By Sarah Trefethen
The site was a vacant lot where Two Trees Management has plans to build an apartment building.
Representatives of the developer, local politicians and government leaders were in attendance. But instead of the hard hats you would expect to see at a ground breaking, a handful of attendees wore bike helmets, while most were bare-headed and without ties.
At one point, a dozen or so toddlers from the Williamsburg Neighborhood Nursery school came through on a late-morning walk. Someone suggested they visit the garden before they leave.
Two Tree’s 3.3 million square foot plan to redevelop the old Domino Sugar plant, which sits prominently on Williamsburg’s East River waterfront, would triple the square footage of commercial space in Williamsburg while adding waterfront retail, a public school, landscaped public space and more than 2,000 apartments.
But construction can’t start until the plans are approved. In the meantime, people gathered this month in a 55,000 s/f former parking lot and intended construction site to mark the opening of Havemeyer Park, a temporary “pop-up park” complete with a community garden and an off-road bike track where beginners can learn to ride and more experienced cyclists can perfect their skills.
Two Trees teamed up with local community groups to program the park — all they did was give their blessing and make sure they’re insured, according to Jed Walentas, principal at Two Trees Management.
A group called Ride Brooklyn is in charge of the bike course, and the gardening is under the control of North Brooklyn Farms. A reading room, lawn and yoga classes are also planned. The redevelopment of the Domino Sugar site is at a stage where developers often find themselves in direct conflict with neighbors, as details of traffic patterns, public access and the shadows cast by tall buildings are hashed out through the public review process.
But Walentas said that the park was about more than politics. “We’re going to be neighbors with this neighborhood for the foreseeable future. ULURP process or no ULURP process, successful ULURP process or not, we’re looking to build something that’s integrated with the community, and this is one way to do that,” he said.
The biggest risk may be that the park will be so popular, the developer will face backlash when it’s time for construction to begin. Walentas acknowledged that risk, but stood by the choice to find an alternative to locking up the lot.
“We made a decision, and I think it was the right decision,” he said. “If everyone does a good job, it will put pressure on us to find another home for them, or put pressure on someone else to find a home for them.”