Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Finally! After numerous complaints, Barclays Center installs "No Idling" signs on pad ajdacent to loading dock

Just in time for tonight's New Year's Eve Billy Joel Concert, and some 15 months after the Barclays Center opened, the arena (as noted on Atlantic Yards Watch) has finally installed "No Idling Vehicles" signs on the pad--an accessory parking area just east of the loading dock.

Large vehicles, including buses and trucks, have regularly been idling on the pad, which was not disclosed in planning for the arena.

They've apparently used internal power for heat and light, but now the arena has instructed them that they can access power from the building open request.

The pad has been subject to numerous complaints, documented at public meetings and on Atlantic Yards Watch--though curiously absent in a New York Times article last February about arena impacts.

After complaints were raised at the 5/7/13 Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee meeting, state official Arana Hankin (since departed) said that the pad could be used for parking, but “Idling is not allowed, not tolerated."

Since then, however, complaints were noted, among other times, in July, in August, in September, and in October. So it's taken a while.

Reduced local impact? With no environmental study of Atlantic Yards modular plan, overnight deliveries weren't disclosed, analyzed

According to the 12/12/13 press release accompanying the media event in which Forest City Ratner hoisted three "mods" for the cameras, modular construction for the first Atlantic Yards tower, B2, would result in both "Reduced On-Site Construction Traffic" and "Reduced Neighborhood Impact."

Those claims may well be correct, but they were never vetted by any oversight agency, as modular construction was not addressed in the 2006 environmental review nor the 2009 and 2010 memoranda issued by Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing and shepherding the project.

That means some distinct impacts never disclosed until 12/4/13, namely four overnight deliveries that may prove to be quite noisy for neighbors, at least as shown with the first delivery. (The plan announced a year earlier was for one overnight delivery, though that wasn't studied, either.)

Deliveries resume next week.

The claim

From the press release:
The on-site construction traffic to the project site is dramatically reduced through the modular construction process. As the apartment modules for B2 will be fabricated off-site at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, there are significantly fewer construction deliveries and thus total truck trips required to the project site. While the excavation and foundation portion of the project will require the same number of trucks as would any conventional building of a similar size, during the module erection and closeout phases of the construction process, significantly fewer total truck trips will be required.
From Final EIS, Construction Impacts
Fabrication of the apartment modules takes place in an off-site location and, as a result of this reduced on-site activity, many of the typical disruptions of a conventional construction site noise, dust, trash, traffic, truck deliveries, etc. are greatly reduced.
From the Final EIS

As shown in the chart at right, from the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the analysis of construction and operational traffic was limited to work hours, pretty much, from 6 am to 6 pm.

There was no disclosure of overnight trips.

At a meeting earlier this month, neighborhood activist Peter Krashes asked what the Final EIS had said about after-hours construction work.

“This is not construction work, these are deliveries,” Marshall said. Even those weren't disclosed.

At the Council 

"This project was subject to a state environmental review process," Council Member Letitia James noted, at a City Council hearing last January regarding the modular plan. "Was there any environmental review with respect to modular housing"

"Not that I'm aware of," responded Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton. "The environmental. review was done many years ago. At that time, we weren't planning this tower this way."

Forest City's plans to not use concrete drew critical testimony from Joseph Kaming, representing the Cement League, an associations of union contractors that put in place structural concrete. (His testimony was seconded by the United Cement Masons' Union.)

"All can celebrate new thinking," he stated, but argued that tall modular buildings exacerbate some of the problems--fire safety, durability--seen in smaller modular buildings.

The city, Kaming said, "should thoroughly review and establish specific individualized standards for tall modular buildings if they are to be permitted. Such construction is unique and does not fit into the existing Building Code."

He said toxic, fire, and electrical testing was needed, as would be "fire channeling or chimney effects peculiar to stacked construction." He requested an environmental impact statement as a precondition to any application or permit approval, full compliance with existing code, and a new Building Code section regarding modular construction.

"We do not believe the Buildings Department has conducted a legal and proper review of the Atlantic Yards' 32-story residential tower which would justify its approval," he said.

Questions about wind

"When you start transporting something that is 14 feet wide and 35 feet long," Kaming said of the modules, "and begin to lift it in a structure, with wind considerations, that is an entirely different matter. You probably are aware Forest City Ratner has specifically identified the dimensions of the system so they don't have to hire a licensed rigger... because a licensed rigger would add to their cost."

Kaming acknowledged that modular units have their place, but deserved an independent review. "That's why an environmental impact statement, if in fact they had been honest and talked about modular housing," he said, "would have had to include modular housing at the outset. Because it's a different category of structure."

Monday, December 30, 2013

Vintage BdB: endorsing meaningless 2006 Atlantic Yards cut, de Blasio said "anything we can do to decrease the size of the project will help lessen the negative impact on quality of life"

Take a look at the video attached to this 9/26/06 report on NY1, City Planners Look To Shrink Atlantic Yards Project, and scroll forward to 1:05 of the report.

Listen to Council Member (and now Mayor-elect) Bill de Blasio: "You still can make this a somewhat smaller project. You can still achieve those social goals, and you can certainly make it fit better with the surrounding community and anything we can do to decrease the size of the project will help lessen the negative impact on quality of life."

At that moment, de Blasio was not, in fact, endorsing any significant changes.

He was backing an orchestrated, meaningless 8% cut in the size of the project "recommended" by the Department of City Planning, which would reduce the projected size of Atlantic Yards, in square feet, to the amount announced three years earlier.

More recently, of course, he's similarly sounded reasonable while staying supportive of the project, despite ample opportunity for criticism.

de Blasio campaign paid Forest City Ratner nearly $17,000 for campaign office (but paid more for main office)

wrote in October how Democratic mayoral nominee de Blasio was paying developer Forest City Ratner--whose executives have raised campaign funds for him and co-hosted a fundraiser--$5,000 to rent a campaign office in Brooklyn.

Well, a look at the most recent campaign finance filings show that de Blasio's campaign paid nearly $17,000 over three months for the space at 345 Jay Street in MetroTech, formerly occupied by Sid's Hardware

It was referred to informally as "campaign headquarters." But it surely was an expansion on, and subordinate to, the longer-term main campaign office, for which the campaign was paying approximately $5,000 a month, at 32 Court Street in Downtown Brooklyn.

As I wrote, I suspect there's a plausible explanation for the MetroTech lease, that it was better-priced, better-located space than the alternatives, though I never got any explanation. And if you're going to rent space in New York, it's not unlikely you'll intersect with a developer.

Still, even if it's not clearly payback, it's also somewhat unseemly, a bit of you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours, and another sign of coziness between the candidate--sometimes "elastic and opportunistic" (to quote NY magazine's Chris Smith)--and the developer.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Another Markowitz exit interview: "Well, the arena was built first because the Nets were purchased."

So, another exit interview with 12-year Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, this one Friday night on NY1 (click at the end of the first segment for the second).

What is your secret, asked host Josh Robin.

"I knew the product, so to speak, that I was representing," Markowitz responded. "I knew Brooklyn as well as anyone could... from the time I was 16, I went a field trip to Brooklyn Borough Hall and meet Abe Stark, I knew I wanted to be Brooklyn Borough President."

