The Domino Sugar sign that announced the mill on the East River in Brooklyn for generations will be displayed atop new apartments being built at the site under a plan approved on Tuesday by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
“It really is preservation in its best sense,” Michael D. Lappin, a partner in the development of the property, said after the hearing.
In February and March, the developers approached the commission with a proposal for a glass addition planned for the roof of the former Williamsburg refinery that was criticized by both the commissioners and the public. The plan depicted a five-story structure atop the old building, made taller by bulkheads holding motors for the elevators and cooling system on the roof. Opponents called the addition too bulky and incongruous with the refinery, which was built in 1884.
Commissioners asked the developers to rework the addition, and to try to include a place for the Domino sign, which is atop a nearby building that will be torn down. Though the commission designated the refinery a landmark last year, protecting it from destruction, the sign was not included in that designation, and its future had been uncertain.
Sugar processing largely shut down at the plant in 2003.
The plan that was released on Tuesday reduced the size of the addition — from five stories to four and, in some places, three stories — with the bulkheads hidden inside the glass structure. The Domino sign will be attached to the glass addition.
Commissioners approved the design by a vote of 7 to 1. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter voted against the design. Construction is to begin in the fall of 2009, Mr. Lappin said.
The plan for the refinery and new buildings calls for shops, open space and 2,200 apartments to be built on an 11.5-acre site surrounding the refinery, in buildings of 30 and 40 stories. Thirty percent of the apartments would be reserved for families with low or moderate incomes.
The offer from the city was sweet enough to jeopardize the rewards of decades of tedious surgery — gutted transmissions, mix-and-match motor parts, skeletons of abandoned cars. So sweet, in fact, that it persuaded Daniel Sambucci to aid a plan he still opposes.
But Mr. Sambucci, 77, whose family owns an auto salvage company in Willets Point in Queens, would not say exactly how sweet. “They treated us well,” was all he would say on Friday.
The sale, announced on Wednesday, marked a flash of surrender in a community that has long opposed the city’s ambitious efforts to transform its scruffy 13-block industrial park into a $3 billion retail, office and residential district with restaurants and a park.
Under the deal with the city, the Sambucci Brothers business will move to College Point, Mr. Sambucci said.
In Willets Point, a triangle east of Shea Stadium and west of the Van Wyck Expressway where stray cats roam the streets and shoes are stained by muddy clay, news of Mr. Sambucci’s decision to sell was met with surprise and vows to continue to fight the city’s plan.
But even though many business owners remained resilient, some said they understood Mr. Sambucci’s decision and might do the same if the offer was sufficiently appealing.
“God bless them,” said Paul Cohen, who has owned Roosevelt Auto Wrecking for nearly two decades. “You got to do what’s best for yourself.”
Since the city’s plan was announced last year, Mr. Sambucci’s 57-year-old family business, Sambucci Brothers Auto Salvage, has stood as a symbol of the fight against city control.
Signs decrying eminent domain, the government’s power to seize private land for public use, line the fences and windows near the 52,000-square-foot lot, stacked with tons of metal, glass and chrome.
Mr. Sambucci said he agonized over the decision to sell. The son of immigrants from Naples, Italy, he built the business from a scrap metal dump into a popular trove of used auto parts by working 18 hours a day.
Despite his decision, he said, he still hopes that the city fails in its quest.
“My first wish was to stay where I was created,” he said over a quick hot dog lunch in his office. “I don’t want to go, but they’ve got the gun on the table.”
Mr. Sambucci’s business is part of a group of organizations and property owners that has opposed the city’s efforts. Ultimately, Mr. Sambucci said, the cost of protesting the city’s efforts grew too large.
“The city could fight us for 100 years,” he said. “We’re going to run out of money, but they’re not. You can’t fight a war without money.”
Down the pothole-covered streets from Sambucci Brothers sits House of Spices, a producer and distributor of Indian food and a member of the business consortium. Gordhandas Soni, owner of the business for 38 years, said the pressure to sell had become intolerable in recent months.
“It is like a sword hanging over you, spinning slowly,” he said. “They should not be using divide-and-rule tactics.”
Neil Soni, Mr. Soni’s son and the company’s vice president, said he did not see the sale of Sambucci Brothers as a significant threat to Willets Point.
“They are only one business out of more than 200,” he said. “I don’t call that progress.”
Mr. Cohen, owner of the nearby wrecking lot, said his business was in a state of limbo. He said that he wanted to make improvements to his business, but that they would be pointless if he reached a deal to sell his land or if the city invoked eminent domain.
The city has said that the development project will create union jobs and that eminent domain will be used only as a last resort.
“There’s no question that Willets Point has to be cleaned up and the businesses have to be relocated for that to happen,” said Andrew Brent, a spokesman for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
Mr. Cohen said he was also concerned about the employees of Willets Point businesses that would not be compensated if their owners decided to sell.
“They’re good people,” he said. “They come to work on time, 365 days a year.”
Mr. Sambucci said he worried most about his 50-year-old son and 21-year-old grandson, who have helped the business prosper.
When the business moves next year, it will start from scratch, leaving behind parts amassed over the years.
