plan from Two Trees Management. Image: SHoP Architects
A rendering of the Domino Sugar Factory plan from Two Trees Management. Image: SHoP Architects

In his first big stand on development, Mayor Bill de Blasio is trying to wring more affordable housing out of the Domino Sugar Factory project on the Williamsburg waterfront. The mixed-use plan currently calls for 2,284 housing units, 29 percent of them affordable. The mayor is looking for more affordable housing, while so far developer Two Trees Management has offered to solidify its existing commitments.

One way to shift resources toward subsidized residences could be to reduce the number of parking spaces in the development. The current plan calls for 1,050 parking spaces — several hundred fewer than earlier versions of the project, but still enough to fill about two city blocks. But Two Trees says a parking reduction is off the table because it would require adjustments to the project’s environmental review documents in advance of a City Planning Commission vote scheduled for Wednesday.

Off-street structured parking in New York City costs up to $50,000 per space to build. Recognizing the expense that parking adds to housing construction, the city has suggested eliminating parking mandates for affordable housing in “inner ring” neighborhoods like Williamsburg. It remains unclear how much the de Blasio administration will use the elimination of parking minimums to achieve its affordability goals.

The New York Times first reported the de Blasio administration’s Domino bargaining effort yesterday, and the topic came up at a mayoral press conference today.  “This proposal on the table offers a lot of opportunity for the developer, and we think it’s important that it also offer a lot back for the people,” de Blasio said, adding that he hopes Two Trees will make a deal “that will allow us to create a lot more benefit for communities, starting with affordable housing.” 

Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen and City Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod are leading the administration’s effort. Streetsblog has asked City Hall if it is pushing for a reduction in parking as a way to secure more affordable housing but has not received a response.

Asking for affordable housing in exchange for less parking is not unprecedented. In East Harlem, the community board pushed the developer of a 32-story residential tower on 125th Street to add more affordable housing in exchange for building half the amount of parking required by the zoning code. In the end, the developer got the parking variance but the board didn’t get the affordable units, settling instead for an agreement that local residents would be hired for retail jobs in the development.

What’s unusual about de Blasio’s effort is that it’s coming with the Domino project just inches from the finish line. The project has already received certification from Amanda Burden’s City Planning Commission, as well as support from the community board and former borough president Marty Markowitz. The final hurdles are a City Planning Commission vote on Wednesday, followed by sign-off from the City Council and the mayor.

De Blasio’s hand is weakened because Two Trees already has approvals in hand for a less-popular project at the same site from developer CPC Resources, which used to own the Domino property before selling it to Two Trees. If de Blasio is unsuccessful in reaching an agreement, Two Trees could simply build the already-approved development. That project includes 1,428 parking spaces — nearly 400 more spots than what’s currently proposed.

  • Eric McClure

    Does anyone lose if the project swaps parking spaces for additional affordable units? Sure doesn’t seem like it.

  • Also, would anyone lose if we obliterated the parking provisions in CEQR tomorrow?

  • BBnet3000

    Swapping parking for more affordable housing sounds like a great idea, but why is De Blasio pulling this right before the project is going before the City Planning Commission? This is going to torpedo the whole thing.

  • Alex

    I’m guessing the Byzantine structure of the DOB in the city makes this kind of last minute-ish change incredibly expensive and cumbersome for Two Trees. A real shame, because I bet they would have gladly accepted that as a condition earlier on in the project.

  • wklis

    Car-sharing for when a car is needed.

  • fad

    People who are currently parking on the street for free and might have (more) trouble finding a place to park.

  • Bolwerk

    No they wouldn’t. If anything, garage users would park on the street when it’s convenient. Williamsburg can absorb plenty more car-free housing without issue.

  • Bolwerk

    The irony to this is the unspoken appeal to Williamsburg back in the 1990s and early 2000s was just how car-free it was (and to a large extent remains). Even the parts with meh transit connections, closer to the waterfront, had a draw long before the neighborhood was fully ascendant.

  • valar84

    Personally, after thinking of this issue, I’m now in favor of the Japanese solution to parking, it just makes sense. They have minimum parking requirements that are so low they might as well not exist, but the real policy here is that people need to have a proof of off-street parking when they register their car to get license plates (without plates, you can’t use the public streets). Meaning that individuals, not planners nor developers, are responsible for finding their own parking spot. This creates a market for renting out parking in cities.

    Whereas the current policy is about controlling the supply of parking and subsidizing it, the Japanese policy is instead of creating a demand for off-street parking and having people who want cars pay the full cost of this parking. If people aren’t ready to pay for the parking, then they don’t get to have cars.

    This also makes sure that on-street parking is under-used in residential areas, since every car owner has an off-street parking spot somewhere nearby where they will likely park, so only visitors will park in the street. Streets can be thus built much narrower as they don’t need to be wide enough to accommodate unbroken lines of cars parked there nearly 24/7.

    But if you want to keep on-street parking, then you could sell a number of on-street proof of parking per street, for instance, if a street can have 40 cars parked on it, you could attribute say 30 proofs of parking for that street, available to residents living within say a half-mile radius through an auction. You identify these 30 spots as reserved to owners of a permit but only from 9 PM to 7 AM, the last 10 spots open to anyone at any time.

  • qrt145

    “This also makes sure that on-street parking is under-used in residential areas, since every car owner has an off-street parking spot somewhere nearby where they will likely park.”

    This may be true in cities with big, shared garages, but not so much in the suburbs. I’m not sure I’ve met anyone who lives in a single-family detached house with garage and who uses the garage for parking. Typically, the garage is used for storage of everything but the car, while the car sits on the street. Some even turn their garage into an inhabitable room (which may not be entirely legal, but is a clever use of the combination of garage mandates with free space on the street).

  • valar84

    Off-street parking doesn’t necessarily mean garages, it also means driveways and parking lots.

    From the suburbs I’ve seen (and the one I was raised in), though garages are not always used, the vast majority of people park their cars in their driveways at least. There are a few cars parked on the street, but generally these are parked there when an household has 3 cars or more and having them all parked in the driveway means that you would need to remove one car to allow another to get out. During winter though, garages are more used, but we get a lot of snow and ice buildup on cars left outside so that is a worse annoyance than having to open and close the garage door when arriving or leaving.

    In Japan, single-family housing typically has a place for a car, whether a small driveway or garage, but there are a few parking lots here and there providing additional parking spaces to rent for people either with more than one car per household or for renters in low-rise apartments. That’s the result of the policy, by creating a demand, when a lot of people want to own cars and are ready to pay for it, some people will buy lots and turn them into parking, renting out the spaces.

  • StepUpAndSaySomething

    If Bill wants a fight, he could take on the Mets who are stealing park land to build a mall against community wishes.

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