Two Trees meets with community to outline development
by Chase Collum
Oct 08, 2014 | 5821 views | 0 0 comments | 188 188 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In spring, when Two Trees began the process of permit acquisition for its planned redevelopment of the historic Domino Sugar Factory on the South Williamsburg waterfront, brothers Jed and David Walentas promised to keep the local community informed as construction moved forward.

On Monday, October 6, representatives of Los Sures and Churches United for Fair Housing made sure everyone in the packed auditorium of the Transfiguration Church at 263 Marcy Avenue knew they were keeping that promise.

Jed Walentas was joined by Ramon Peguero of Los Sures and Rob Solano of CUFFH, the two local organizations that have worked most closely with the company to ensure community involvement in the planning stages of the long-term project.

As with many contemporary developments around the city, the most pronounced concern of local residents centered on how many units of affordable housing the project would add to the community. Earlier this year, Two Trees had promised 600 units, but at the informational meeting, Walentas said room had been made available for as many as 700 affordable housing units.

Walentas stressed that market-rate and affordable housing units would be fully integrated.

“There will be no difference between the market rate units and the non-market rate apartments,” Walentas said. “There will be no separate entrances.”

Organizing director Debbie Medina said Los Sures and CUFFH are planning to roll out comprehensive programming to ensure that as many South Williamsburg residents as possible are fully qualified in time for the lotteries for each of the project's individual buildings as they open.

“We are doing something that we haven't done in our community to make sure when you fill out your application for these apartments you are prepared and you qualify,” she said. “We're going to make sure that our people qualify when they apply for these apartments.”

To highlight the need for full preparation when applying for affordable housing units, Solano shared a “horror story” of a prospective tenant CUFFH had helped navigate through an eight-month application process. The man had signed his lease and been given his keys, and he began to talk his aspirations, including his plan to propose to his girlfriend. Unfortunately, his pontification proved perilous.

“He openly admitted [to his interviewer that] he was going to add another member to his family so they took away his keys, his lease, and his apartment. The bad news is she said 'no' anyways,” Solano said. “So before you get to that point you want to make sure you understand your credit and your family signs.”

Construction is scheduled to begin on the first of the residential towers in January 2015, and Walentas estimated that the lottery for the 105 affordable housing units in that section of the development will open sometime late next year, with construction wrapping up near the end of 2016.

The full site development timetable is closer to ten years, and in the end Walentas said he didn't see why most of the tenants in the affordable housing units shouldn't come from the neighborhood.

Support for comprehensive integration of existing low-income residents into the new towers was strong amongst the mostly local audience at the meeting, but special needs teacher Lorraine Inniss, who lives in Bed-Stuy and teaches in Crown Heights, wasn't so keen on the locals-only approach to affordable housing allocation.

“I've been in the lottery for a long time, and I recently came up for an artist space, but that is to buy, and I want to rent,” Inniss said. “Besides, I would rather live in Brooklyn.”

Work on the waterfront park across Kent Avenue from the residential section of the development is also set to begin at the start of the new year, at which point interim activities such as the bicycle path and community gardens will be moved across Kent Avenue.

The new park space will eventually feature several industrial elements of the Domino Sugar Factory in order to pay homage to the landmark that the Two Trees development is replacing.

As yet, Two Trees and the city have yet to finalize how many bedrooms each affordable unit in the development will have, though Walentas believes that by the next community meeting on October 21, that information should be available.

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