Wednesday, March 12, 2008

When it comes to PlaNYC 2030, AY is still the elephant in the room

Remember how Atlantic Yards was the elephant in the room when Mayor Mike Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030 was presented last April, given that it went conspicuously unmentioned in the housing chapter?

Well, city officials discussing the sustainability plan keep offering rhetoric counter to the sequence behind Atlantic Yards. The issue came up at the annual conference Saturday of the Historic Districts Council, with keynote speaker Rohit Aggarwala, who directs the Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability.

It’s all linked together

The plan initially was to address population growth and land use, but quickly grew. “[We began] what we thought was going to be a strategic land use plan," Aggarwala said, "but we quickly realized: you can’t think about land use in a city without thinking about transportation. And you can’t think about transportation without thinking about air quality.”

The chain connects to energy, water, and climate change. “If we solve one problem the wrong way, it’ll set us back on the others,” he said.

Of course, Atlantic Yards was approved by the state without any transportation improvements beyond game-day tweaks, and even supporters think congestion relief is necessary for the an arena to have a chance at the site.

Democratic process

Aggarwala noted that, from 1980-2000, city was growing back to a size--8 million people--it had once reached, so the housing stock, parks, schools could accommodate the population. Now, he said, growth means that “our neighborhoods are going to be fundamentally more crowded. The question is how do do that wisely.”

“If we’re going to do smart growth, it has to be very smart growth,” Aggarwala said. As a basic rule, density should go near transit, and the Atlantic Yards footprint is near a lot of transit, especially at the western edge. But no one is calling Atlantic Yards "very smart growth."

“What’s the balance between growth and preservation?” Aggarwala asked rhetorically. “That’s a judgment call. That’s why you have to have a democratic process where this discussion takes place.”

Because Atlantic Yards bypassed the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, there were no votes by the City Planning Commission and City Council, nor advisory votes by the three affected community boards.

AY unbalanced

Planner John Shapiro noted that the Bloomberg administration had advanced a succession of upzonings and downzonings, both fostering and capping development. “In their view,” he said, “[establishment of] a historic district is a downzoning.”

“Upzoning is not necessarily balanced development, as I think Atlantic Yards points out,” said Shapiro, who used a too-casual shorthand for what would be a state override of zoning.

“And development can be terrible, as Atlantic Yards points out, for adjacent historic districts," added Shapiro, who worked on the response to the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmenal Impact Statement for the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods.

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