Tuesday, November 16, 2010

With delay in project timetable, "temporary significant open space impact" could last twice as long as the period studied in the Final EIS

Remember all those promises of Atlantic Yards open space, as demonstrated in a flier sent to Brooklynites in 2004?

Even though the amount of planned open space was increased from six acres to eight acres, there's long been reason to doubt promises that the open space--not a park but privately managed--would be delivered in a decade.

And a state Supreme Court decision last week regarding the project timetable casts doubts on the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which concluded that the "temporary significant open space impact" upon completion of Phase I "would be eliminated by the open space provided in Phase II."

An extended "temporary" situation

After all, the "temporary" situation, as studied, was to last only six years, given that Phase 1 was supposed to be finished in 2010 and Phase 2 by 2016. (The timetable change approved last year simply nudged everything back three years.)

However, the Development Agreement imposes penalties on the project as a whole only after 25 years, so it's not unlikely that the entire project would take 25 years to finally deliver the promised open space. (It's also possible that the entire project won't be built, thus eliminating some of the promised open space.)

Even if Phase 1 takes ten or 12 years, that could mean 13 to 15 years of the "temporary significant open space impact."

Shouldn't the potential doubling of the "temporary significant open space impact" have been studied?

Can it again simply be dismissed by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) as vanishing when Phase 2 is completed? Or, given the potential delay in Phase 2, should other mitigations be proposed?

Orwellian, almost

Curiously, according to the FEIS, "the availability of large nearby open spaces (e.g., Prospect Park and Fort Greene Park), would help alleviate the burden on this study area’s open spaces," this avoiding a significant adverse impact after Phase 1.

In other words, despite the claim in another 2004 Atlantic Yards flier (right) about bringing "new open space for the entire Brooklyn community to enjoy," the availability of existing open space--er, parks--is supposed to make up for the (extended interim) lack of open space caused by the project.

The open space analysis


From FEIS Chapter 6, Open Space and Recreational Facilities:
As identified in Chapter 1, “Project Description,” and discussed in further detail in this chapter, a key component of the proposed project is the provision of eight acres of publicly accessible open space.

PRINCIPAL CONCLUSIONS


2010 The proposed project would introduce large, new residential and non-residential (worker) populations. Under both development scenarios, the passive open space ratios in the non- residential study area would continue to be substantially less than the New York City Department of City Planning’s (DCP’s) recommended weighted average as is the case in existing conditions and in the future without the proposed project. Based on the analysis of quantitative factors listed in the CEQR Technical Manual, the proposed project would result in a temporary significant adverse impact within the non-residential (1⁄4-mile) study area at the end of Phase I until the Phase II open space is phased in. This temporary adverse impact is due to the added population as a result of the proposed project but no new publicly accessible open space.

Providing new publicly accessible open space by the end of Phase I is not practical given that the areas that could be used as open space are needed for construction staging, worker parking, and materials storage in order to minimize construction impacts on the surrounding neighborhood. Open space would be added incrementally between 2010 and 2016 as development on the project site progresses eastward and each successive building is constructed. By 2016 (full development of the proposed project), the passive open space ratios would improve and the temporary significant adverse impact experienced in 2010 would be eliminated by the proposed project’s additional eight acres of publicly accessible open space constructed between Phase I and Phase II.
Lack of open space doesn't matter, according to FEIS

The FEIS acknowledges that the the amount of open space would be much less than that recommended by the Department of City Planning, but says it doesn't matter:
Although the active and combined passive open space ratios for the residential (1⁄2-mile) study area would remain below the levels recommended by DCP for both variations in 2010, it is recognized that these are goals that are not feasible for many areas of the city and are therefore not considered impact thresholds. Although the declines in residential study area open space ratios are substantial given the study area’s existing lack of open space resources, the qualitative assessment concludes that the open space elements and public amenities not included in the quantitative analysis, including the private open space on the roof of the arena, the publicly accessible Urban Room, and plaza areas—all to be developed as part of the proposed project in Phase I—and the availability of large nearby open spaces (e.g., Prospect Park and Fort Greene Park), would help alleviate the burden on this study area’s open spaces. Thus, the proposed project would not result in a significant adverse impact to open space in the residential study area in 2010.
By 2016, progress

According to the FEIS, all would be well when the project is built out:
2016
As stated above, publicly accessible open space would be added incrementally on the project site between 2010 and 2016, resulting in eight acres of open space by 2016. This new open space would result in an increase in the combined passive open space ratios for residents and workers in the non-residential study area, thereby negating the temporary impacts experienced in this study area in 2010. Thus, the proposed project would not result in a significant adverse impact to open space in the non-residential study area.