That's always been his shtick, but remember how, when he was contemplating a run for mayor, he erased that pledge from his official Borough Hall biography?

"I'm proud of where Brooklyn" is, Markowitz said, acknowledging that a 1989 Supreme Court decision took many of the significant powers away from the Borough President "but I really believe that the person makes the job.:

Robin, showing an excerpt from a new Beyonce video shot at the not-so-hip Coney Island amusement area, asked if Brooklyn had become too cool.
"We're not past that, we're just beginning," responded Markowitz, who quipped that "Beyonce is Brooklyn by marriage."

Asked if he'd serve again as BP if he could, Markowitz said, "I would've in a second."

And then he segued to what seems to be his new main regret: "There is one glaring thing: I tried my best to convince a Samsung, an LG Electronics and Apple in particular to roll the dice and open a manufacturing plant in Brooklyn.. and put our people back to work... where unemployment is huge, Brownsville, Eeast New York and Cypress Hills."

Now that's a worthy sentiment, but it's an unrealistic, since that's not how these companies look for factories, unless there are insanely massive tax breaks. Carlo Scissura, head of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, more wisely suggests expanding the current base.

But note how Markowitz is not touting Atlantic Yards as a savior for Brooklyn's unemployment rate.

Robin returned to the peculiar situation of Brooklyn, where there are tasting menus  at high-end restaurants on Smith Street and people making under $10,000 in Coney Island and East New York.
"Brooklyn is a reflection of America," responded Markowitz. "The gap between the top earners and the rest of us gets wider each year, and I don't believe it's healthy."
Yes, but New York and Brooklyn are more extreme examples than most places in the United States. This might have been a time to challenge Markowitz on his support for the management at Junior's restaurant in their battle with a unionization effort. 

The arena

"Another part of your legacy certainly is the Barclays Center, which has become an incredible international attraction," Robin said, "and at the same time you're faulted, and other officials are faulted, that housing was promised to be built. What happened?"

"I must tell you. I love the fact that those that complain about the housing, these were the very folks that didn't want this project to begin at all, any aspect of it," Markowitz said, in a statement that is partly true but should be contextualized by the observation that the housing delay is part of the developer's suspect record.

Then he segued to his new arena mantra: "So the fact that they're complaining about this--I love it when I go to Barclays, when I see so many of those who opposed the arena and the whole project in there buying tickets, God bless."

"Let me say, we had a recession, a major recession, eight years of lawsuits," continued Markowitz. "All of that converged in a  perfect storm to prevent the buildings from going up."

Yes, but Forest City also kept announcing its plans and delaying them.

"But the good news is, number one, that the first sections of the first building are now being assembled, as you know it's modular housing," he continued. "And it will be accelerated.. it's no secret, it's out, that Forest City Ratner has made an agreement with a major Chinese company that will invest billions to accelerate the building of housing. From what I understand, and I'm not a developer, but the money for those that invest is in the housing, more so than the arena."
"Why was the arena built first then?"
"Well, the arena was built first because the Nets were purchased," responded Markowitz, skating over the need to move the money-losing team from their home in an antiquated arena in New Jersey to a new facility with luxury boxes and sponsorship opportunities. "I mean, that's the crown jewel, although, the way they're doing--y'know, it reminded of the Brooklyn Dodger days, we used to say wait til next year. Now we say wait 'til next game."
"But they'll turn it around, I'm convinced"--note how then then conflated a professional, mutable team with the earthy reputation of the borough--"Brooklyn, y'know, we're resilient. They may punch us down, but we get up and, eventually, we'll win, we'll do all right."

Brooklyn changes
Do you get complaints that Brooklyn has become too gentrified?
"There's no question that some of our neighborhoods have become more affable," Markowitz responded, then corrected his lapse. "There's no question about it, more affluent, have become more attractive to young professionals and creatives.... I don't see anything necessarily wrong as long as this city can produce the amount of affordable housing to keep pace with the needs, and to preserve the affordable housing that we currently have."
"And that means focusing in on NYCHA, Mitchell-Lama... and paying greater attention to rent-stabilized. Plus, every project that comes before me... that requires a land use change,, I make sure minimum 20% is affordable housing. I think all of that is contributing to help, but the need is great."
That said, the growth in population and rise in market-rate rents in Brooklyn has far outpaced the affordable housing produced.
A softball question

"Let me ask you a personal real estate question," Robin asked, leading a viewer to wonder if Markowitz actually would be asked how a slip-and-fall case helped him buy a home.

No, it was a softball question about about Markowitz's plot at Greenwood Cemetery.

Political questions

What does he make of mayor-elect Bill de Blasio leaning on allies to place Melissa Mark-Viverito as Council Speaker?

Markowitz gave a bland answer, adding that, under Brooklyn Democratic Chair Frank Seddio's leadership, "we are one party. We are cohesive."

What grade would Markowitz give Mayor Mike Bloomberg?

"I would give him, maybe an A-, B+... he was competent, he hired I think the brightest of folks... and I think he did it in a balanced way... I think he got up every day and said, How do I make this city a better place to live?" Markowitz responded.

"Having said that, I've got a lot of complaints," Markowitz continued. "I think Borough Presidents were not given the kind of budgets I think would allows to be an important part of governance of this city."

He then went on to put in plugs for de Blasio and then his successor, Eric Adams.

Shticky question

"You're such a cheerleader for Brooklyn," Robin said, "and I realize part of it is shtick--"
"It is shtick, but I believe in it too," Markowitz interjected.

"But what is your favorite part of New York City outside of Kings County?"

"I would probably say the restaurants in Queens that I enjoy going to."
"Name one."
"How do I divide my children?"

What's next for Markowitz?

He quipped about becoming a Wise Guy on NY1.

The long lead time for a monthly magazine was not helpful for Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov

From the January/February 2014 issue of The Atlantic, several people answered the question Q: What party would you most like to have attended?

One answer might have been filed with just a little too much lead time:
Mikhail Prokhorov, Russian politician and owner, Brooklyn Nets: The Brooklyn Nets’ NBA championship party. Put it on your calendar.
The Nets had high ambitions with their new roster, but, as of today, the Nets are 10-20, which is three games behind the Boston Celtics in the race for the last Eastern Conference playoff spot.

They are one game ahead of the lousy Knicks, but, for purposes of comparison, consider that coach Avery Johnson was fired at the end of December last year when the team was 14-14, though on a 3-10 losing streak.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Bloomberg releases stats on ambitious affordable housing plan: far more preservation (107,119 units) than new construction (50,111)

Remember that bizarre dispute I got into with the New York Times editor in charge of corrections, who had defended a 5/20/12 profile of City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, which stated:
On her watch, the administration has undertaken financing 165,000 units of affordable housing by 2014, of which more than 130,000 have been built, and has created projects like Via Verde, the handsome, eco-friendly subsidized development in the South Bronx.
(Emphasis added)

After all, the city liked to use the term "build and preserve," as the Times reported in February 2010:
In 2005, the city said it would build 92,000 units and preserve 73,000 by 2014. Now, it expects to build 60,000 and preserve 105,000."
Now we have some numbers from the mayor's office: 50,111 units constructed, 107,119 units preserved.

