Tuesday, October 03, 2006

CB 2 calls for halving of AY density, no eminent domain or street closings, host of changes

Community Board 2, which would include some two-thirds of the proposed Atlantic Yards site, has not officially opposed the project, but issued a harsh series of recommendations that would change it drastically—and perhaps block it. (Of the other two boards covering the footprint, CB 6 disapproved of the project and CB 8 did not take an official stand but submitted a sheaf of criticisms and concerns.)

In a letter submitted to the Empire State Development Corporation on Sept. 29, the deadline date for comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and General Project Plan (GPP), CB 2 issued several recommendations, among them that the residential density “should be no greater than Battery Park City at full build-out, which is 152 apartments per acre.” The project as proposed in the DEIS would be about twice as dense, though an eight percent reduction—proposed by the City Planning Commission last week and agreed to by developer Forest City Ratner—would shave it slightly.

While the planning commission agreed that flagship tower Miss Brooklyn could stand at 620 feet, CB 2 recommended that no building in the site should be higher than 400 feet.

Eminent domain

CB 2 also recommended “No use of eminent domain as part of this project,” which is tantamount to opposition at this point, because several property owners are unwilling to sell to the developer, and the ESDC would pursue “friendly condemnations” on properties owned by FCR that house rent-regulated tenants, which a lawyer for those tenants considers a tactic to sever their rights.

As for alternative plans, CB 2 expressed “great disappointment,” stating that “The goals of the official state project seem to have been tailored to the proposed development.”

Public space and streets

CB 2 said that no streets should be closed, suggesting that the arena and other parts of the project could be built over streets if necessary, and that “lively streets would do more to enliven the area.”

The board criticized the proposed seven acres of publicly accessible open space as apparently private, saying that “the developer has essentially created a large back-yard patio.”

Also, CB 2 said, the planned publicly accessible open space “should be open to the public during the same hours as a park operated by the city,” rather than more limited hours, and that pedestrian walkways and bicycle paths through the project “must be accessible 24 hours daily.”

While Forest City Ratner originally promised public open space above the arena, it cited security and other reasons for making it accessible only to tenants of the four buildings surrounding it—a change that even project supporters like Borough President Marty Markowitz criticized. CB 2 said that the “open space above the Arena should be available to the public in some form.”

The board also took aim at FCR's plans to raze properties in the eastern half of the site for surface parking lots and staging areas. Given that the amount of open space during the first phase, the arena block, would be much lower than the city recommends, “CB2 recommends that the sponsor also provide interim open space and recreation that can be used between now and 2016,” the projected time for completion.

The board also referenced the possibility that Phase 2 of the project might be delayed indefinitely, recommending that “Buildings should not be vacated and demolished until replacement design and financing are in place.”

Other recommendations

CB 2 issued a host of other recommendations (verbatim except for the addition re schools):

--Provide adequate day-care slots for the increased number of residents and employees.
--Improve the sewage and Combined Sewage Overflow service/architecture to cover the projected increase in the number of residents and workers.
--Provide adequate tree plantings for a project of this size to mitigate the adverse impact of project-associated air-borne pollutants.
--Utilize Big Belly Compactors (or similar technology) to reduce the amount and number of collections of project-generated solid waste.
--Downsizing the height and bulk of the buildings in the development and implementing design guidelines which address the impact of shadows directly should occur
--The decline in the overall open space ratio for combined active and passive space which will occur with the arrival of close to 20,000 residents and workers (depending on the use of Variation 1 or Variation 2) must be mitigated.
--The project sponsors and the lead government agency must accept the obligation to improve the existing open space conditions for the public good.
--Sufficient limited affordable parking should be available for the people residing in the development.
--A residential parking permit program should be created and enforced in the neighborhoods effected.
--Necessary government permit parking should be limited to garage spaces or authorized limited on street parking and strictly enforced (with towing) with a no permit zone around the arena and the surrounding neighborhoods.
--The open space should be easily accessible physically and visually to the rest of the community
--Sufficient public schools should be on the site. (CB 2 suggests adaptation of the historic Ward Bread Bakery complex, currently slated for demolition, and warns that “the possible site proposed in the project plan, Building 5, is inappropriate because it is directly across Sixth Avenue from the arena.”)
--Sufficient resources should be available to handle garbage and sewer.
--Steps to maintain and improve traffic and pedestrian circulation should be done (building skyways: separate traffic, pedestrians and cyclists)
--Renewable and environmental sustainable energy should be provided on site (i.e wind and solar energy) for the development and immediate area.
--Adequate fire and police protection should be provided.
--A wind effects study should be done on any planned construction to prevent unnecessary localized problems.
--Signage should respect the surrounding communities in character, quality of life and color (It shouldn’t be Times Square.) and not cast light on to the surrounding area. The major illuminated signage should be turned off by 11 PM.

