Thursday, November 16, 2006

Final EIS moves toward approval; critics say changes insufficient

Now that the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been released, the question is: will the board of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), nearly all appointees of lame-duck Gov. George Pataki, move the project toward approval before Republican Pataki leaves office for incoming Democrat Eliot Spitzer?

ESDC Chairman Charles Gargano, a steady booster of Atlantic Yards, was asked if approval was expected before the end of the year. “I hope so,” he told reporters. He contended that it was unfair to describe the ESDC as trying to rush projects to completion during Pataki’s term. “We’re trying to get projects done,” he said.

The ESDC board, after a few short minutes, with no questions, certified the Final EIS, thus setting up a schedule in which they must wait a minimum of ten days before voting to approve it, the associated General Project Plan, and eminent domain findings. Then it would require a unanimous vote from the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), which is dominated by the governor, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

"I don't see why they'd reject it," Gargano said of the PACB and, indeed, neither of the two legislators nor Pataki or Spitzer have criticized the project--though there will be pressure on them to reject or modify it. And Silver, a Democrat, may want to delay the project so it can be examined under the administration of a fellow Democrat.

Changes and comments

The Final EIS contained several changes to the plan as well as a 489-page compendium of responses to comments on the Draft EIS. (There were more than 1600 written comments and 200 oral comments.) That suggests a prodigious effort on the part of the ESDC and the two consulting firms, AKRF, Inc. and Philip Habib & Associates, which must have labored overtime to finish the FEIS after the comment period closed September 29.

Not that the responses gave much quarter on issues of blight, shadows, and views of the iconic Williamsburgh Savings Bank.

Developer Forest City Ratner has tweaked the transportation plan it proposed, and would now provide a free two-way city transit fare with a basketball ticket--as opposed to previously offering a 50% discount--and would offer free park-and-ride service from lots in Staten Island for patrons from that borough and New Jersey. But larger questions like the imposition of congestion pricing were deemed beyond the scope of the FEIS.

And, by project buildout in 2016, some significant adverse impacts would remain at 35 of 68 intersections, even as critics pointed out that the traffic analysis excluded the East River crossings.

First reaction

Project opponents Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn called the ESDC's action a “rubberstamp” and urged the PACB to “postpone any vote on the project until after the federal eminent domain lawsuit is resolved in court.”

BrooklynSpeaks, a coalition of groups including the Municipal Art Society that have called for major changes in the plan, commented, “While we welcome the improvements in the Atlantic Yards plan announced today by the ESDC, we do not believe the project sponsors have come close to addressing the serious flaws that remain in the project.”

Changes summarized

Among the changes summarized by the ESDC:

--reductions in the sizes of three buildings means 427,000 gsf (430 units) less in the residential mixed-use variation and approximately 458,000 gsf (465 units) in the commercial mixed-use variation (and commensurately fewer parking spaces). This cut in condos had been “recommended” in September by the City Planning Commission and “accepted” by developer Forest City Ratner, though new evidence suggests it was in the cards for a while. The total project would be about 8 million square feet--similar to that as announced in December 2003--with 6430 residential units, including 2250 affordable rentals.

--the amount of commercial office space has been reduced by about 270,000 gsf in the residential mixed-use variation (and approximately 223,000 gsf in the commercial mixed- use variation). This means space for about 1340 office jobs, and 375 new jobs, a major cut from the originally announced 10,000 jobs.

--the building at Site 5, now the home of P.C. Richard/Modell’s at the corner of Fourth and Flatbush avenues, would no longer be a mixed-use residential/commercial development but instead be all housing or all offices.

--Forest City Ratner will build green, committing to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the project, with a goal of LEED Silver (there are two higher rungs).

--the amount of publicly accessible open space has been increased to 8 acres from 7 acres, as “recommended” by the Department of City Planning in September.

Mitigations and changes

The ESDC also announced some new or refined mitigation measures, including:

--a new school, which a local education advocate praised but said was insufficient.

--Forest City Ratner has agreed to improve the facilities at the NYCHA Atlantic Terminal Houses that would be affected by project shadows, promising to spend $200,000 on new landscaping, upgrading of playgrounds, and new fixtures. Given the impact of shadows on the stained-glass windows of the Church of the Redeemer at Pacific Street and Fourth Avenue, the developer has agreed to replace “replacing the semi-opaque screen currently protecting the existing stained-glass windows, improving lighting, or implementing some other mutually agreed measures.”

--FCR will work with the City Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to improve the Dean Street Playground, threatened with undue noise, by adding... toilets.

--FCR will have the publicly accessible open space managed by a conservancy or nonprofit agency.

