Thursday, April 24, 2014

Open space was once an enthusiastically promoted new resource. Now the delays/deficits are minimized.

I've already reported on the slippery claims in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft SEIS) regarding open space.

As a public hearing approaches April 30 a key thing to remember, as noted below, is that the claims regarding no significant adverse impact should be contextualized by the loss of streets, which should increase the amount of open space far more than planned.

Also, until and unless Forest City Ratner and its joint venture partner/overseer construct a deck and then build over the railyard above Pacific Street, there wouldn't be much open space, as suggested in the Intermediate Stage (below right) from a potential Construction Phasing Plan.
Phase II buildings on terra firma, none over railyard

The overview

As stated in the Executive Summary, there will be more open space, but less per person, given the huge new population--but that's not a problem because, natch, there are big parks a long walk or short subway ride away:
Due to the new open space resources that would be provided by Phase II, and the availability of open space resources not included in the quantitative analysis (in particular, Prospect Park and Fort Greene Park, two destination parks within walking distance of the Project site), the decreases in the active residential ratio would not be considered a significant adverse impact. Overall, there would be no significant adverse indirect open space impacts associated with Phase II of the Project under the Extended Build-Out scenario, under any of the three construction phasing plans.
From May 2004 flier
This legalistic analysis contrasts significantly with the claims in the initial Atlantic Yards promotion, such as the fliers excerpted at right, about the benefits of open space to "Brooklyn."

Or the Rev. Herbert Daughtry's expansive invocation at the March 2010 groundbreaking, citing "a space to walk and/or sit amidst green grass, shrubbery, trees, blooming flowers, and decorative fountains of spouting water."

Orwellian, almost

Consider this passage from the Construction, Open Space chapter of the Draft SEIS, which essentially says something is better than nothing, and that a delay is not meaningful:
From Oct. 2004 flier
The ratios of acres of total, passive, and active open space per 1,000 residents in the ½-mile study area would continue to be substantially less than the DCP's planning guidelines, but the open space to be provided in Phase II would generally help to alleviate this shortfall, compared with the Future Without Phase II. However, the timing for elimination of the open space impact in the non-residential study area resulting from the Phase I development would be extended under the Extended Build-Out Scenario, as discussed in Chapter 3E, “Construction Open Space.”
The Operational Open Space chapter notes:
The adequacy of open space in the study area was quantitatively and qualitatively assessed for existing conditions, the Future Without Phase II, and the Future With Phase II. According to CEQR guidelines, the quantitative assessment is based on ratios of usable open space acreage to the study area populations (the “open space ratios”). These ratios were then compared with DCP’s open space guidelines for residential and non-residential populations. The following guidelines are used in this type of analysis:
For non-residential populations, 0.15 acres of passive open space per 1,000 non-residents is typically considered adequate.

For residential populations, there is a citywide median open space ratio of 1.5 acres per 1,000 residents, which is used as a guideline. In addition to this median ratio, DCP has set an open space ratio planning goal of 2.5 acres per 1,000 residents. This second ratio includes 0.50 acres of passive space and 2.0 acres of active space, and serves as an ideal benchmark.
Because these ratios may not be attainable for all areas of the city, they are considered benchmarks for comparison rather than policy or thresholds for determining impacts.
...Although the total open space ratio would remain below the city’s recommended guideline of 2.5 acres per 1,000 residents, this ratio would increase as a result of Phase II of the Project, due to the eight acres of new publicly accessible open space that would be created. Likewise, although the passive open space ratio would remain below the city’s recommended guideline of 0.5 acres per 1,000 residents, Phase II of the Project would have a beneficial impact on this ratio by providing new publicly accessible open space. With regard to active open space, Phase II of the Project would result in a decrease of 5.6 percent, compared with the Future Without Phase II, and the active open space ratio would remain below the City’s guideline. As noted in the CEQR Technical Manual, the city guideline is seldom achieved in densely built portions of New York City, and therefore does not constitute an impact threshold. While the total, passive, and active open space ratios would be below city guidelines in the Future With Phase II, the overall effect of Phase II of the Project on the availability of open space resources in the study area would be beneficial. In addition, study area residents would have access to Prospect Park and Fort Greene Park, which would continue to be flagship resources that draw residents from the study area.
(Emphasis added)

