Friday, March 16, 2012

Forest City: optimistic about first modular building, adding 2 BR units (but still not meeting pledge); construction won't start until after arena opens

Forest City Ratner has yet again pushed back the timetable for the first residential tower, B2. Bruce Ratner indicated in an interview this week with the New York Times that it would start "toward the end of this year," and yesterday a Forest City executive confirmed that the groundbreaking wouldn't occur until after the arena opens in September.

"We continue to work with the unions" regarding modular construction issues, said Jane Marshall, "on developing what we think are the appropriate apprenticeship training classes"

That, she said, relates to the factory Forest City must establish. "We're meeting with people about the factory," she said. "We are diligently pursuing this... We want to break ground, as soon as we possibly can."

When, she was asked, would that be?

"I'm guessing it's after the arena opens," said Marshall, speaking at the bi-monthly meeting of the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet.

Unmentioned: it might be easier to open the arena without construction cranes clustered on one flank.

More 2 BR units, but fewer than promised

Responding to criticism of Forest City's announced plans to include only 20 of 175 affordable units as larger (two-bedroom) apartments. Marshall said "we have succeeded" in increasing the number of two-bedroom units to 35.

"You're not going larger than two [bedrooms]?" asked Council Member Letitia James, who had challenged Forest City on that issue in January.

"Right now that's what we are focusing on, becuase that's what everybody was focusing on," Marshall responded.

Actually, the Memorandum of Understanding that Forest City signed with New York ACORN, which is incorporated into the Community Benefits Agreement, says that 50% of the affordable units, in square footage, would be larger (two-bedroom and three-bedroom) units.

Previously, there were to be 65 studios, 90 1 BR units, and 20 2 BR units.

Let's say there now would be 55 studios, 75 1 BR units, and 35 2 BR units. If the apartments meet only the minimum sizes, (400, 575, and 775 square feet, respectively), that would mean:
  • 22,000 sf of studios
  • 43,125 sf of 1 BRs
  • 27,125 sf of 2 BRs
The larger apartments would then, in square footage, represent 29.4%.

Still, Marshall portrayed it as a victory. "That required a lot of work sitting down with HDC [Housing Development Corporation], to make sure they were eligible [for housing bonds]," she said, adding that it required a look at building floor plans.

Working with DOB

Marshall took exception to a report that indicated that plans for the first building had been rejected by the Department of Buildings (DOB). "We continue to work with DOB," she said, indicating that the back-and-forth is "just how the Buildings Department continues to track issues... It actually seems to be all good news, and we're hopeful it will continue."

Rami Metal, a staffer for Council Member Steve Levin, asked Forest City to expand on issues raised by DOB.

"It's really not that they have issues," said Linda Chiarelli, deputy director of construction. "It's just walking them through the logistics of how this building will be constructed.... It's a little different from what they've been working with all these years. Instead of just submitting plans, we want to sit with them and walk through all of the pieces and the parts ... and make them comfortable."

Union buy-in

Have the unions accepted the modular plan, which involves lower pay, but, potentially, a new business line with increased employment down the line?

"We are working with them," Marshall said. Chiarelli added that there's no signed agreement.


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