Friday, February 12, 2010

If Building 1 ever goes up, for three years the arena entrance would move (in part) to Sixth Avenue, far from transit hub; was impact studied?

You have to read the fine print.

Because there, at the end of a Technical Memorandum issued by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) in June 2009, came the surprising news that, if the office tower known as Building 1 is constructed later than planned, the main entrance to the Atlantic Yards arena would have to move from the western edge--closest to the transit hub at Atlantic and Flatbush avenues--to the north and east on Atlantic Avenue and Sixth Avenue.

Given that there's no market for office space right now, a delayed buildout is highly likely, if the tower is built at all. (Bruce Ratner told Crain's in November, “Can you tell me when we are going to need a new office tower?”

But the full impact of that change was not studied in ESDC documents, notably the impact on Neighborhood Character.

Building 1 (once dubbed "Miss Brooklyn" by architect Frank Gehry), would contain the Urban Room; on the map it's on the west side of the arena.

From the FEIS

It was never the plan to put an arena entrance on Sixth Avenue, an extension of a row-house street.

The Executive Summary of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) issued in December 2006 explains why the arena entrances were oriented toward the north and west:
The New York City Zoning Resolution prohibits arenas within 200 feet of residential districts as some of the operations could be incompatible with districts limited primarily to residential use. (Arenas are permitted in most commercial districts allowing for residential use.) The arena block is adjacent to a residential district to the south, and accordingly, the arena has been designed to minimize its presence and effect on the residential uses on these blocks. Primary entrances and signage would be oriented toward the crossroads of two major commercial thoroughfares and away from these residences. Two primarily residential buildings (Buildings 2 and 3) on the arena block would occupy most of the Dean Street frontage, serving as a buffer between uses. However, the preferred seating entry and entry to the loading area would be located on Dean Street and, while security screening and loading functions would take place entirely within the building, the residences along this street would experience some localized adverse impacts.
According to the Neighborhood Character chapter:
The main entrances to the arena would be located along Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, taking advantage of the prominence of this location at Brooklyn’s crossroads.
There was no mention of Sixth Avenue.

From the Technical Memorandum

The Technical Memorandum addresses changes in the project schedule, notably moving Phase 1 back four years and Phase 2 back three years, and corrects some information in the FEIS, stating:
The VIP entry to the arena would be relocated to Atlantic Avenue, although an entrance from Dean Street would remain.
The conclusion:
The proposed access and circulation reconfigurations would not create any notable changes to the site’s urban design; while the VIP entry to the arena would be relocated to Atlantic Avenue, a secondary arena entrance on Dean Street would remain.
Potential for delayed buildout

The memorandum also addresses two scenarios for delay: one a general delay and the other a delay in Building 1.

For the former, it cites the use of temporary open space:
In the delayed build out scenario, the nearby residential uses may not have the buffer from the arena use provided by Buildings 1, 3, and 4; however, this condition would be temporary and would be addressed by the construction of these buildings over time. On the arena block, Building 2—located on the southwestern corner of the arena block facing the residential district to the south—would be constructed with a predominantly residential use with street-level retail frontages along Dean Street and Flatbush Avenue. Temporary open space and public amenity uses such as retail kiosks, landscaped seating areas, plantings would be provided on the building footprints not under development, particularly Buildings 3 and 4. These amenities would enliven the street-level environment and provide a buffer between the arena and residential district to the south and north.
Delay of Building 1 scenario

Appendix A of the document analyzes a scenario in which the arena and Buildings 2, 3, and 4 would be completed as contemplated under the revised schedule, but Building 1 would not be completed by the end of Phase 1.

It's hard to take the schedule completely seriously. For example, while there's ample reason to think that Building 1 would not go into construction this year, as putatively planned, there's no particular reason to think that construction would start in 2014, either.

Note that Building 1 is suppsoed to take 35 months; in the original Construction Schedule (below), it was supposed to take 41 months.

Impacts studied

The document lists the impacts studied and explains why the entrance would move:
The analysis provided below focuses on those technical areas—urban design, traffic and transportation and construction-related traffic, air quality, and noise—where the potential delay in construction of Building 1 could potentially have substantive effects that require further analysis.

...As discussed above and shown in Table 1, under this scenario it is assumed that Building 1 construction would start in June 2014 and extend through March 2017, and its construction activities would overlap with other Phase II building construction elements. The period of construction for Building 1 would remain the same, at 35 months.

In this scenario, the operations of the arena would continue and adequate access to and from the arena would be maintained. However, during the construction of Building 1, the main entrance to the arena, as well as a temporary box office and the team store, would be located on the arena’s northern or eastern façades.
On urban design

The document suggests nothing major has changed, despite the delay:
As described above, some elements of the arena block’s proposed urban design would be temporarily postponed due to the delay of Building 1 construction. In this scenario, until the construction of Building 1 commences the site of the future Urban Room would be occupied by an open, urban plaza. The urban plaza would provide most of the uses identified for the Urban Room, including transit access and café kiosks. This interim use of the Urban Room area would be designed by the project sponsor to provide a usable, welcoming amenity for the surrounding neighborhood. In comparison to the Urban Room, the use of the urban plaza would occur outside of any project buildings. Some of the Urban Room’s uses would be provided in different locations—the main entrance to the arena, as well as a temporary box office and the team store, would be located on the arena’s western façade. However, these changes would not notably alter the urban design of the arena block, and would not be in place upon completion of the project. The project would still meet the GPP’s Design Guidelines. Therefore, the project in this scenario would not have any significant adverse impacts to urban design or visual resources that were not previously identified in the FEIS.
(Emphasis added)

Apparently it would still meet the Design Guidelines because the impact would be temporary. The Design Guidelines (p. 22) are pretty clear about where the entrances to the arena would be:
Principal entrances to the Arena shall be located through the Urban Room and on Atlantic Avenue and Dean Street.
What's missing

Missing from the Appendix is any analysis of Neighborhood Character, which is one of the chapters in the FEIS and one of the impacts to be studied.

Sure, the impact would be temporary, but three years of an arena entrance closer to a residential neighborhood was never contemplated when the project was announced.

Memo of Environmental Commitments

An Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments signed in December updates the 2006 Memorandum of Mitigation Commitments.

The new document lays out the potential for changes during the construction period for Building 1:
In the event development of Building 1 is delayed so that it will be constructed after the arena commences operation, FCRC shall, for the period of construction of Building 1: (i) relocate the main arena entrances to the north and east side of the arena; (ii) provide directional signage at various point on the arena block, indicating routes to the arena’s entrances and amenities; and (iii) erect pedestrian construction sheds protecting, among other areas, the subway entrance and pedestrian walkways and sidewalks on the arena block.
Original Construction Schedule

AmendedEnvCommitmentsMemo122109

Atlantic Yards Design Guidelines Part 1

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