The mayoral announcement

The numbers come from a 12/21/13 press release, Mayor Bloomberg Announces City Will Reach 160,000 Units of Affordable Housing Financed Under New Housing Marketplace Plan by Year's End - The Largest Affordable Housing Plan in the Nation:
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas and New York City Housing Development Corporation President Marc Jahr today announced that by year’s end the City will have created or preserved 160,000 affordable housing units under the Mayor’s New Housing Marketplace Plan, the largest housing plan in the nation. The ambitious New Housing Marketplace Plan is now 97 percent complete and is on pace to meet the goal of 165,000 units by June of 2014. In total, under the Bloomberg Administration, the City has created or preserved more than 175,000 units of affordable housing.
...To date the City has financed a total 157,230 affordable units through the NHMP –evidence of a promise kept by the Bloomberg Administration, and enough square-footage to roughly equal 46 Empire State Buildings. HPD and HDC will reach 160,000 affordable units by the end of this year, and are on pace to reach or exceed the 165,000 unit goal by the end of the 2014 fiscal year. Approximately 80 percent of those units will serve low-income households that earn between 40 percent and 80 percent of area median income. This is a group that has by far, the highest proportion of rent-burdened households. These families earn slightly too much to qualify for other government subsidies and benefits, and earn far too little to pay market rents.
Keep in mind that, however helpful to moderate- and middle-income households, about half of the 2250 subsidized rental units in the Atlantic Yards project would serve those earning over 80 percent of Area Median Income.

Drilling down

The announcement states:
Through the NHMP the Administration has financed more than 50,111 newly constructed affordable units to date.... At present, the City has preserved 107,119 units of affordable housing through the NHMP in a variety of multi-family buildings. By and large, these are tenant occupied buildings and are predominantly low-income. While preservation rarely creates new units, it can have a dramatic effect on communities by keeping people in their homes while maintaining the quality and affordability of the housing supply.
It also offers some borough statistics:
For every dollar invested by the City, the plan has leveraged an additional $3.43 for in other private and government funding for a total investment of $23.6 billion across the five boroughs, and will have created approximately 150,000 construction related jobs. This unprecedented investment has helped to spur economic growth, stabilize entire neighborhoods, and expand and preserve the city’s affordable housing stock.
Bronx: $7.6 Billion invested in 49,426 affordable units
Brooklyn: $5.3 Billion invested in 37,643 affordable units
Manhattan: $8.3 Billion invested in 51,168 affordable units
Queens: $2.2 Billion invested in 16,530 affordable units
Staten Island: $336 Million invested in 2,463 affordable units
From Wall Street Journal
What it doesn't provide--I've asked for more details--is borough-by-borough statistics. For example, of the 37,643 affordable units in Brooklyn, what was the breakdown between preservation and new construction?

Coverage in the WSJ

The statistics were cited in a 12/23/13 round-up on the mayor in the Wall Street Journal, headlined Bloomberg Reshaped the City: Leaves Sprawling Legacy as He Winds Down His 12 Years as the Mayor of New York City. The article focused mainly on the boom:
The Bloomberg years ushered in a new vision for condo living and renewed interest in architecture and design by developers and the public alike. Glass-walled buildings with high ceilings and skyscraper views outsold older co-ops lining Central Park.
Buyers from around the world rushed in to buy a piece of New York, bidding up prices on apartments and houses. With falling crime rates across the city, neighborhoods in Brooklyn became a destination of choice, for many newcomers to the city.
..."Mayor Bloomberg moved mountains," said Vicki Been, who studies housing issues at New York University. She said that the challenge for Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio was to improve affordability of housing, when incomes are stalled and rents are high.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Conservative think tank says state environmental review should be speeded, since it discourages development; I'd call law an Atlantic Yards enabler

A conservative think tank recently took aim at the oft-criticized State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA, or SEQR), arguing that the process--used by state agencies, including the Empire State Development Corporation for the Atlantic Yards project--takes way too long and discourages development.

The irony, from my perspective, is that in the case of Atlantic Yards the process helped enable the project compared to the alternative, and it's still being used at the developer's behest.

The case for speed

As Capital NY reported, in Empire Center proposes 300-day environmental review,
The Empire Center for New York State Policy included the recommendation in a report on Monday detailing ways the New York’s State Environmental Quality Review can be streamlined to reduce delays on development projects.
Center president E.J. McMahon said the process creates delays and uncertainty for businesses.
“SEQR adds an unnecessary layer of red tape to environmental regulations and local land-use laws, discouraging development that New York needs to promote a strong and growing economy,” McMahon said.
The report also says SEQR’s reach is too broad and suggests the process no longer include “community character” and traffic measures. McMahon said the proposed time limit would keep the process from dragging on. Under the center's recommendations, those conducting the review will have 60 days to identify all potential problems, and 180 days to complete an environmental impact statement.
The report has some strong evidence. But I'm sure civic groups and their attorneys have some counter-arguments, so, without hearing that debate, it's tough for me to come to an overall conclusion.

Still, I want to point out that, in the case of Atlantic Yards, the most recent delays in the process have nothing to do with the law and everything to do with the partnership between the state and its business parter, Forest City Ratner.

After all, the ESDC (aka ESD) held a public hearing last February on the Draft Scope for a court-ordered Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) but still has not issued the Final Scope nor the Draft SEIS. And the gap between Draft Scope and Final Scope is longer than it took in 2005-06 for the entire Atlantic Yards project, whereas the current study only deals with Phase 2.

Why has it taken so long? We can't be certain, but I'd bet it was to allow Forest City Ratner to proceed with its deal do have the Shanghai-based, Chinese government-owned Greenland Group invest in 70% of the project going forward. That should give ammunition to respond to public questions about Forest City's capacity to finish the project on a steady schedule.

So, again, it's not law but politics.

A TV interview

In a 12/16/13 interview with Capital Tonight, McMahon said "SEQR is a big ball of red tape wrapped around everything else," calling it "a statewide master planning law... overlayed on top of all the federal and state laws."

Well, perhaps, but in the case of Atlantic Yards, the state process, which involves public hearings and voluminous documents, distinctly avoided the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which would've injected a pesky vote by the City Council. Instead, no elected officials had their say.

McMahon makes the point that "community character" is a fuzzy issue, and he's right. Then again, though it has been used successfully in court, it's so general it should not--as far as I know--provide a huge roadblock. After all, in cases challenging environmental review, all the state needs is a "rational basis," not a convincing explanation, to prevail.

Host Liz Benjamin said that locals would argue that they "need another bite at the apple," since they're facing "deep-pocketed entities."

"I think we have existing laws to protect the environment," McMahon said, "and we have planning and zoning ordinances on the local level." Then again, with Atlantic Yards, the state process was used to bypass and override local zoning.

He said that there's a development deficit in upstate New York, and "SEQR has something to do with it." In fact, five of the state's regional economic development councils specifically cited SEQR as a roadblock.