Mr. Sambucci said he also worried about the future of family-owned businesses in the area.
Imagine the view: a penthouse apartment that rotates on command to catch sunrise over the East River and sunset over the Hudson.
It sounds like a vision from a futuristic novel, but it could be coming to New York.
Italian architect David Fisher announced plans Tuesday for two rotating skyscrapers in Dubai and Moscow. He hopes to build a third tower in New York some time "very soon."
Fisher said that the idea came to him when he was enjoying the view from a friend's Manhattan apartment and imagined a building where "everybody can see the East River and the Hudson River."
The Dubai tower, set to be completed in 2010, will be 80 stories tall, housing office space, a hotel, and apartments. Each floor will rotate independently at a different speed, giving the building a constantly changing shape.
In the apartments on the highest floors, owners will set the direction of rotation through a system that responds to voice commands in three languages.
The perk doesn't come cheap - apartments will sell at $3,000 per square foot - with the largest ones going for a whopping $38 million.
The tower will also make all its own energy and electricity for neighboring buildings with wind turbines placed between floors.
In another first, it will be built mostly in a factory in Italy and then assembled on site.
Fisher said a rotating tower would be a "beautiful" addition to the Manhattan skyline, adding that he had received some requests from New York developers to work on one.
He hasn't scoped out an ideal location in the city yet. "This building's going to be a landmark. It doesn't matter really where you put it," he said.
As for how his shape-shifting tower will square with New York's building regulations? "Maybe we have to change the building codes," he said.
The season to prepare for Four Seasons construction
Demolition at 99 Church St. is done, but that doesn’t mean developer Silverstein Properties can leap right into the construction of the new Four Seasons hotel and condo tower.
Before Richard McKinley, Silverstein’s development manager, can look up to see the tower rise, he has to look down. The site abuts the 2/3 and E subway lines, so workers need to brace the concrete bathtub wall that traces the border of the property. That work started in late May and should conclude soon.
At Community Board 1’s W.T.C. Redevelopment Committee in June, McKinley updated the board on progress at the site of former headquarters of Moody’s Corp.
Starting in the winter, workers demolished one floor every two weeks, knocking out concrete, burning steel beams and pushing in walls, using the elevators as trash chutes.
Now workers are reinforcing the bathtub, and once that is complete, Silverstein will build the foundation. By February 2009, the superstructure will start to rise. Then, by June 2010, McKinley expects the building, designed by Robert A.M. Stern, to top out at 912 feet. The facade will follow no more than a month behind, completed in July of that year.
McKinley hopes to open the 190-room five-star hotel in January 2011 and start moving people into the 143 condos about six months later.
The market-rate condos won’t be accessible to everyone, but McKinley showed one feature of the project that has no entrance fee: an 8,600-square-foot public plaza on the east side of the site that will be open 24 hours a day.
Dara McQuillan, spokesperson for Silverstein, said the plaza will be modeled after the one outside 7 W.T.C., which has a European style.
Silverstein will install one crane on Church St., which will require a lane to be closed, and may install another on the east side of the site near Park Place.
With concern over construction — and especially crane accidents — on everyone’s mind, McKinley promised that contractor Tishman Construction Corp. would be extra cautious. McKinley agreed to implement at 99 Church St. the same safety measures Tishman is using on its Goldman Sachs site, after a sheet of metal flew off the Goldman building and landed in the adjacent ballfield.
Although some board members protested the project’s lack of affordable housing and the public garage with 60 spaces that could encourage driving Downtown, the reaction was mostly positive.
“It’s too bad we have to wait another four years to see the completion of this,” committee chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes said.
C.B. 1 approves Ratner’s tax break just by saying no
By Julie Shapiro
Rendering of Forest City Ratner’s proposed residential tower on Beekman St. Community Board 1 members passed on a rare opportunity to deny a developer tax breaks for luxury housing because they feared Ratner would not build a school without the break.
Forest City Ratner executives threatened to halt construction of the new school on Beekman St. unless they receive a 20-year tax break from the city.
At an emergency meeting of Community Board 1’s Executive Committee June 18, Forest City said funding for the pre-K-8 school and 76-story apartment tower was in jeopardy. In March, Forest City closed on $680 million in construction financing for the project, but MaryAnne Gilmartin, an executive vice president at Forest City Ratner, said the money could disappear unless Ratner also receives a 20-year 421-a tax abatement.
Without the abatement, “Work would certainly stop on [the] site and then we would have delays,” Gilmartin said.
Delays are not new for the project. The school, originally slated to open in fall 2008, was pushed to fall 2009 after an education budget dispute between the city and the state, and then it was pushed to fall 2010 because Ratner had trouble getting the financing. Many community members, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who recruited Ratner to build the school, doubt the fall 2010 date and think the school will not be safe to open until fall 2011 because of the construction of the Frank Gehry-designed tower above it.
Eager to avoid more setbacks, the Executive Committee weighed Forest City’s request that the board endorse its application for the tax abatement. C.B. 1 had little time to consider the issue, because Forest City needed an answer immediately. The rules for 421-a abatements changed on June 19, and under the new rules, the developer would only be eligible for a 10-year abatement, not a 20-year one, Gilmartin said. The 10-year abatement would not be enough to keep the project moving forward, she said.