--the Urban Room housing the entrance to the arena and "Miss Brooklyn" would be "programmed" with small concerts, cultural events, art shows, and readings

Assurances

Meeting with reporters, Gargano was asked if the developer could get away with building higher revenue-producing properties first. "They're going to build the arena and affordable housing before the condominiums," he said at one point. It was a bit of a stretch, since aides clarified that 30 percent of the housing in Phase 1 would be affordable, as had previously been announced.

Asked what the most important comments were, Gargano replied, "They're all important," before adding that the developer had reduced the density of the project by eight percent in response to concerns about density. (Or, alternatively, it was in the cards.)

There were concerns about traffic, he added, "and there's a lot of traffic mitigation being focused on."

Asked what he'd say to opponents, he responded, "I understand people have concerns. This project, I believe, has addressed, if not all, many of them."

The Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods and other groups will be looking into that.

4 comments:

  1. Atlantic Yards will bring unending benefits to millions of New Yorkers.

    Of course a few people will suffer some inconveniences that will lead to the benefits flowing to millions.

    Consider Lincoln Center and Lincoln Towers. Should we return that neighborhood to the gangland paradise it was before that project swept out the problems and brought in the solution?

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  2. no_slappz: a. the area in the footprint is not a 'gangland paradise'. It is reviving and will revive on its own. "unending benefits" to whom? The community boards in the area specifically say it will adversely effect our neighborhoods. Ratner is ignoring our boards, our zoning laws, the public process and using eminent domain to force people to give him their property. If you think this is good for Brooklyn, or the state, well unless your a Forest city stock holder you better think again.

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  3. Should we return that neighborhood to the gangland paradise it was before that project swept out the problems and brought in the solution?

    Are you serious? No one has used Urban Renewal language this tone-deaf since the 1960s. The whole idea of slum clearance was discredited a looooooooooooong time ago.

    Not to mention the fact that the neighborhoods in and arount the footprint are well past reviving--they're downright gentrifying, and fast.

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  4. To some guy in brooklyn and antid oto:

    The AY footprint is mostly an underutilized hole in the ground. A portion of the earmarked land is occupied by dilapidated buildings and a couple of upgraded buildings.

    The owners of the property in question have been offered premium prices to vacate. If Ratner offered me the same premium for my house, I'd take it.

    Meanwhile, there has never been a large-scale building project in NYC that didn't face opponents.

    The Brooklyn Bridge had its share. Not surprisingly, the anti-Bridge crowd included ferry operators who claimed the Brooklyn Bridge would destroy their businesses. Sure. It hurt them. But ferry services continued until World War II.

    Perhaps we should remove the B Bridge and take it out of the sights of muslim terrorists.

    The Verrazano Bridge had its opponents too. Sure, its arrival has had a lasting effect on Bay Ridge. It cut a swath through the community. Should we turn back the clock?

    some guy:

    That anyone would accept the general nonsense that spews from the mouths of community board members is bad news enough. It's disheartening when there is such willingness to ignore the obvious and unending benefits.

    Whether you care to admit it or not, the project will create thousands of construction jobs, as every construction project does. Those jobs, like construction jobs at every job-site, are temporary.

    The permanent jobs include all the maintenance jobs at the new buildings, all the jobs at the arena, and all the jobs arising from the businesses occupying commercial, retail and office space in the facilities.

    Secondarily, but extremely important are all the jobs that will spring up because thousands of new people will move to an area where the population was ZERO, give or take a few homeless people. (I know there are some condos and rental units in part of the footprint, but almost all of the residents have agreed to accept Ratner's offers to relocate.)

    Thousands of new residents will require all the usual services that apartment-dwellers demand. Thus, operators of service businesses in the area will have reason to break out the champagne. New businesses will spring up.

    Frankly, I think the existence of Atlantic Yards will bring about a change I haven't heard discussed: The redevelopment of the Atlantic Center Mall, which is an unattractive structure and will look like a horrible eye-sore between AY and the Atlantic Terminal Mall. That property will gain tremendous value due to the proximity of AY.

    antid oto:

    You said:
    "No one has used Urban Renewal language this tone-deaf since the 1960s. The whole idea of slum clearance was discredited a looooooooooooong time ago."

    In other words, you'd rather bring back the slums?

    What's been discredited is government control of real estate development. Slum clearance followed by Great Society housing projects failed miserably because free or low-cost rental housing does not build viable communities. It creates a friendly environment for social pathologies.

    In any case, which Bronx or Brooklyn would you rather live in? The Bronx and Brooklyn of today? Or the Bronx and Brooklyn of the 1970s? There are some obvious reasons that millions of people fled NYC in the 60s and 70s and 80s. And there are equally obvious reasons why the population -- and the city's economy -- is growing today.

    If you want to decrease urban problems, the best way is too create an environment that brings in people with non-government-entitlement incomes.

    Don't create space for subsidized tenants. Create space for people who can pay their own bills without government help.

    Those are the people who drive the economic engine that benefits everyone.

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