Outlining their recommendations

In a 12/14/13 Times Union op-ed headlined End unnecessary barriers to state growth, McMahon and colleague Michael Wright, who co-wrote the report, wrote:
In this, as in so many areas of regulatory policy, the Empire State is an outlier. Less than one-third of all states have similarly comprehensive environmental review statutes —and even fewer have laws as broadly applicable as New York's SEQR.
Given its name, New Yorkers might assume that SEQR is strictly an "environmental" law, like the Clean Air or Clean Water Act. In fact, the law defines the term very broadly, going well beyond actions affecting the natural ecology of air, water, flora and fauna to include "noise, resources of agricultural, archeological, historic or aesthetic significance, existing patterns of population concentration, distribution or growth."
New York's law also regulates potential impacts on "existing community or neighborhood character"—a concept that, in some cases, has been construed broadly enough to block projects otherwise permissible under existing environmental and local land-use ordinances
This does little to encourage development and job-creation in New York, aside from generating countless billable hours for planners, engineers and lawyers who specialize in advising project sponsors and lead agencies on how to navigate its twists and turns.
They're right that the law has generated much revenue for lawyers and environmental planners, notably the ubiquitous (in New York City) AKRF.

Their recommendations:
  • Reduce the potential for undue delays by imposing hard deadlines and incentives to ensure the process can be completed within a year.
  • Mandate "scoping" of environmental impacts at the first stage in the SEQR review process, but also more tightly restrict the introduction of new issues by lead agencies later in the process.
  • Eliminate the law's reference to "community and neighborhood character" as an aspect of the broadly defined environment potentially affected by projects, since the concept already is defined by local planning and zoning laws.

The history
These [environmental[ concerns led to the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), signed by President Richard Nixon on January 1, 1970. NEPA required federal agencies to prepare assessments and impact statements of proposed major projects and policy changes affecting the “human environment,” broadly defined to include both “the natural and physical environment and the relationship of people with that environment."
NEPA would be the primary model for laws in states including New York, whose State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) was enacted in 1975.

While NEPA applies only to federal executive branch agencies, SEQR applies to the actions of state and local agencies in New York. In relatively rare cases where the two jurisdictions overlap, the respective reviews can be coordinated, so that the impact statement required by NEPA can be used to fulfill obligations under SEQR.2
It’s important to note that these laws were not designed as government’s primary line of defense against pollution—a purpose served by other statutes and regulations largely adopted after NEPA in the 1970s.
NEPA’s overarching goals extend well beyond protecting the natural ecology of air, water, plants and animals to encompass the regulation of “aesthetic, historic, cultural, economic, social, or health [impacts], whether direct, indirect, or cumulative.” In similarly broad language, SEQR defines environmental factors to also include “noise, resources of agricultural, archeological, historic or aesthetic significance, existing patterns of population concentration, distribution or growth.”

New York’s law goes a big step further by also regulating potential impacts on “existing community or neighborhood character”—an amorphous concept that, in some cases, has been construed broadly enough to block projects otherwise permissible under existing local land-use ordinances.
NEPA and SEQR also differ in several other significant respects.
Federal courts have determined that NEPA mandates for federal agencies are “essentially procedural.” In other words, the law’s principal effect is to describe the process federal agencies must follow to implement a major new policy or project—but not to shape outcomes consistent with its lofty aims.
New York’s SEQR, by contrast, can be used to force changes to “mitigate” environmental impacts—not only dictating how a project is built, but effectively deciding whether it gets built at all. Perhaps even more importantly, SEQR requires an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) if the project “may” cause a significant adverse environmental impact, whereas NEPA effectively requires an EIS only if a proposed action will “significantly affect the quality of the human environment.” This further expands the scope of actions covered by the state law. And before a project can win final approval, SEQR requires that adverse environmental impacts be “minimized to the maximum extent practicable.”
SEQR’s broader scope and its requirement for “maximum extent practicable” mitigation as a condition for potential approval make it more expansive and stringent than its federal counterpart, NEPA; indeed, as will be shown below, it is among the most expansive and stringent laws of its type in any state.
The timetable
While the SEQR process does have some timelines, they don’t guarantee the process is completed within any particular time period. Most initial steps are given definitive time periods, including appointing a lead agency when multiple agencies are involved (30 calendar days), the significance of action determination (20 calendar days from receipt of application or all information received) and the optional “scoping” process (60 calendar day period for consideration of a draft scope). But while the agency is given up to 45 calendar days to consider a DEIS, or 30 days to consider a resubmitted DEIS, there is no limit on the amount of time it may take to approve it.

Once a lead agency approves a draft impact statement, the clock starts ticking again on the SEQR process, starting with a minimum 30 calendar-day public comment period. Any additional public hearing must occur between 15 and 60 calendar days from the approval, with an additional 10 calendar days for comments afterward. The lead agency has 60 calendar days from the DEIS approval or 45 calendar days following the public hearing (whichever is later) to issue a final impact statement.
The scope

The report argues that, even among the 16 states that have SEQR-like laws, New York is an outlier:
Take, for instance, the issue of applicability. All 16 states with comprehensive laws require their state governments to conduct an environmental impact review in some circumstances. But New York is one of only eight states that apply this requirement to county or local government agency actions as well.32
Likewise, all 16 of the comprehensive environmental laws on the state level apply to development projects proposed or financially supported by state government. However, as shown below, only nine apply to private projects requiring other forms of government permission or approval—for example, zoning variance. In addition, only seven apply to proposed state and local policy changes, such as amendments to local zoning laws.

Legal challenges
Challenges to the outcome of a SEQR process can be filed in state Supreme Court under Article 78 of the state Civil Practice Law and Rules, following the lead agency’s final determination or decision. Practically speaking, this means a SEQR challenge must commence at the very end of the process, after the lead agency has either approved a final impact statement or made a “negative” declaration (meaning no impact statement is required). All administrative remedies must be exhausted before an Article 78 proceeding can be initiated.
This “ripeness” requirement usually thwarts challenges to interim agency actions. For instance, anyone challenging an agency for missing one of SEQR’s deadlines will find out that “these limitations essentially are unenforceable.” Even an agency’s positive declarations are not considered to be final determinations; therefore, with few exceptions, they have not been held subject to challenge.
In addition, an Article 78 proceeding must commence within four months of the agency’s final determination —the only time period when an agency action is subject to challenge. Some cases suggest that shorter time periods are acceptable if a separate statute governing the agency determination has a shorter statute of limitations. There is also considerable disagreement over when the statute of limitations period begins, which further complicates matters.
To challenge an agency under SEQR a person or organization must first have “standing,” which means they have a right to bring legal action under the statute. Traditionally, New York courts relied on the 1991 decision in The Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc. v. County of Suffolk.”48 Legal scholars note that some lower courts have “simplified and limited [this test] … into a requirement that a petitioner live in close proximity to the challenged project.”
As long as the Plastics Industry standing test applied, New York was “effectively one of the most restrictive jurisdictions for environmental plaintiffs,” as one legal expert put it. More recently, in the case of Save the Pine Bush, Inc. v. Common Council of the City of Albany the state Court of Appeals held that individuals could have standing to challenge a government action involving a natural resource if they could demonstrate “repeated, not rare or isolated” recreational use of that natural resource.
...For those with standing, Article 78 review is limited to whether the agency’s decision was an error of law, an abuse of discretion, or arbitrary and capricious. Courts interpreted this to mean they should “review the record to determine whether the agency identified the relevant areas of environmental concern, took a `hard look' at them, and made a ‘reasoned elaboration’ of the basis for its determination.”
Courts in such cases have been deferential to lead agencies, holding that an FEIS does not need to consider every impact and every mitigation measure or alternative to satisfy SEQR.56 Consequently, they rarely disturb agency decisions when the challenge is to a FEIS. There were 55 court decisions on SEQR in 2012, including a dozen involving challenges to completed impact statements. In all 12 cases, the FEIS survived the challenge. Government agencies were overturned in seven of 34 cases that were challenged for lack of an original or supplemental EIS.
By the same token, courts typically insist on strict compliance with the SEQR process and allow agencies little discretion as to the steps they must complete. However, some cases suggest that this standard might be loosening, given instances where courts allowed minor procedural irregularities as long as the public had full involvement in the process.
...In sum, since the 1990s—despite the restrictions on standing and ripeness under Article 78—SEQR has given rise to enough litigation to generate an average of one court decision a year for each of the 57 counties outside New York City.
Statistics have not been kept on the number of SEQR-related lawsuits dismissed or withdrawn before trial—much less the number of development disputes in which a SEQR lawsuit is threatened. Nonetheless, the potential litigation related to SEQR can be as significant as any precedents generated by cases pursued through trial.