In 2016, passive open space ratios in the residential study area would increase substantially, but the active open space ratio in this same study area would decrease. The quantitative impact on the active open space ratio is offset by qualitative factors, including the project’s additional active and passive open spaces that do not exist in the future without the proposed project and the presence of Fort Greene and Prospect Parks just outside the residential study area boundaries. The proposed open space would also include a newly created bicycle path through the project site as part of the city’s Bicycle Network Development Program, creating stronger connections between the neighborhoods in the north, south, and east. Therefore, the proposed project would not result in a significant adverse impact on open space and recreational resources.
The impact of Phase 1: loss of open space

The FEIS summarizes the probable impacts:
E. PROBABLE IMPACTS OF THE PROPOSED PROJECT—2010
NON-RESIDENTIAL STUDY AREA Residential Mixed-Use Variation
As a result of the residential mixed-use variation, the combined passive open space ratio is expected to decrease from 0.07 to 0.06 acres per 1,000 residents and workers from conditions without the proposed project (approximately 16 percent). The recommended weighted average would remain constant at 0.37 acres per 1,000 workers and residents. The ratio would remain substantially lower than the recommended weighted average ratio.

RESIDENTIAL STUDY AREA Residential Mixed-Use Variation
With the residential mixed-use variation, the active open space ratio within the residential study area would decrease by approximately 6 percent to 0.16 acres per 1,000 residents from 0.17 acres per 1,000 residents—well below the DCP guideline of 2.0 acres. The passive open space ratio for the combined population would also decrease by approximately 6 percent, from 0.11 to 0.10 acres per 1,000 residents and workers. This ratio would continue to be lower than the recommended weighted average ratio of 0.37 acres per 1,000 residents and workers.

....The changes in the open space ratios would be partially offset by the proposed project’s Phase I private open space and other publicly accessible amenities not included in the quantitative analysis, most notably Prospect Park and Fort Greene Park, which are located along the edges of the study area and are well utilized by the study area population. These resources would help alleviate the burden on existing open spaces within the study areas. As discussed in “Qualitative Considerations” below, no significant adverse impacts to open spaces in the residential study area are anticipated as a result of the proposed project in 2010.

...As stated above, the quantitative analysis excludes several open spaces that are just outside of the study area, including the 585-acre Prospect Park and the 30-acre Fort Greene Park. The presence of these two large open spaces, located just outside the residential study area boundaries, contribute to the qualitative factors that would partially offset additional demand on open space within the residential study area in 2010. Although the declines in residential study area open space ratios are substantial given the study area’s existing lack of open space resources, the qualitative assessment concludes that the proposed project would not result in a significant adverse impact to open space in the residential study area.
Note that the "substantial" declines would be longer than initially studied.

The impact of Phase 2: all would be well

The chapter continues:
G. PROBABLE IMPACTS OF THE PROPOSED PROJECT—2016
The proposed open space has been designed to maximize the number of users accommodated by the eight acres dedicated to open space. Passive areas such as walkways, seating, and open lawn space are capable of serving larger numbers of users when compared with active areas, such as basketball and tennis courts, baseball diamonds, and soccer fields, with their specialized programming and limited number of users. The open space would not be an appropriate venue for large playing fields, because such uses would consume most of the available area and require fencing, which would make the open space seem smaller and less public. Thus, approximately 7.2 acres (90 percent) of the open space areas would be programmed for passive and flexible use, consisting of paths and lawns for strolling, sitting, people watching, and picnics. The balance of the open space area, approximately 0.8 acres (10 percent), would be designated for active uses and include a half basketball court, a volleyball court, two bocce courts, and a children’s playground.

..
ADEQUACY OF OPEN SPACES
NON-RESIDENTIAL STUDY AREA Residential Mixed-Use Variation As a result of the open space component of the residential mixed-use variation, the combined passive open space ratio is expected to increase from 0.07 to 0.17 acres per 1,000 residents and workers when compared with the conditions in the future without the proposed project (see Table 6-5). This would represent more than a 148 percent increase in the ratio, substantially improving the conditions that would exist in the future without the proposed project. The ratio would continue to be lower than the recommended weighted average ratio of 0.38 acres per 1,000 residents and workers. The non-resident passive open space ratio would also increase from 0.17 acres to 0.49 acres per 1,000 workers. This would represent more than a 185 percent increase in the passive open space ratio and would be substantially greater than the 0.15 acres per 1,000 workers recommended by DCP. Accordingly, the worker population would continue to be well served by passive open space.

RESIDENTIAL STUDY AREA
Residential Mixed-Use Variation
In 2016, the active open space ratio within the residential study area would decrease slightly (by approximately 10 percent) from 0.16 to 0.15 acres per 1,000 residents, remaining well below the DCP guideline of 2.0 acres per 1,000 residents. The passive open space ratio for the combined population would increase by approximately 40 percent, from 0.10 acres to 0.14 acres per 1,000 residents and non-residents. This ratio would continue to be lower than the recommended weighted average ratio of 0.37 acres per 1,000 residents and workers.

IMPACT SIGNIFICANCE
QUANTITATIVE DISCUSSION
Non-Residential Study Area The open space component of both variations would result in increases in both the passive and combined passive open space ratios in the non-residential study area. Under both variations, passive open space ratios would be more than double the DCP-recommended 0.15 acres per 1,000 workers. The residential mixed-use variation would result in an approximately 186 percent increase in the passive open space ratio for workers from conditions in the future without the proposed project (it would increase from 0.17 to 0.49 acres per 1,000 workers). The passive open space ratio for workers under the commercial mixed-use variation would result in an approximately 131 percent increase from 0.17 to 0.39 acres per 1,000 workers. This indicates that the worker population would be well served by passive open spaces in the non-residential study area under both residential and commercial mixed-use variations.

