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.

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