As seen in the case of the Irondequoit Public Library (see box, page 10), the threat of a lawsuit can have a significant effect on the decision-making process. Although precedent and judicial deference likely would have supported Irondequoit’s initial determination, it still decided to spend $9,500 to complete a second full environmental assessment form.64 Such costs can be especially significant to small upstate municipalities.
Since its inception, the most common complaint about SEQR has been the way it can unnecessarily delay a project—which, if the process takes long enough, can be tantamount to denial. This is especially true for small developers or project sponsors who lack the financial wherewithal to pay for repeated rounds of technical changes and studies demanded by lead government agencies.
...With such limited enforcement mechanisms, the statute’s deadlines become nothing more than guidelines—as the Fortress Bible Church learned when the town of Greenburgh delayed its proposed building project for five years (see box "SEQR trumps worship in Westchester on previous page), which led to more years of litigation. Among other things, the town took more than a year and a half to produce an FEIS—a process that SEQR requires to be completed in under 105 days.
In contrast, proponents explain that the project sponsor dictates the process’ speed because the sponsor controls the DEIS content. This certainly can be true when the agency and sponsor collaborate, as was the case with the Verizon project described on page 9. A developer helps its cause by being organized and responsive, but there is little it can do if the lead agency has no incentive to act quickly.
So the process is, in fact, reasonably friendly to deep-pocketed developers like Forest City Ratner.

Streamlining SEQR: How to Reform New York’s “Environmental” Planning Law, by Empire Center

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Another self-serving, defensive Markowitz valedictory; also, a barely reported boost from the arena: the Camp Brooklyn gala

In another valedictory this week, this time in the New York Observer, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz "seems to be trying hard to defend his brand":
He seemed to take issue, for instance, with his recent New York Times exit interview, although he never said so explicitly. “I believe too many reporters no longer present the news in a balanced way … For instance, you should never say, in my opinion: ‘Marty Markowitz, rotund; Marty Markowitz, jokester; Marty Markowitz–whatever words they use,’” he argued, among other criticisms.
Ah, Marty doth protest too much.

How many umpteen times has he made self-deprecating jokes about his fondness for eating, his limited willpower, his inability to lose weight? It's part of his shtick, and now he's disavowing it?"

And, as shown in the screenshot from a News 12 interview, he's undeniably jowly. "The greatest reward," he says, is when regular Brooklynites come up to him and say, "'Thank you, Marty. You've made us proud of Brooklyn again.' That's all I need."

The Atlantic Yards angle

He also tells the Observer:
They don’t like my stance about Atlantic Yards, although I’m very happy that they’re buying tickets and enjoying themselves. So that says it all, by the way." 
The sponsors
That's self-serving twaddle.

Sure, some people who opposed the Barclays Center (not, as written, "Barclay's") are going there and enjoying themselves (hey, they helped pay for it).

But that doesn't erase Markowitz's record of knee-jerk support for nearly every aspect of and change in the project, including--incredibly--making a video to entice Chinese investors by claiming that Brooklyn was "1000 percent" behind Atlantic Yards.

Nor does it erase Markowitz's record of dubious fundraising from those doing business in Brooklyn. Nor does it erase his dubious defense (as on Brian Lehrer) of Forest City's record in meeting its affordable housing obligation.

The real Marty

Sure, he's entertaining, and he tried hard, according to his lights, and his reign coincided with--and, to some extent, fostered--Brooklyn's boom. But this interview doesn't come close to capturing the psychodrama that is Marty Markowitz. For that, perhaps, you had to see his final State of the Borough address. And you had know that he got the venue--the Barclays Center--for free.

But Markowitz is surely helped by a compliant media, which even publishes, without criticism, his entertaining, taxpayer-funded press releases, such as his Christmas song. Instead, the press should be looking at where he gets his money, how he spends it, and how he operated his office.

A Borough President needn't be mainly a cheerleader: there are policy choices to be made, and other Borough Presidents put money into affordable housing and libraries, or reformed and bolstered Community Boards, in ways Markowitz did not.

More help from the arena

I've previously written that the Barclays Center was not made available during its first year to community groups, as per the Community Benefits Agreement, but it was used by Markowitz and Mayor Mike Bloomberg for speeches, given to them free.

It turns out a 3/13/13 Camp Brooklyn Community Service Award Gala, which raised money for Markowitz's summer camp, was held at the Barclays Center's 40/40 Club. See screenshots above, at right and below, and the full concert program at bottom.

I'd bet the venue was free or below cost, given that Forest City Ratner, the Barclays Center, the 40/40 Club, and Barclays itself were listed as sponsors, and Forest City Chairman Bruce Ratner was one of the two honorees.

As noted by the Home Reporter in an article titled A total success, money raised would "send 120 low-income Brooklyn kids to camp this coming summer."
Also note how the rendering of the first tower, B2, contains a distorted, fantasy view from the south, suggesting that the Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower is somehow visible. As I've written, it's not visible in the slightest.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ad banners on streets near Barclays Center appear, then get taken away after complaints (just as in September 2012)

On Pacific Street
In an odd repeat of a September 2012 episode in which advertising banners appeared on residential streets near the Barclays Center only to be removed days later, another set of banners appeared late last week on those streets, only to be removed Monday.

The banners, placed apparently at the behest of NYC & Company, the city's tourism arm, appeared on Dean Street between Flatbush and Carlton avenues, Pacific Street between Sixth and Carlton avenues, and on Sixth near the arena.

The banners, which advertised the Super Bowl Host Committee and included the name of a different sponsor, seemed aimed at arena patrons going to the surface parking lot and/or walking around the neighborhood.

