Williamsburg’s Last Domino: A Gentrification Time Bomb?

08/18/2010 5:00 AM |

Not everyone is opposed to the Domino plan: several politicians, including the mayor, and community organizations have expressed their support. Reaction has split along racial and socio-economic lines, with much of the support coming from a segment of Williamsburg’s South Side Latino population. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and Councilwoman Diana Reyna have been prominent faces of support—though the development lies outside of Reyna’s district—as has Father Rick Beuther, of the South Side’s Saints Peter and Paul Church, along with many of his congregants.

The plan’s proponents talked up the increased open space and high percentage of affordable housing. “The past few years have not been friendly to our community as… businesses, families and properties are squeezed out of our neighborhood,” Reyna told a rally of bused-in supporters wearing yellow “Domi-YES!” t-shirts this June, according to the Daily News. “This is a vision of what the Latino community in the south side has wanted for so many years.”

Beuther, who by accounts is an admirable advocate for the poor, admitted to the Williamsburg-Greenpoint News that his church has accepted donations from CPC in the past, but he would not admit it to me: every time I called the parish, a different secretary told me that Father Beuther couldn’t come to the phone; several messages went unreturned. Multiple emails to Rep. Vazquez also went unanswered. It was as though supporters were so confident of their coming victory that they no longer needed to argue their position in the press.

Councilman Steven Levin was one of the project’s most vocal opponents, though in the end, after the “compromises,” he changed his position to one of support. When I spoke to him, he admitted the project still wasn’t perfect: that he’d like more affordable housing, less dense development, lower buildings. (Like many critics, he worries about more passengers on the subway. “Take the Bedford L at 8:45 in the morning,” he tells me, “and you’ll have to wait for three trains, or go backwards”—he quickly corrects himself—”go east a few stops.”)

The city council traditionally defers development decisions to that community’s councilmember. If Levin was unhappy with the development, couldn’t he have stopped it? “At a certain point,” he told me, “that was difficult to do.” The city planning commission had approved the plan, which also had significant support from the mayor, several other politicians and community groups.

Finally, Levin admits that it was never his intention to kill the project, just to maximize the community’s benefit from it. “We did our very best to get as many changes as possible,” he tells me. Aside from the shorter towers and shuttle bus, he assured the extension of the set-to-expire Tenant Anti-Harassment Fund and a commitment to neighborhood arts funding. The Bloomberg administration also promised to “look at the feasibility” of a traffic study of the neighborhood—for which Levin said the community has been clamoring over the last seven or so years—as well as to offer continued support for, though not a hard commitment to, the conversion of the old Engine 212 house into a community center, the “Northside Town Hall.” In short, he seems to have gotten a handful of modest promises and a few commitments to consider making commitments.

Levin says he’s looking toward the future: he notes that Domino won’t be the last development in the neighborhood—tens of thousands of new residents will arrive in coming years. He wants to maintain the vibrancy of the neighborhood. “These things collectively will help,” he says.

To which Dennis Farr would most certainly call bullshit.

6 Comment

  • Thanks to Stewart for reporting on this formerly neglected issue that is now gaining widespread consciousness. If anyone wishes to continue the discussion, seek me out on Facebook, and also join the Urbanum Tremendum page.
    –Dennis Farr

  • So much of new construction in Williamsburg is abandoned- this is not a good idea. Also, what’s going to happen to Grand Ferry Park?

  • So, developers generally don’t care about what’s best for the cities they operate in. What else is new? Williamsburg is over. It almost makes you want to leave NYC–go some place where the looming threat of eviction-by-gentrification isn’t always on one’s mind. It’s exhausting keeping up these battles for one neighbourhood after the other, especially because the money always wins.

  • @Drybrain, if “Williamsburg” is “over,” then you have never been. I’m gambling that you’ve never been “involved” in a fight or in a spectacular but have, like the newer generation visiting Williamsburg, always been a spectator. No. I’m sorry–don’t confuse your laying down with looking at the sky. Your attitude may be fine and good for you, but for me, I have yet only begun to fight.