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Reduce the project? ESDC says density works for Times Square

How big should Atlantic Yards be? Numerous individuals, organizations, and elected officials told the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), in response to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), that the project should be reduced drastically.

And three Assemblymembers just asked Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to delay and modify the project, in part because of "extreme density."

In the Final EIS, however, the ESDC gave very little quarter--and suggested that, because areas like Times Square and Penn Station support high density development, so should the area around Atlantic Terminal.

The difference, however, is that most of the high-density development touted is commercial, not residential, and neither of those areas are as close to rowhouse residential districts like the Atlantic Yards site.
(Photo + simulation of Dean Street view by Jonathan Barkey)

Note that it's not unlikely that developer Forest City Ratner is ready for another reduction in the plan. After all, the project went from about 8 million square feet to 9.132 million square feet, then, after two much-ballyhooed cuts, back to... 8 million square feet.

The criticism

[Note that the numbers are associated with the individuals or organizations that commented, according to Chapter 24 of the Final EIS. Also note that FAR means "Floor Area Ratio."]

Comment 1-3: ESDC should reduce the project by at least three million square feet or 34 percent, while at the same time preserving the affordable housing aspect of the project. (1, 24)

The project should be scaled back by 50 percent. (116, 227, 550, 578)

The project should be scaled back by 40 percent. (303, 393)

The arena should not be built and the rest should be reduced by 40 percent. (238, 258, 385)

The project should be reduced radically. The design looks terrible and where is the open space? Cut this project in half. Better to have no development than to subsidize this horrible project. (69, 108, 169, 177, 230, 237, 259, 387, 438, 519)

The project should be scaled down and open space increased. (222, 230)

The master plan at its current scale proposes a “social experiment” in density of housing that potentially could blight the area of Prospect Heights. No one has ever mushroomed a population in the space and time proposed by the Atlantic Yards development in the United States. How irresponsible to play with people’s communities and lives so cavalierly? (216)

Even with the 8 percent reduction in project size announced in September, the residential density would be without precedent in NYC and its impact within the project’s confines, as well as on the surrounding neighborhood must be examined. (232)

The proposed number of apartments and building heights should be cut by 50 percent. (242)

The scale of the project needs to be reduced. (31, 68, 82, 108, 139, 141, 150, 157, 186, 189, 209, 216, 234, 257, 284, 285, 290, 299, 300, 308, 313, 334, 375, 382, 391, 398, 410, 417, 436, 438, 439, 464, 465, 471, 477, 490, 497, 510, 516, 564, 574)

The project should be scaled back to perhaps 10-20 percent of the proposed units. (146)

The density of the residential area should be no greater than Battery Park City at full build out which is 152 apartments per acre - this plan is 311. (37)
The scale of the development should be decreased, relate to, and not overwhelm, its neighbors. (48, 57, 260, 344, 355, 369, 427, 460, 499, 504, 507, 521, 530, 561, 563, 575, 576)

The Project Plan should be scaled down to the reality of the infrastructure services available. (535)

What is the appropriate size for a development here? An FAR of 6 was the intent of the ambitious, progressive, optimistic, and relatively public process of upzoning Brooklyn. Building under 5 million square feet would be doing the right thing for Brooklyn. (489)


ESDC response

Response 1-3: Since issuance of the DEIS, the project has been modified in response to recommendations by the City Planning Commission (CPC). The proposed project has been reduced by approximately 427,000 gross square feet (gsf) (430 units) in the residential mixed-use variation and by approximately 458,000 gsf (465 units) in the commercial mixed-use variation. The number of affordable units has not been reduced. In addition, the amount of commercial office space has been reduced by approximately 270,000 gsf in the residential mixed-use variation and approximately 223,000 gsf in the commercial mixed-use variation.

[The modification merely would return the project back to square one in terms of size, and most of the reductions were on the table in January, offered as an option by developer Forest City Ratner and architect Frank Gehry.]

The amount of publicly accessible open space has been increased to 8 acres. The FEIS has been revised to include these modifications to the proposed project. The arena is the vital civic component of the land use improvement and civic project as defined by the UDC Act and would offer the opportunity to bring a much-desired major-league sports team back to Brooklyn.

The proposed project would follow urban design goals and principles as outlined in the Design Guidelines, developed in consultation with the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP).


[The Design Guidelines came out of Gehry's office.]

The Design Guidelines provide an overall framework for creating a cohesive development with a variety of scales, programmatic uses, and architectural elements. The location of the project site, with a new connection to Brooklyn’s largest transit hub, makes it suitable for high-density development. This transit-oriented development is a distinctly beneficial aspect of the proposed project. As discussed in Chapter 3, “Land Use, Zoning, and Public Policy,” the density and FAR of the proposed project would be consistent with, but generally less than, the densities and FARs employed throughout the city for areas surrounding concentrations of mass transit, including the 10-12 FAR district directly north of the project site on Atlantic Avenue.

Parallel examples?

According to Chapter 3:

The New York City Zoning Resolution reflects the City’s policy of encouraging high density development in areas with significant mass transit access. In Manhattan, the zoning around Grand Central Terminal, which is served by five subway lines and substantial commuter rail service, allows for base FARs of between 12 and 15, up to 18 FAR through improvements to the mass transit network, and up to 21.6 through other mechanisms. The Times Square area, which is served by 12 subway lines and the Port Authority Bus Terminal, permit FARs of between 10 and 15, with transit-related bonuses allowing for densities of up to 18. One of the general goals of the Special Hudson Yards District is “to facilitate and guide the development of an environmentally beneficial, transit-oriented business and residence district by coordinating high density development with expanded mass transit facilities, extended and improved subway lines, improved pedestrian access to mass transit facilities, improved pedestrian circulation and avoidance of conflicts with vehicular traffic.” The areas adjacent to Penn Station, which is served by six subway lines and LIRR and New Jersey Transit commuter rail services and located within the Special Hudson Yards District, permit densities up to 19.5 FAR. Maximum FARs range from 10 to 21.6 (with bonus) in lower Manhattan areas adjacent to the Fulton Street Transit Center (10 subway lines and PATH trains).

This policy of transit-oriented zoning density is not limited to Manhattan. The goals of the Long Island City Mixed Use District include the development of moderate- to high-density commercial uses within a compact transit-oriented area and promoting the opportunity for people to work in the vicinity of their residences. This special district permits maximum FARs between 10 and 15. Even in southeast Queens, the City’s current rezoning proposal in Downtown Jamaica proposes FARs of up to 10 for the areas adjacent to the Jamaica Station (three subway lines, all but one of the LIRR commuter rail lines pass through this point).


Most of those examples, however, concern commercial rather than residential projects, and Atlantic Yards would not be part of a city rezoning; rather, the ESDC would override city zoning.

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