The placement suggested the tension between the arena's very commercial nature and the residential nature of immediately adjacent blocks, some of which are almost exclusively residential.

Complaints lodged, and responded to
On Dean Street

As one resident posted on 12/20/13 on Atlantic Yards Watch:
I arrive home from a business trip to find once again advertising on our streets, they had to remove it before. WHY again? Advertising is not permitted in residential areas.
The complaints were routed to the Department of Transportation. As Peter Krashes wrote on Atlantic Yards Watch:
The Department of Transportation responded quickly at a busy time of the year. The banners have been removed and the blocks have been flagged so no banners will be hung there in the future.
DOT spokesman Nicholas Mosquera responded to my query yesterday:
DOT manages the banner program and issues banner permits for all light poles in the city in accordance with the agency's rules on placement, size and other factors. In this case, the Super Bowl banners have been removed and will be relocated to nearby commercial streets in the coming days.
On Pacific Street, banners removed
And as of yesterday, the banners indeed were down, as shown in the photo at right.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

From the latest Atlantic Yards Construction Alert: no module deliveries this week or next (but work on B2 foundation and utilities)

Updated 12/27/13 with Brooklyn Paper mention.

Further evidence that the initial delivery and stacking of modules for the B2 tower was mostly a media event, as I contended, appears in the latest two-week Atlantic Yards Construction Alert (bottom), prepared by developer Forest City Ratner and distributed yesterday by Empire State Development.

The document, dated 12/23/13, states, "Deliveries commenced on Wednesday, night, December 11th. No deliveries are scheduled to take place during this reporting period." In a November news report, Forest City said deliveries would start in January.

Sure, this week and next are holiday weeks, sort of, but if they really wanted to get the building done on a tight schedule, they'd be building, right?

I had some Twitter back-and-forth with Jason O'Keefe, a construction professional with knowledge of the project, who--as shown in the screenshot--speculated that the companies involved weren't working this week and next.

I noted that they weren't delivering modules last week, either. His response: "Part show, part schedule IMO."

The 12/9/13 Construction Alert was rather ambiguous, in retrospect, stating:
  • Deliveries are expected to occur on weekdays and week nights, with the first delivery expected to be Monday night, December 9.
  • There will be daytime and nighttime deliveries of modules. A maximum of four nighttime and four daytime deliveries are permitted.
  • Deliveries are expected to occur on weekdays and week nights.
  • There may be a ramp up period where initial deliveries have fewer than four nighttime and daytime deliveries.
As it turns out, the modules were delivered two nights later than initially planned, given the weather.

And there's been not quite a ramp-up period, "where initial deliveries have fewer than four nighttime and daytime deliveries," but more of an episodic effort, in which there was one set of deliveries aimed at the media event.

Brooklyn Paper follow-up

A 12/27/13 Brooklyn Paper article reported:
B2 is supposed to rise to 32 stories at the corner of Dean Street and Flatbush Avenue, but the media event that showcased the installation of the second block on Dec. 12 was never supposed to signal the beginning of a new period of construction, claimed Ratner spokesman Michael Rapforge [sic; actually Rapfogel] on Thursday, saying that the plan was always to start slotting the apartment pieces in mid-January. But Rapforge’s explanation flies in the face of what his colleague, head of construction Rob Sanna, told us at the inaugural block drop-in.
“We’ll be erected the mods now through the summer, when we’ll go into the period of on-site work,” Sanna said back then.
Below are some verbatim selections from the Construction Alert.

B-2 Tower, Modular Residential
• Installation of site utilities will continue during this reporting period within the MPT and Dean Street.
• Backfilling will continue during this reporting period between the arena and B2 foundation wall.
• Pouring of the K walls will continue during this reporting period. Located on the perimeter of the 1st floor, these walls are 3’ in height. Pour will require 1-2 concrete trucks and all work will take place within the MPT. This work is slated to take 2 weeks, but actual performance is weather dependent.
• Spray on fireproofing will continue during this reporting period, weather permitting.
• Rough in for the MEP trades will continue during this reporting period.
• Block work on the 1st sub-cellar and cellar will continue during this reporting period.
• Installation of temporary power and lights will be maintained throughout the project. This is an on-going activity.
• Daily cleanup activities of sidewalks and streets are ongoing as required.
• Tentatively there are no construction activities scheduled for the upcoming Saturdays during this reporting period. No work will take place on the site on December 25th or January 1st.

LIRR Yard Activities Block 1120 & 1121
• Stage 2C work has commenced and will consist of Support of Excavation (SOE) work along Pacific Street between Carlton Ave and Vanderbilt Ave. SOE installation will include drilling of 106 24” diameter soldier piles, installation of lagging, installation of tiebacks, excavation/disposal of soil and demolition and removal of the existing concrete retaining wall. Work is anticipated to be completed in June 2014.
• Contractor will continue drilling the 24” diameter soldier piles along Pacific Street from the inside of the LIRR yard during this reporting period. The drilling equipment will be located within the rail yard. Sound – dampening blankets have been installed along the length of fence on Pacific Street, between Carlton and Vanderbilt Avenues.

After Nets loss, "Kidd rips players" and backlash continues

The Brooklyn Nets lost big at home last night to the league-leading Indiana Pacers, showing the limits of a team without injured center Brooklyn Lopez.

Had the team won, or came close, the narrative would have concerned the team's resilience, and depth, as well as the powers of General Manager Billy King and Coach Jason Kidd.

Instead, the Daily News offered the back page headlined "Nets Losin' It," with the subhead, "Kidd rips players after Pacers loss, butts heads with Deron." That would be star point guard Deron Williams.

Below, as shown in the Twitter screenshot, Daily News beat writer Stefan Bondy and Times columnist Harvey Araton took turns blasting the Nets, after, as Bondy wrote in his article:
According to their coach, the Nets are something worse than losers — they’re quitters.
More than 30 minutes after his team was embarrassed by the Pacers, 103-86, Monday night in Brooklyn, Jason Kidd arrived late to his postgame press conference with his harshest words thus far for a team in a tailspin.
“I think it’s getting really close to just accepting losing,” the first-year coach said. “We kind of get comfortable with losing and we have to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we give in? Most of the time right now we do.”
It’s a damaging implication for a group of high-priced veterans, a gutsy remark for a coach who had previously preached togetherness and the importance of “not letting go of the rope.”
That suggests something may be in the works: a trade, a coaching change, and, perhaps, more variable pricing to get people in the seats. And now both coaches fired last year--Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo--look like they were given far less slack than rookie coach Kidd.

Monday, December 23, 2013

If Atlantic Yards has just "14 residential buildings," what's missing: Miss Brooklyn? Site 5? Building 15? (unless there are office buildings)

Forest City Ratner construction chief Bob Sanna, in a 9/13/13 affidavit in the case challenging the Department of Buildings' approval of the Atlantic Yards modular plan, identified the project as containing 14 residential buildings with over 6000 housing units, "in addition to retail space, offices and publicly accessible open space."

That leaves wiggle room in a couple of ways.

