Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Domino Theory

Sometimes the preservationist impulse runs afoul of the basic laws of economics. So it seems is the case of the development of the Domino Sugar factory in Brooklyn, where the landmarkians are protesting the building of a mixed-use complex above and around the old factory site.

As the NY Sun reports: "Preservationists are set to clash with the company redeveloping the Domino sugar refinery on the Williamsburg waterfront at a Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing today. As part of the second-largest development in Brooklyn, which will include five 40-story towers, the developer, Community Preservation Corporation Resources, is seeking to add a five-story glass structure onto the roof of the Domino building, which was given a landmark status in September."

What the opponents need to recognize is that preservation needs to complement, not stymie development: "The president of CPCR, Michael Lappin, said the glass addition is appropriate and is required to make the project economically viable. The developer bought the site for $56 million in 2004, and it did not oppose efforts to have part of the factory landmarked, which means that any significant changes to the building must be approved by the 11-member commission. "There is an enormous cost to preserve the building. We are trying to create some economics that absorbs that cost. It is reasonable to spread some of that around," Mr. Lappin said."

Indeed it is, or else the project will not be economically viable and able to move forward-a fate that might also await the Kingsbridge Armory site in the Bronx, where the cost of preservation actually acts to frustrate more community friendly development schemes. So it should be seen as a cautionary tale here.

The Domino plan is too important to be left to the stodgy brigade, or to the "community activists" that the NY Daily News writes about today, to decide. As the developer tells the paper: "CPC spokesman Richard Edmonds said the developer is working to find ways to save the sign - though he stopped short of promising it will be preserved. "There are engineering complexities involved in it, but we want to save the sign as much as the community," Edmonds said."

And how much affordable housing do the activists want to see in their community? If the sign is that important than something might have to give. This sugar can't make a cake that you can both have and eat.