The board had 45 days to comment on the application, but in order to give Ratner a shot at getting the 20-year abatement, the board had to make a decision by June 19, before the 45 days were up. Had the board used the full 45 days to make a comment, they would have run out the clock and prevented Ratner from getting the 20-year abatement, said Seth Donlin, spokesperson for the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development. It was a rare instance of the board having veto power over financing for a major development, and it only occurred because of the timing of the changes in the 421-a rules.
In an ironic twist, the only way the board could have denied Ratner the tax break was to remain silent — the board’s resolution harshly criticizing the application fulfilled the public comment requirement and served as a green light.
Julie Menin, chairperson of C.B. 1, was torn over whether to give Ratner the abatement, because she thought market-rate buildings should not receive government subsidies. But at the same time, she did not want to risk killing the project by delaying comment.
“We don’t want to do anything to jeopardize the financing of the school,” Menin said.
So she decided on a compromise, which the board supported: The board passed a resolution that criticizes the H.P.D. for awarding abatements to unaffordable projects, but in passing the resolution, the board also tacitly supported H.P.D.’s decision to give Ratner the abatement and keep the project moving.
Workers are already framing the fifth floor of the Beekman tower, but just because the building is under construction did not mean it was grandfathered into the expiring 421-a rules, Donlin said. Forest City Ratner and any other developers who wanted to take advantage of the old 421-a provisions had to apply before the changeover.
The Beekman tower is eligible for a 20-year abatement under the old 421-a rules because it received “substantial government assistance” in the form of Liberty Bonds, Donlin said. But once the rules on 421-a change, it won’t be enough for developers to just receive government assistance — they have to use that assistance to create at least 20 percent affordable housing in their building.
Forest City Ratner executives have repeatedly refused to add affordable apartments to the Beekman building, so under the new rules, they would not qualify for the 20-year abatement. At the Executive Committee meeting, Gilmartin had trouble convincing board members that Forest City needs the 20-year tax break for a building where rents will start at $4,000 to $15,000.
“I find it absolutely obscene that a landlord that is going to be charging $15,000 a month for an apartment is still asking for tax abatements on top of rents like that,” said Linda Belfer, chairperson of the Battery Park City Committee. “It’s unbelievable to me that we good people have to even sit here and discuss this. This is not a low-income project.”
John Fratta, chairperson of the Seaport/Civic Center Committee, agreed, saying, “To call this affordable housing is a slap in the face of our community…. I would be opposed to [giving] any tax credits to any development that doesn’t have strictly affordable housing.”
Tenants of 421-a projects start out paying market rate, but the yearly rent increases are determined by the Rent Guidelines Board, which offers a measure of stability. Once the term of the abatement expires, the apartments return to market-rate rents.
Lisa Yee, director of tax incentives for the H.P.D., told the board that Forest City Ratner met the preliminary qualifications for the 20-year 421-a abatement. C.B. 1’s objections, she said, are supposed to be limited to the developer’s history and whether the project met the qualifications — but instead, the board objected to the qualifications themselves.
In a resolution that passed overwhelmingly, C.B. 1 said that regardless of whether the Beekman tower met the H.P.D.’s technical criteria for tax abatements, the project is too unaffordable to receive public money. The board urged H.P.D. to reconsider its criteria and think carefully before granting the benefits.
But at the same time, the board said the decision on the tax abatement should not have any impact on the school’s construction. The project received $200 million in Liberty Bonds because of Forest City’s decision to build the school, so the developer cannot renege on that promise, board members said.
The Liberty Bonds also required that Ratner make a commitment to affordable housing, either by building affordable housing on site or by donating money to a city affordable housing fund. Ratner elected to keep the apartments market rate, so the city Housing Development Corporation put $6 million of the fees generated from the Liberty Bond financing toward affordable housing, according to an H.D.C. release.
The 903 units in the tower will be 20 percent studies, 60 percent one-bedrooms, 18 percent two-bedrooms and 2 percent three-bedrooms.
C.B. 1 has never weighed in on 421-a tax abatements before, but Menin, board chairperson, wants to change that.
“We need to have our voice heard,” she told Downtown Express before the emergency meeting. “I don’t believe the city’s definition of ‘affordable’ is workable.”
Menin directed the Planning and Community Infrastructure Committee, chaired by Jeff Galloway, to develop standards for responding to 421-a applications from developers.
Galloway wants to see the board take an active role as more than just a “fact checker” for H.P.D. Once the board builds a track record of responding to 421-a applications, H.P.D. will take the board’s feedback more seriously, Menin said. She has spoken with other leaders of community boards, who regularly review 421-a applications, and they told Menin they have been able to affect H.P.D.’s policy with their comments.
The full board voted on the 421-a resolution at its meeting Tuesday night, although the comment was already a moot point because the abatement had been granted. Some board members thought Forest City used the threat of delaying the school as a way of getting what they wanted from the board.
“I don’t think the project or the school were ever really in jeopardy,” said Paul Hovitz, a board member. “I think they were manipulating us [into helping them get the abatement]. We were being blackmailed.”