CB 2 recommended “that ESDC form a City/State inter-agency taskforce, including the three community boards with jurisdiction over the project site, to monitor the project, the implementation of mitigation measures and review issues as they arise.”

CBA concerns

Commenting generally, “Community Board 2 finds the project descriptions in the GPP and DEIS incomplete,” noting that affordable housing is not part of the state documents but memorialized in the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), which should be made a legally binding part of the GPP.

CB 2 commented: “For the record, Community Board 2 believes that the parties negotiating and signing the CBA are not representative of the entire community and the negotiations lacked transparency, making the term “community” benefits agreement a misnomer,”

Blight?

Though the overarching goal of the project is to transform a blighted area, CB 2 “disagrees with the determination that the project site is blighted,” citing successful redevelopment of the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area (ATURA). “The LIRR Vanderbilt Yards, ATURA Site 6A, is the only site in the plan to remain undeveloped. The rail yards may not be attractive, but it is incorrect to characterize a functioning, integral part of the regional rail system as blighted.”

CB 2 added: “The area south of the project site, in Community District 8, has experienced considerable private investment in recent years and Community Board 2 believes that the neighborhood would have continued to improve without government intervention. The crime statistics in the DEIS are misrepresented and cannot be used honestly as evidence of blight.”

City role

CB 2's letter stated that, while the DEIS states that the project would “require approvals from the City’s transportation, environmental protection and buildings departments and Art Commission, as well as the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,” but such approvals are not explained—and should be.

Economic benefits?

CB 2 said the economic claims are insufficient: “The developer has stated that the scale of the project is determined in large part by the cost of decking over the rail yard, the environmental clean-up of the project site and other expenditures. However, the type of financial information necessary for public evaluation of the veracity of this statement is not included in the GPP and DEIS."

Downtown Brooklyn?

CB 2 said: “The DEIS states that the Atlantic Yards project may complement the goals of the Special Downtown Brooklyn District (SDBD). However, very few people would say that the project site is in Downtown Brooklyn. When the Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower was built over 75 years ago, it was imagined that it would someday be the southeast corner of downtown. It has stood alone for three-quarters of a century, testament to an idea that still has not been realized."

CB 2 recommended caution, saying that it "believes that the goals of the SDBD should be achieved in Downtown Brooklyn before pioneering new territory beyond even the most visionary concept of what constitutes downtown."

Traffic & transit

CB 2 warned that “the traffic mitigations are not nearly comprehensive or nuanced enough to address the intricacy of the existing congested traffic network and the additional traffic burdens being placed upon it by the proposed development” and repeated its call for a traffic model to be prepared.

CB 2 scoffed at the explanation that that the DEIS didn’t consider development resulting from the Downtown Brooklyn Development Plan until 2016 because “no plans for new development have been finalized.” Said CB 2, “The community board considers this a serious and unacceptable flaw in the DEIS that must be addressed in the final environmental impact statement.”

As for the assumption of an 0.5 percent growth rate for the Atlantic Avenue subway station in the “no build” scenario, CB 2 pointed out that “the recorded rate of this station’s growth in ridership therefore is 24 times greater than the growth rate that the DEIS assumes.” Moreover, “the DEIS does not provide sufficient data to substantiate the claim that “crowding on the platforms at the Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street subway station complex is not expected to be problematic.”

Noise & rats

Community Board 2 said it was concerned that three community parks as well as the Pacific branch of the Brooklyn Public Library would be overwhelmed by noise during construction and arena events.

As for one solution, CB 2 said it was "greatly concerned that the project developer and sponsor would suggest that significantly adverse levels of noise be mitigated by sealing the apartments of near-by residents with doubled-glazed windows and air conditioners. The existing residents should not have to bear the burden of the mitigation."

Beyond that, CB 2 warned that rats would be proliferate during construction, stating, “Containment plans to mitigate the inevitable disturbance and escape of large numbers of rodents into neighboring communities needs to be specifically defined and coordinated with appropriate governmental agencies in advance.”

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