Skip to main content

UNITY workshop begins to address the whole AY footprint

Is it realistic to consider another future for the planned Atlantic Yards footprint, one based on the principles of the UNITY plan unveiled last September? That was the premise of a workshop Saturday organized by the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development, along with the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN).

And while the four-hour session didn’t produce definitive solutions, it did for the first time extend beyond the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard, the major public property in the AY site, to the rest of the footprint, now owned mostly by developer Forest City Ratner. In other words, the project, launched in 2004 as Understanding, Imagining and Transforming the Yards (UNITY), might need a revised acronym.

About 40 people attended the event, held at the Belarusian Church on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill. Their conclusions were not particularly surprising: development should be contextual; major current buildings should be preserved; space for industry/manufacturing should be maintained; and new public space should be created. (Space for affordable housing was already part of the plan.)

Needless to say, an arena was not on the table, and any new plans would ultimately have to be measured against the costs of development. And the Ward Bakery, a building participants would like to save, is currently under demolition.

Thinking ahead

Still, there are reasons to be thinking ahead. “It’s highly unlikely that the second phase of the project will get built, or built as proposed,” suggested Hunter planning professor Tom Angotti (right), suggesting that zoning would be the tool to ensure a multiplicity of scale, a diversity of design, and truly public open space.

(Photos of event by Jonathan Barkey)

Another author of the UNITY plan, longtime community planner Ron Shiffman, noted that small lots would mix different types of buildings and multiple developers, thus enabling faster construction. Not present was lead architect Marshall Brown, who now lives in Cincinnati but has returned to New York for UNITY planning and presentations.

AY doubts

Some, in fact, believe that the whole project may be iffy. “Lest you think we are completely nuts,” commented Candace Carponter, co-chair of CBN, ground has not been broken for the project. Beyond pending litigation, she said, there’s a credit crunch and too little funding for affordable housing.

She noted that construction costs have risen steadily and suggested that if they go up “significantly,” the Public Authorities Control Board would have to take a second vote, given that its job is to approve the soundness of the state financing contemplated.

Stopping in to salute the group’s work were anti-AY stalwarts Council Member Letitia James (UNITY's original sponsor) and State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, as well as City Council candidate Craig Hammerman, who didn’t cite his candidacy but stressed he was speaking personally rather than in his weekday capacity as District Manager of Community Board 6.

A bigger park

The UNITY plan already incorporated a planned park space in the triangle of land (right) between Fifth, Flatbush, and Atlantic avenues, beyond the railyard. Angotti proposed that the park be extended across Flatbush Avenue to Site 5, which currently houses Modell's, P.C. Richard, and the Brooklyn Bears Garden, between Flatbush, Fourth, and Atlantic avenues.

That idea was received mostly with enthusiasm, though several participants cautioned that a salubrious space wouldn’t come easy. “We like the idea of the ‘Angotti Park,’” observed Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors (right), summarizing the results of his breakout group, but “it needs to be designed to mitigate the effect of traffic and noise.”

Angotti suggested that the park could be the subject of a design competion; participants suggested a competition on two levels, one involving professionals, the other involving local students.

“If we’re talking about placemaking,” noted CBN’s Jim Vogel, “one of the focuses has to be displacing regular surface traffic.” That could involve light rail, trolleys, or bus rapid transit, known as BRT. Shiffman suggested involving both the Project for Public Spaces and Transportaiton Alternatives in writing the scope for a competition.

Larger issues

Participants noted that the focus of the UNITY plan shouldn’t be the park but rather larger issues of housing and manufacturing. Shiffman approved of the notion of housing light manufacturing over commercial space, noting that there’s a huge demand in the borough for manufacturing space.

A handout included description of various zoning options, including a special zoning district for the Vanderbilt Yard, which permits the maximum flexibility for contextual design. While the City Planning Commission isn’t a fan of such special districts, which require review, “it can be a powerful tool,” Angotti said.

Photographer and Dean Street resident Tracy Collins (pointing in photo), summarizing the results of his breakout group, suggested that density should be closer to existing taller structures, such as the Atlantic Temrinal 4B public housing building on Carlton Avenue across Atlantic Avenue, and the Newswalk building between Pacific and Dean streets.

Among the zoning alternatives presented by the Hunter team, one would shift higher density and residential uses near the Vanderbilt Yard. Another would shift industrial uses toward Flatbush Avenue but upzone the area closer to Vanderbilt Avenue.
Buildings of the same size, as one group suggested, would produce more consistent shadows, Shiffman warned.

Looking forward

The process is still in the early stages. The three breakout groups must write up their findings, to be incorporated in future revisions of UNITY by Angotti and colleagues. Should Atlantic Yards actually face a setback, rather than just a stall, there might be political momentum to move UNITY--or some other zoning alternative--forward, which would involve the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and a lot more public process.

There were a few moments of levity. At one point, McClure referenced the recent contretemps in which videographer Katherin McInnis and photographer Collins have been stopped or harassed while taking photos; he suggested the plan should include a “First Amendment district” for photographers.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.