Opponents of Domino Sugar project sue to overturn approval

By Adam Pincus | November 30, 2010 06:03PM

Jeffrey Baker, Susan Pollock and a rendering of the Domino Sugar site

Opponents of the $1.5 billion mixed-use redevelopment of the crumbling Domino Sugar site in Williamsburg sued last week to overturn the waterfront plan that won approval over the summer from the City Council.

A group calling itself Williamsburg Community Preservation Coalition, which includes a handful of long-time critics of the project, claims several entities including the City Council, the Department of City Planning and the developer CPC Resources, violated a state law governing environmental review of such projects. The suit was filed in New York State Supreme Court last Wednesday.

“The community thinks it is oversized and inappropriate for the area,” the organization’s attorney Jeffrey Baker, a partner at Young, Sommer, Ward, Ritzenberg, Baker & Moore, told The Real Deal.

For example, the suit says the City Planning Commission and the City Council, “failed to take a hard look at the adverse environmental impacts of the project,” in areas such as traffic, density and a reduction in open space.

While the 34-page petition lists four causes of action, Baker said the main issue was that backers of the redevelopment, known as New Domino, claimed 30 percent of the 2,200 apartments would be affordable housing, but the suit claims the final approval only put that required level at 20 percent.

“It was sold as one project but approved as another,” Baker said.

Susan Pollock, senior vice president of CPC Resources, the for-profit development division of the not-for-profit Community Preservation Corporation, said in a statement that the company plans to build 660 units of affordable housing.

“We are confident that the rigorous and comprehensive review process culminating in the approval of the New Domino complied with all applicable legal requirements,” she said.

Kate Ahlers, a spokesperson for the city’s Law Department, which handles lawsuits against the city, said the department was in the process of reviewing the lawsuit, but added that, “We believe the environmental review was both complete and appropriate.”

In July, the City Council approved the plan to redevelop 11 acres in Williamsburg and build approximately 2,200 apartments in about 2.4 million square feet of residential space, as well as up to 223,570 square feet of retail space and 143,076 square feet of community space.
The project would include rehabilitating the old refinery building, erecting several new buildings including two 34-story towers, as well as improving the waterfront.

The project is to be constructed on two parcels. The larger is a five-block lot fronting the East River between Grand and South 5th streets, west of Kent Avenue. The smaller parcel is between South 3rd and 4th streets, east of Kent Avenue.
The suit identifies six individual plaintiffs and four companies that either reside near or are located within two blocks of the site, including Brandon Cole, a frequent critic of the plan at community board meetings, and Stephanie Eisenberg, who formed Save Domino in 2007, a group that backed a failed plan to convert the site into a cultural center. The Williamsburg Community Preservation Coalition claims to have approximately 50 members living near the project or in adjacent neighborhoods.

The refinery building was designated a landmark in September 2007.

CPC Resources and elected officials have often touted the plans for affordable housing, during the nearly six-year process for approval.

Baker said the suit was similar to one opponents of the Atlantic Yards redevelopment filed. They won a minor victory in state court Nov. 9, in which a judge ruled the state had failed to properly review the environmental impact the development would have on the neighborhood.