Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Department of City Planning official said design changes to AY were "obviously quite significant," but ESDC told the public "no"

Despite official word from the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) that there's been little change to the Atlantic Yards plan, a representative of one important government agency disagreed, in a message that implicitly supports the call by project critics and opponents for a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).

On June 2, some three weeks before the ESDC issued a 2009 Modified General Project Plan without new details of the project and official renderings, a Department of City Planning (DCP) official expressed concern about proposed changes, calling design changes "obviously quite significant."

DCP official's take

"Thank you for briefing us on the proposed changes to the Atlantic Yards project," wrote Winston Von Engel, Deputy Director of the Brooklyn Office of the DCP, to Forest City Ratner Senior VP Jane Marshall.

(I obtained the email via a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request.)

"The design changes to the project are obviously quite significant. Under the circumstances, we believe that a more detailed review of the proposed design is appropriate. In order for us to be able to do so, we would appreciate your providing us with the detailed, dimensioned plans and elevations of the latest design."

I haven't seen a written response to Von Engel's note, which is not a formal DCP response. Nor is it clear exactly what he's referring to, but he seems to be addressing the arena--in the Ellerbe Becket design, later adapted by SHoP--and possibly the adjacent towers.

But the DCP apparently got far more of an opportunity to examine--and thus comment on--design changes than did the public.

(Click on graphic to enlarge)

ESDC brushes it off

In the Response to Comments document provided to the ESDC board for its meeting September 17, the ESDC indicated that the changes were not significant.

Comment 16: Numerous comments were received asserting that the modified plan is substantially different from the plan that was analyzed in the FEIS and approved in 2006. These commenters made assertions relating to the redesign of the Arena; increased number of surface parking spaces; elimination of the Urban Room and B1 commercial tower; reduction in affordable housing; limited and compromised public space; and a reconfigured rail yard with reduced capacity.

Response: The MGPP does not change the number of parking spaces, the provision of an Urban Room or Building 1, the number of affordable housing units, the amount or type of publicly accessible open space, or the adequacy of the rail yard for MTA’s needs. The proposed modifications to the GPP would allow for the acquisition of property in phases, rather than one phase as detailed in the FEIS; would reflect the commitment by the Project Sponsor to assess project-generated day care enrollment and capacity as the Project progresses; and would reflect changes to the Project’s business terms. No modifications to the Design Guidelines or overall program are proposed, and the Arena, although redesigned, does comply with the Design Guidelines as required by the GPP. The Design Guidelines, which establish the framework for the design and development of the Project Site, were developed in close consultation with ESDC and DCP staff and are attached as an exhibit to the GPP. The design changes to certain buildings and the elimination of certain Project elements would affect the Arena block and, to a lesser extent, Block 1129; however, none of the proposed uses of the Project buildings on these blocks would change and the program, configuration, and uses of the proposed buildings on other blocks would not change. In addition, all buildings, including the Arena, will continue to conform to the Design Guidelines.

(Emphases added)

Note that the ESDC dismissed the concerns by noting the role of DCP staff in Design Guidelines that had been finalized three years earlier.

However, as indicated by Von Engel's message, DCP staff themselves were concerned in 2009.

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