East River Waterfront - Development Update

Domino Sugar Factory Rendering

TF Cornerstone's Long Island City megadevelopment East Coast has been massively successful in urbanizing the once industrial Queens waterfront. The 21-acre development consists of 7 buildings at the site of the former Pepsi-Cola bottling plant. 4 are already complete-- and they're renting faster than expected. 

"The success even surprises us," TF Cornerstone executive VP Sofia Estevez told the Daily News, "this goes to show what happens when you have an ownership committed to developing a neighborhood." Ultimately the development will contain 3,000 1, 2, 3-bedroom units. The rentals range from about $2,300 to $3,500.

And that's only TF Cornerstone's project. East Coast has attracted other big-name developers including The Lightstone Group, whose massive rental Gantry Park Landing opened a year and a half ago. All the new buildings are built of glossy reflective glass. They're all equipped with competitive amenities which include  yoga roofs, furnished terraces and gaming rooms, and they're designed to maximize views of the Manhattan skyline. 

The neighborhood has quickly transformed to accommodate the new residents. Restaurants, bars, and retailers crop up where there was little commercial activity in the past. The waterfront boardwalk and beach is ideal for families, and will undoubtedly profit from the opening of a new elementary school near the river. The arts community, which was already well established with MoMA PS1, is seeing more activity than ever. 

Meanwhile in Brooklyn, plans for the Domino Sugar refinery development are moving slowly. The first developer, Community Preservation Corporation Resources, sold the site to Two Trees Management after some financial trouble and extended public opposition to the project. Two Trees, in collaboration with SHoP architects, introduced the new design last year. This means that the project will again undergo public review. Although Williamsburg residents are far from excited about the development, there's significantly less opposition to the new design than there was to the first. Instead of a series of homogenous 40-story glass towers, Two Trees proposes a handful of geometrically innovative structures, one of which looks like a towering digital numerical zero. The rest of the lego-like buildings are full of archways and surrounded by open green space. This will allow more light, better views, and will somehow "preserve a sense of continuity with the neighborhood."  The tallest two towers may soon be the tallest buildings in Brooklyn, at close to 600 feet. The old factory remains, now a small brick centerpiece. It will be converted to office space. 

Two Trees has promised that 660 of the 2, 284 apartments will be below-market-rate. For many, that's a dealbreaker. The waterfront will inevitably be developed soon even if the new design isn't approved, and Two Trees may be offering the best possible deal. Still, there's some controversy about where the affordable units will be placed. Non-supporters claim that the placement of one third of the cheaper apartments in the building farthest from the river enables a negative trend deemed "separate but equal" affordable housing. Two Trees claims that this means the apartments will be available sooner than most of the luxury rentals. We'll have to see how the project weathers the second round of public review. 

The Greenpoint Landing project faces tougher challenges. The City Council and Borough President Mary Markowitz recently approved the plan after several modifications to the original proposal. These include the addition of a public elementary and middle school (which will receive an extra $25,000 annually), $3 million donated by the developers to the budget for Newtown Barge Park, an agreement to keep the 431 affordable housing units between 40% and 120% of the area's median income, and increased transportation funded by the developers. 

But Community Board 1is not pleased with the Council's approval. The board, unable to reach an agreement with the Greenpoint Landing Associates (the developers), voted against the project. "They are not doing the right thing," said Community Board member Rob Solano to The Brooklyn Paper, "they are arrogant, they don't get it, and they answer questions with questions." The project remains at an impasse. 

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