As of now, Atlantic Yards is supposed to feature 16 towers,  Either a few towers would not be built--I'll give my bets below--or a few towers would be mostly or exclusively office space.

The residential mixed-use variation

There would be 6,430 apartments, at least in the by far most commonly described iteration: the residential mixed-use variation, as described in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. There would be office space in the flagship B1 tower (aka Miss Brooklyn), if built over what is now the temporary plaza.

Unlike apartment buildings, which can get construction loans (and tax-free financing) without committed tenants, office buildings need an anchor tenant, so the Atlantic Yards office space is on indefinite hold.

The commercial mixed-use variation

Alternatively, the commercial mixed-use variation would feature three office towers: not just B1, but also B2 at Dean Street and Flatbush Avenue and the tower across Flatbush at Site 5, now home to P.C. Richard/Modell's.

That configuration won't happen, since B2 is already under construction as a residential building and the commercial mixed-use variation would have 5325 apartments, not--as Sanna said, "over 6000."

What towers might be missing?

While an office tower seems unlikely, it's not impossible, if the city wants to dangle tax breaks lure another Panasonic.

It's also possible, of course, to see a variation that differs from the two configurations disclosed in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. That document aimed to disclose potential impacts, not lock in commitments. For example, it said nothing about the use of modular construction, now under way. (Actually, shouldn't there have been some disclosure about the potential impacts of modular?)

But what if only 14 towers get built? There likely would be three towers on the arena block, excluding B1, six over the railyard between Pacific Street and Atlantic Avenue, assuming a deck gets built, and four over the southeast block, currently used as a surface parking lot.

That makes 13. The 14th tower could be B1, but, again, that needs an anchor tenant, and a tower there would disturb the plaza that seems quite integral to arena operation. (As I've written, Atlantic Yards would have had a much tougher approval process had there been no permanent office jobs to tout.)

The 14th tower could be the tower at Site 5, which is a fairly large footprint, though currently occupied by some busy stories.

Or the 14th tower could be Building 15, occupying a curious, 100-foot-wide slice of the block between Dean and Pacific streets just east of Sixth Avenue. That slice was initially supposed to be cleared out and used as construction staging as four towers were built simultaneously with the arena.

That didn't happen, so they didn't need the space. Part of the block is vacant lots and buildings, but there are also three private homes. Perhaps Forest City and the state don't want to kick people out of those homes. Or, perhaps, maybe they're waiting for the overall project, and associated construction, to make people more eager to leave.

The two configurations disclosed

According to the Chapter 1 of the Final EIS:
Two variations of the project program are under consideration to allow for flexibility in the program of three of the proposed project’s 17 buildings: (1) a residential mixed-use variation containing approximately 336,000 gross square feet (gsf) of commercial office space, 165,000 gsf of hotel use (approximately 180 rooms), 247,000 gsf of retail space,  and up to 6.4 million gsf of residential use (approximately 6,430 residential units); and (2) a commercial mixed-use variation, which would permit more commercial office use in three buildings closest to Downtown Brooklyn and would contain approximately 1.6 million gsf of commercial office space, 247,000 gsf of retail space, and up to approximately 5.3 million gsf of residential use (approximately 5,325 units).

With Lopez injury compounding bad start, some second-guessing on the Brooklyn Nets' win-now strategy

Now that Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez, the team's only All-Star last season, is out of the season with a broken foot, the 9-17 team--plagued by injuries and unforeseen weaknesses--is not close to the contender it was expected to be, even if the lousy Eastern Conference should give them a playoff spot.

But some are rethinking thier cheers for the win-now strategy. Writes New York Times sports columnist Harvey Araton, in Nets, Built to Win Now, May Need to Cut Losses:
[E]verything the Nets have done, all the No. 1 picks they have traded for a 9-17 team, can be traced to [majority owner Mikhail] Prokhorov’s introductory promise to produce a championship in relatively short order, or at least to arrive in Brooklyn with a team to be reckoned with.
The alternative path would have been to recognize that the novelty of Barclays Center would have given the Nets a two- to three-year window to build from the ground up. They might have let the Knicks continue to overspend, mortgage their future and deflate their fan base.
But Prokhorov gave [GM Billy] King the green light and the cash to out-Knick the Knicks. The acquisition of [Deron] Williams was presumably a response to the Knicks’ trade for Carmelo Anthony. The sacrifice of their 2012 draft position to Portland (hello, Damian Lillard) for Gerald Wallace was done to persuade Williams to re-sign, as was the deal for Joe Johnson. If you are scoring and second-guessing at home, forget [aging Boston imports Paul] Pierce and [Kevin] Garnett — go back to the beginning.
Whatever King does from here, the odds are that there will come a time when he or his successor will have to turn the Nets from buyers into sellers and start all over again.
One question is whether rookie coach Jason Kidd will survive.

Another--obviously more speculative--is whether the new arena gave the Nets more than one year as a novelty. Nets CEO Brett Yormark framed it as one year, especially since the Nets increased ticket prices sharply in the wake of the new acquisitions.

Maybe they would've had two years, but three is more of a question mark; Brooklyn is not Oklahoma City, where the NBA team is the only game in town.

"An expensive luxury car with a transmission problem"

Wrote ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk:
The Nets will surely explore trade options. But they have an interesting dilemma: Do the Nets try to make a deal to still contend and chase the Heat and Pacers this season? Or does Brooklyn start the break up, see what it can get for its veterans and try to gain cap flexibility, collect some future assets and somehow maintain a somewhat competitive roster to keep fans coming to Barclays Center?

According to a league source, the Rockets had preliminary talks with the Nets last week about Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. Talks never gained any steam, but the source said the Rockets were doing their due diligence and Williams' name came up. The Nets balked because one of the main reasons Pierce and Garnett agreed to a trade to Brooklyn was to play with Williams, according to the source. Williams, who signed a five-year, $98 million extension in 2012, was playing well upon returning from an ankle injury, and the Nets were looking better.

Should the Nets revisit talks with the Rockets or another contending team and consider trading a key piece like Williams, Garnett or Pierce now that Lopez is out for the season? It might be worth contemplating because this $190 million roster that was supposed to be a Rolls-Royce now is an expensive luxury car with a transmission problem.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ratner on Bloomberg TV: first Atlantic Yards tower = "one- and two-bedroom apartments, primarily" (or, actually, studios)

Interviewed on Bloomberg TV 12/12/13, Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner expressed confidence that the new modular apartment units in B2, the first Atlantic Yards building, would rent quickly, saying the quality is great, as is location: "I am not worried about them renting at all."

"There are a lot more people living with their parents and grandparents than there used to be in the past," one not-so-prepared host stated, asking, "The changing demographics -- how flexible are these prefabricated homes for these multi-generational families?"

"Well, there's two aspects--50% of the first building is affordable, middle-income and affordable," Ratner replied. "They're one- and two-bedroom apartments, primarily. The rest of the market really in New York City for new residential buildings are basically people between the age 25 and 35, single or just married." Older homes, he said, accommodate multi-generational families.

Even so, Ratner's answer was misleading.As noted on the chart--there look to be 149 studios (75 subsidized, 74 market-rate), 166 1BRs (70 subsidized, 96 market-rate) and 47 2BRs (36 subsidized, 11 market-rate).