Another way to look at it

So the report says there would be no significant adverse open space impacts in the 1⁄2-mile study area. Keep in mind, however, what Brooklyn Views blogger Jonathan Cohn wrote in December 2005:
The City’s CEQR Technical Manual provides guidance for open space requirements for projects. 1.5 acres of City Parkland per 1,000 residents is the median community district ratio, although the citywide average is 3.5 acres per 1,000 residents. While not a regulatory standard (unfortunately), “For planning purposes, the city seeks to attain a planning goal of 2.5 acres per 1,000 residents”. This 2.5 acres is relative to the city's existing pattern of streets and blocks, where the streets provide additional open space that is not counted in the ratio. If we didn't have streets, the requirement for open space would be much greater, so we can't count the street area when comparing the amount of open space required by a project to the city standard that assumes 70' wide streets every 200 feet. (In addition, “.15 acres of passive open space per 1,000 workers represents a reasonable amount of open space resources for that population”). 
(Emphases in original)

Some mitigation

The Mitigation chapter of the Draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement suggests that local workers, not residents, are the ones that may get a boost:
Chapter 4C, “Operational Open Space,” finds that Phase II of the Project would not result in significant adverse impacts related to open space upon the Project’s completion. However, the 2006 FEIS identified a temporary significant adverse impact on passive open space resources in the non-residential (1⁄4-mile) study area during Phase II construction. This impact would continue until a portion of the Phase II open space is phased in. As analyzed in Chapter 3E, “Construction Open Space” the Extended Build-Out Scenario would prolong the temporary significant adverse impact on the passive worker ratio in the non-residential study area that was identified in the FEIS by between approximately 7 and 9 years, compared with the Phase II schedule analyzed in the 2006 FEIS (the analysis in Chapter 3E uses the commercial mixed-use variation and assumes that all of the Phase I buildings are built by 2018).

While the temporary significant adverse impact on passive open space resources in the non-residential study area would be fully mitigated by new Phase II open spaces that would be gradually completed during the construction of the Phase II buildings, Phase II under the Extended Build Out Scenario would prolong the duration of the temporary significant adverse impact, compared to the Phase II schedule analyzed in the 2006 FEIS. In response to this finding, the project sponsors and ESD will explore additional mitigation measures between the Draft and Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which could be implemented to improve passive open space conditions in the non-residential study area in the event there is a prolonged delay in construction.
What's the practical meaning of this? Office/retail/construction workers need a place to have lunch, so instead of going to the Dean Playground on Dean Street between Carlton and Sixth Avenue, where adults unaccompanied by kids are officially barred, new options might emerge.

Here are the potential on- and off-site mitigation measures:
These measures include creating new public open spaces on-site or elsewhere in the study area of the type needed to serve the proposed population and offset their impact on existing open spaces in the study area, and improving existing open spaces in the study area to increase their utility, safety, and capacity to meet identified needs in the study area.

One or more of the following plaza or open space areas could be improved as a mitigation measure to address a prolonged construction-period open space impact (see Figure 5-1):
  • Times Plaza: currently an approximately 0.17-acre triangle formed by Flatbush Avenue, Atlantic Avenue, and 4th Avenue is occupied by a paved sidewalk area, bike racks, and the Times Plaza Control House (an MTA structure, built in 1908 as a subway entrance, which today functions as a skylight for the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center subway station). 
  • Lowry Triangle: this 0.11 acre New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) open space is bounded by Atlantic Avenue, Underhill Avenue, Washington Avenue, and Pacific Street. It contains passive open space features such as seating and plantings. 
  • Cuyler Gore Park: this 1.16 acre DPR open space is bounded by Fulton Street, Carlton Avenue, and Greene Avenue. It contains passive open space features such as seating and plantings. 
Such improvements could include seating, plantings and other open space amenities. And it's possible that a Phase II building construction site may be used as temporary open space.

Ratner finally cares?

If improvements at Times Plaza are paid for by Forest City, then the 4/25/05 New Yorker profile, MR. BROOKLYN: Marty Markowitz-the man, the plan, the arena. contains an anecdote that seems quite relevant:
[Markowitz] met next with a group from Boerum Hill, the residential district of brownstones and town houses near downtown Brooklyn. The residents were campaigning for street plantings at the site of a recently restored subway kiosk dating from 1908, at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. Markowitz’s driver approached the intersection from Fourth Avenue, heading down what was formerly an industrial strip that was recently rezoned to permit the construction of apartment buildings.
...In the car, Markowitz’s cell phone rang, and the voice of a female assistant announced that “Bruce” was on the line.
“Yes, sir, how are you doing, Bruce?” Markowitz said, picking up the handset and falling silent as he listened... Markowitz, whenever he could get a word in, tried to be both conciliatory and upbeat.
Across the street, a small huddle of Boerum Hill residents handed Markowitz a sheaf of plans showing an arrangement of planters and greenery they would like to see in front of the restored subway kiosk. Perhaps, a resident suggested, Forest City Ratner might be persuaded to contribute the funds.
“Does Ratner want to prove he cares?” someone asked.
“I haven’t asked him,” Markowitz replied testily. 

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