Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Times gets the scaleback right, but what about the housing commitment?

The New York Times, in an article today headlined Atlantic Yards Developer Accepts 8% Reduction in Project, reports:
The developer of the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn said yesterday that the company would support changes proposed by the city planning commission earlier this week, including an 8 percent reduction in the project’s size, additional public space and changes to the designs of several buildings.

The headline could just as easily have said:
Atlantic Yards Cut Brings Project Back to Square One

Indeed, five paragraphs later, some context that the Times had left out of Tuesday's coverage:
The company’s agreement was to some extent preordained: yesterday’s formal recommendations followed months of discussion. Moreover, the new reduction only brings the project back to the original size proposed in 2003. Critics and supporters of the project have called for it to be shrunk between a third and a half.
(Emphasis added)

The Daily News reported:
Critics called the cuts meaningless and said the project will still be roughly the same size as it was originally proposed in 2003, before it grew.

Again, that's an example of attributing an established fact to "critics" rather than in the newspaper's own voice, which has more weight.

Defending density

According to the Times, Amanda Burden, chair of the City Planning Commission, yesterday defended the relatively modest reduction in scale, saying that the project, which would extend east from the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues near Downtown Brooklyn, would be in an ideal location for a high-density development. “It is a transit hub,” she added. “It is at the crossroads of two wide avenues in Brooklyn. It can accommodate density, and density brings excitement, foot traffic, jobs.”

That of course is developer Forest City Ratner's line. Of course the location would be good for high-density development, but the question is how high. Unmentioned is that the project would remain, by far, more dense than the densest census tract in the country.

Affordable housing

The Times reported:
Ms. Burden also said the developer would ensure that at least 30 percent of the apartments built during the project’s first phase will be below-market rental units. A total of 2,250 such rental units are planned for the project, which will have 8.7 million square feet. The developer, according to the letter, has also committed to building the remaining 70 percent during the second phase.

Unmentioned is that the 30 percent figure means 550 units. Has the developer committed to building the rest during Phase 2? The City Planning Commission's letter states:
The Commission is pleased to note that, following the Commission’s Review Session on September 25, the developers have reaffirmed their commitment that the entire project will generate at least 2,250 units of affordable housing on site, and have agreed that at least 30% of the units built in Phase 1 (approximately 550 units) will be affordable. Phase I is defined as the Arena Block. The developers have further committed that the balance of the affordable units will be built in Phase 2. The units are expected to be built as part of the Mayor's New Housing Marketplace Plan. The Commission understands that these commitments are not reflected in the current GPP, but will be embodied in the City’s Funding Agreement with the developers.

It's a little bit hard to parse this. On Sept. 25, Rafael Cestero, Deputy Commissioner for Development at the Department of Housing Preservation & Development was asked if there was a commitment for completing Phase 2 in a certain time. “There is no commitment on the time,” he replied.

So as long as the funding agreement says so, apparently Forest City Ratner will commit to the additional 1700 affordable units, according to the planning commission letter. But that still doesn't tell us when Phase 2 would be built, as it depends on factors beyond the city's contribution to the affordable housing, so there are no assurances that it would be built by 2016 as planned.

The city still hasn't told the public how much the affordable housing would cost.

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