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

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

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…

So, Forest City has some property subject to the future Gowanus rezoning

Writing yesterday, MAP: Who Owns All the Property Along the Gowanus Canal, DNAinfo's Leslie Albrecht lays out the positioning of various real estate players along the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site:
As the city considers whether to rezone Gowanus and, perhaps, morph the gritty low-rise industrial area into a hot new neighborhood of residential towers (albeit at a fraction of the height of Manhattan's supertall buildings), DNAinfo reviewed property records along the canal to find out who stands to benefit most from the changes.
Investors have poured at least $440 million into buying land on the polluted waterway and more than a third of the properties have changed hands in the past decade, according to an examination of records for the nearly 130 properties along the 1.8-mile canal. While the single largest landowner is developer Property Markets Group, other landowners include Kushner Companies, Alloy Development, Two Trees, and Forest City New York.

Forest City's plans unc…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…