Tuesday, July 03, 2007

When AY was first presented, the footprint was smaller

When developer Forest City Ratner (FCR) made apparently its first presentation to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the agency that was to supervise and shepherd the Atlantic Yards project, the site outline was very different from the one we now know--and, indeed, what the developer pretty much proposed three-and-a-half-months later.

A 6/17/03 presentation (2 MB PDF) to the ESDC, unearthed via Assemblyman Jim Brennan's lawsuit to extract Atlantic Yards financial documents shows an arena block that did not require the demapping of Fifth Avenue. There was no Miss Brooklyn flagship tower straddling the avenue.

And, perhaps most intriguingly, the map shows development east of the arena block only over the two blocks mainly occupied by railyards. In other words, the block between Pacific and Dean streets and Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues was omitted, as was the 100-foot segment between Pacific and Dean east of Sixth Avenue.

In fact, the map at right even suggests that Forest City Ratner only wanted one block of the railyards rather than two. However, other maps included in that same presentation clearly indicated that the project site would extend to Vanderbilt Avenue between Pacific Street and Atlantic Avenue.

Limited condemnations

The map at right, which indicates the location of potential condemnations, is limited to the arena block and the railyards. It omits one of the most controversial blocks, between Pacific and Dean streets and Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, home to the Ward Bakery as well as properties owned by Henry Weinstein. And it omits the segment of land east of Sixth Avenue. That meant much less of a need to acquire property and/or exercise eminent domain.

Rapid changes

By the time of the next presentation (3.2 MB PDF), dated 9/29/03, two-and-a-half months before the 12/10/03 official unveiling of Atlantic Yards, the map (right) had changed dramatically. Fifth Avenue was clearly to be demapped. The block between Pacific and Dean streets and Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues was included, as was the segment east of Sixth Avenue.

In 2005, Site 5, now home to P.C. Richard/Modell's, was added to the Atlantic Yards plan; it includes most of the block bounded by Atlantic, Fourth, and Flatbush avenues, and Pacific Street.

It's unclear why exactly the site expanded and the map changed. Did Forest City Ratner lowball its ambitions during the first meeting? Did state regulators suggest that the original plan was not feasible?

Who drew the map?

A lawyer representing the ESDC, defending a challenge to the agency's environmental review, in May resisted the charge that Forest City Ratner identified the site and drew the map. “The origin of the shape, whether from Forest City or not, has nothing to do with" whether the project qualifies as a land use improvement project under state law, said Philip Karmel.

The sequence here suggests that the developer did in fact draw the map.

Additional air rights?

A curious map attached to the 6/17/03 document, while not proposing that those additional blocks be included as part of Atlantic Yards, did identify them as subject to "additional air rights"--apparently a rezoning that would increase the available density.

It's a somewhat surprising suggestion, given that the south central block, between Pacific and Dean streets and Sixth and Carlton Avenues, consists significantly of the Newswalk condos and a set of row houses and smaller buildings that are part of proposed and existing Prospect Heights national and city historic districts.

There would seemingly be little room to build on that block, as opposed to the block just to the east.

Zoning analysis

That 6/17/03 document also includes a distorted zoning analysis that suggests that the project site, including those non-MTA blocks not subject to condemnation but apparently subject to additional development rights, could support 9.9 million square feet of development at a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 10. That's the equivalent of zoning in a dense downtown rather than blocks that include row houses and some low-rise warehouse and manufacturing buildings.

Indeed, the document suggests via an asterix (appended to the words "GRAND TOTAL"), "While this analysis demonstrates a total available FAR equal to 9,898,590, we are conservatively basing our calculation on 7 million ZFA." How could the developer calculate nearly 10 million square feet of development rights?

As the chart suggests, Forest City included more than 2 million square feet of development over eight street beds. Even today, with a more ambitious project, only two of those streets would be demapped. They are Pacific Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues and Fifth Avenue between Atlantic and Flatbush avenues. (Flatbush is only slightly below Pacific Street, which is indicated on the chart.)

A Boymelgreen alliance?

Also note that the chart states "deduct for Shaya Boymelgreen" on Block 1129, between Pacific and Dean, Carlton and Vanderbilt. At that point, Boymelgreen, developer of the Newswalk condos a block to the west, did not own the Ward Bakery--which he later sold to Forest City Ratner--on Block 1129. He purchased it in 2004, according to Property Shark. So either it was a typo, or some sort of alliance was in the works.

One more map from June

Again, this covers mainly the railyards.

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