While this is "one- and two-bedroom apartments, primarily," it is more precisely  "studios and one-bedroom apartments, primarily."

Remember that Ratner's partner Bertha Lewis of ACORN, writing in 7/31/06 City Limits:
And unlike many affordable housing projects in New York City, units will be available for a range of household sizes from one to six people. Half of all affordable rental units will be two- and three-bedroom units.
That hasn't happened in the first building and, to be precise, the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding Ratner and Lewis signed aimed for half of the affordable units, in floor area, to be devoted to family-sized units, 2Brs and 3BRs.


"What does it wind up doing to income inequality?" Ratner was asked. "I know you have a lot of units for affordable housing, but still on the outskirts, there are still going to be those who cannot even afford that. Does this push them out even further?"

"I do not think so because this is an area-- it is not like we are buying existing residential buildings, and we're redoing them," Ratner responded. "These are all brand-new. If anything, it creates more affordable housing, 2200 units in total over the whole project. So this is really more affordable units. The general idea of quote-gentrification is definitely changing neighborhoods in the city in a fairly dramatic way, and pushing low-income, low middle-income workers, people out, there's no doubt about that."

Yes, and no. There's such thing as secondary displacement, and the Atlantic Yards project certainly contributes to that--though that trend surely started before Atlantic Yards. It's just that it's unlikely that Atlantic Yards can make a huge dent in it, as proponents argued.

Picking the site

"What is your qualification when you bring some of these projects in?" another host asked. "I mean, how did you pick the Atlantic Yards?"

Of course, there's no place called "the Atlantic Yards"; that's a brand name attached to an oddly-drawn 22-acre site. "In the case of Atlantic Yards, my offices in Brooklyn, you know Brooklyn very well and you want to be in the best location," Ratner responded. "Atlantic Yards -- transportation for rental housing is the number one issue. Residential requires subways, so I want to be where a subway station is if I'm going to build here. Condominiums less important. The number one issue is really transportation."

The new mayor

Later in the interview, Ratner said of Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, "We're going to have a very good mayor. I think people in the business community will be very pleasantly surprised, number one"

Let's remember that Ratner co-hosted a fundraiser for de Blasio, who depended significantly on ACORN and the Working Families Party for his political rise. And Ratner and colleagues contributed to de Blasio. Forest City CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin is one of two developers on de Blasio's transition team.

Some silly banter

Continue watching the video to capture a little friendly banter with a culturally clueless bow-tied host, Tom Keene, who twice pronounced "Beyoncé" with just two syllables.

In discussions of the Bloomberg legacy, the Barclays Center comes up (erroneously) big

A Reuters retrospective, variously titled Michael Bloomberg Leaves Outsized New York Legacy (The Forward) or From crime to cigarettes, Bloomberg leaves his mark on New York (Yahoo), contains this paragraph:
The former Wall Street executive and founder of a media company that bears his name leaves a city with lower crime rates, more parks, and new urban landmarks such as the Barclays Center, an indoor arena built over a Brooklyn train yard.
Of course the arena was not "built over a Brooklyn train yard." About half of it was built below grade at the site of perhaps one-quarter of a train yard, the functions of which were moved to the east. And a deck for vertical development to cure the "blight" of the below-grade yard--while allowing the storage and cleaning of rail cars to continue--has yet to be built.

But that's way too complicated, right?

In the Daily News

A Daily News editorial today, headlined Prince of N.Y.: Bloomberg's legacy is a city that remains capital of the world., includes this passage:
Rest assured that no one who heard Bloomberg speak on Jan. 1, 2002, envisioned that on Dec. 20, 2012, he would make the maiden run on an extension of the No. 7 subway line at the conclusion of a third and final term.
....Or that Brooklyn would become the hottest and hippest place in all of urban America, complete with its own new arena and pro basketball team.
That was happening, of course, before the arena even opened. A caption reads:
Brooklyn's Barclays Center stands as a symbol of the borough's new image.
There you have it--the end justifies the means. Thing is, the Daily News editorial page isn't too comfortable with complications, writing, for example:
Bloomberg further boosted their futures by rezoning more than one-third of the city to spur development. Boomtowns have opened in areas ranging from Downtown Brooklyn and Williamsburg to Long Island City and Lower Manhattan.
Except the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning was justified to spur office jobs, not new housing and, had housing been the goal, surely there would have been more discussion about the fairness of offering property owners free money--increased development rights, accompanied by tax breaks--without requiring below-market housing in return.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Nets said to plan practice court, training facility in Sunset Park industrial district; a new DUMBO? (nah)

The Brooklyn Nets are planning to build a new practice court, and training facility in Sunset Park, at 148 39th Street, just west of Second Avenue (and near Costco) along the waterfront in Industry City, reports the New York Times in Nets Look to Get Both Feet in Brooklyn. The article builds on a 10/30/13 report in NetsDaily, which estimated the investment at $50 million.

Assuming the deal goes through, the Nets by fall 2015 also will move their front offices to Brooklyn, thus changing their off-court center of gravity from New Jersey to Brooklyn, and leading to the probability some players, seeking convenience, would finally move to Brooklyn rather than live in Manhattan or New Jersey.

The location is a straight shot down Fourth Avenue from the Barclays Center, a little more than three miles.

The impact on Sunset Park

The Times, I think, goes a little far in predicting the impact on the area:
The neighborhood is in an intriguing state of transition. Sunset Park is home to a large Latino population as well as Brooklyn’s Chinatown. With the impending move, the Nets have inserted themselves into a Brooklyn neighborhood that has reinvented itself several times in the past few decades, and seems poised for more change to come.
...In the past few years, the buildings have begun to attract artists drawn to the affordable studio space. More recently, the landlords committed to a full-out renewal of the complex. The buildings now house a mixture of artist studios, light manufacturers, technology firms and other creative-minded tenants, many of whom moved in within the last two years. On a recent morning, people carrying portfolios and artists’ tubes trickled into Industry City from the direction of the 36th Street subway stop.
Map from Pratt Center report
While there's indeed room for new businesses and creative attractions in Industry City, it's far from any upscale residential population.

It's not close to a working-class residential population, either.

Keep in mind that both Third Avenue and Fourth Avenue are highways separating the residential population (Fifth Avenue is the spine of the Latino shopping district, Eighth Avenue the Chinese one) from a significant industrial zone, with some 33,000 workers, as indicated in the graphic at right (click to enlarge).

So even if  the team opens a Net store and offers basketball clinics, it's doubtful that "the area could aspire to be something like Dumbo, a neighborhood about five miles away that has been transformed from a gritty outpost to a creative, high-priced hub."

DUMBO was essentially empty, with few industries operating and no residential population when artists began to transform the district. Still, NetsDaily reported:
Jamestown Properties is hoping to turn the 40-acre site into Brooklyn's version of Manhattan's Meatpacking District. The Nets training facility is intended as the anchor of that plan.
It's certainly possible that Jamestown can transform the site somewhat, and create some destinations, but the Meatpacking District has the advantage of proximity not only to transit but to upscale residential neighborhoods.