For Parking at New Domino, Don’t Worry About Environmental Review

New_Domino_across_River.jpgEnvironmental review laws don’t stop the City Council from cutting back on parking at the New Domino. Image: The New Domino

As the City Council considers the parking-laden New Domino mega-development, sustainability-minded representatives have the power to ensure that the project doesn’t put thousands of new cars onto Williamsburg’s streets. All council members have to do is to request reductions in the amount of off-street parking included at the site, currently 1,428 spots. The developer’s only stated objection to reducing the amount of parking is that compliance with environmental law requires it. That’s not a concern that need constrain the City Council. 

As we reported in April, the developer, CPC Resources, decided how much parking to include at New Domino by using formulas prescribed by the environmental review process. "We don’t want to include parking for parking’s sake," said CPC Resources senior vice president Susan Pollock. She claimed her hands were tied. 

Of course, since then, the amount of parking at New Domino has been reduced by 266 spaces, so there’s clearly some flexibility. It is true that the poorly designed formulas used in environmental reviews indeed lead to outsized parking lots, but not because developers are required, per se, to construct them. "CEQR is a disclosure process," said Tom Angotti, a professor of planning at Hunter College. "It doesn’t require anything." According to Angotti, the developers were trying to avoid an "unmitigated impact" on the neighborhood parking situation, in which those New Domino residents whom the environmental review designates as drivers would take street parking from current residents. "They don’t have to mitigate that if they don’t want to," said Angotti.

In fact, the New Domino is in a part of town where having too little parking, as defined by environmental review, can safely be ignored. For proposed projects in certain zones, even a large parking shortfall "is generally not considered significant due to the magnitude of available alternative modes of transportation," according to the city CEQR technical manual [page 16-65 of this PDF]. Not enough parking, the manual seems to be saying, just isn’t a concept that makes sense in many parts of New York.

It’s understandable why the developer might be wary of having any unmitigated impacts at all. At Monday’s City Council hearing on the New Domino, Council Member Stephen Levin, an opponent of the project, mined the environmental impact statement for quotes about potential burdens it would impose on the neighborhood. CPC Resources and the company’s environmental consultant repeatedly fell back on a stock answer: "We have addressed all of the impacts." Losing that defense could weaken their case. 

But City Council members don’t have to worry about that. They have the latitude to account for the fact that some residents identified as drivers in the technical analysis might switch to transit or ride a bike, rather than deal with parking a car 20 blocks away. They can say that the precepts of PlaNYC, environmental sustainability, pedestrian safety, and congestion mitigation all call for reducing the number of cars at New Domino. There’s just one question: Will they?