Although the combined ratio for passive open space remains below DCP recommendations, the passive open space added to the area as a result of the proposed project would increase these ratios. Under the residential mixed-use variation, the combined passive ratio would increase by more than 148 percent (from 0.07 to 0.17) and under the commercial mixed-use variation the ratio would increase by approximately 138 percent (from 0.07 to 0.16) as compared with conditions in the future without the proposed project.

Residential Study Area
The active open space ratios would decrease and remain below the levels recommended by DCP for both variations, but these levels are not considered impact thresholds, as it is understood that they are not feasible for most neighborhoods in New York City. While the open space ratio planning guidelines would not be met, nearby open spaces outside the study area, such as Prospect Park and Fort Greene Park, would serve as additional resources (see “Qualitative Considerations”). In addition, the proposed project would create new open spaces that would partially offset the effect of additional population. The combined passive open space ratio under both variations would increase substantially when compared with conditions in the future without the proposed project, but would still be lower than the weighted average recommended by DCP.
The conclusion:
A temporary significant open space impact would result upon completion of Phase I of the proposed project in the non-residential study area, and that impact would be eliminated by the open space provided in Phase II. Overall, the proposed project would create eight acres of active and passive open space in what historically was an exposed, below-grade open rail yard, providing a substantial amount of high-quality open space resources and recreational opportunities for both residents and non-residents. Therefore, the proposed project would not result in significant adverse open space impacts upon completion of Phase II.
And what if the completion of the second phase is delayed?

Mitigations

Chapter 19, Mitigation, describes a partial mitigation:
As discussed in Chapter 6, “Open Space and Recreational Facilities,” based on the analysis of quantitative factors listed in the CEQR Technical Manual, the proposed project would result in a temporary significant adverse impact within the non-residential (1⁄4-mile) study area at the end of Phase I. Although this impact would continue until the Phase II open space is phased in, it would be partially mitigated by improvements made to the Dean Playground during Phase I of the proposed project. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) currently has plans for the renovation of Dean Playground to include a little league baseball field with artificial turf and some other improvements. The project sponsors have committed to working with DPR to build a comfort station for park patrons. A letter outlining this agreement between the project sponsors and DPR has been included in Appendix I of the FEIS.

By 2016 (full development of the proposed project), the temporary significant adverse impact experienced in 2010 would be mitigated by the proposed project’s eight acres of publicly accessible open space constructed between Phase I and Phase II.
Of course, the "temporary significant adverse impact" likely would persist long beyond 2016, or even the revised term of 2019, since the project could take 25 years to build, not ten.

The 2009 changes

The 2009 Technical Memorandum said that, while there'd be a three-year delay in everything, it would not be meaningful:
GENERAL PROJECT PLAN MODIFICATION
The proposed modification to the GPP would not result in significant adverse environmental impacts with respect to open space that were not addressed in the FEIS. The proposed GPP modification would affect the timing of property acquisition but not the amount or layout of the 8 acres of publicly-accessible open space or the project’s population, which would remain the same as described in the FEIS.

DESIGN DEVELOPMENT
...The private open space on the arena roof was not included in the quantitative FEIS open space analysis, and the decision to not proceed with this space would not affect the conclusions of that analysis. Qualitatively, the private open space on the arena’s roof—as well as at the Urban Room and plazas around the outside of the arena— was to have helped address the deficiency in passive open space until the completion of Phase II. With or without these spaces, however, the FEIS identified a temporary significant adverse open space impact between the completion of Phase I and the completion of Phase II. This temporary impact would continue to be addressed by the completion of the Phase II open space.

SCHEDULE CHANGE TO 2019
The schedule change to 2019 would not result in significant adverse environmental impacts with respect to open space that were not addressed in the FEIS. As described above, the FEIS identified a temporary significant adverse open space impact between the completion of Phase I and the completion of Phase II. With the schedule change to 2019, this temporary impact would extend through 2019, but would continue to be addressed by the completion of the Phase II open space.
(Emphases added)

Actually, it would "continue to be addressed by the completion of the Phase II open space" only if the open space were completed as scheduled.

PlaNYC

Another part of the Technical Memorandum addressed PlaNYC:
The Atlantic Yards project would assist in meeting many of the goals and objectives established in PlaNYC, by providing new housing to meet the needs of current and future residents, providing new open spaces, and better utilizing land already owned by the public... The project also would meet certain of the open space goals of PlaNYC: to create or enhance a publicly accessible open space in every community. The project’s eight acres of planned publicly accessible open space would help achieve the PlaNYC goal that all New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk of a park. The proposed open space would include landscaping and plantings and thus would help to green underutilized street and sidewalk space, another open space initiative of PlaNYC.
But the "the project’s eight acres of planned publicly accessible open space" couldn't "help achieve the PlaNYC goal that all New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk of a park" until the open space is built.

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