Sunday, September 28, 2014

Department of City Planning promotes Von Engel to Brooklyn director; an Atlantic Yards cameo

The Real Deal reported on 9/19/14, City Planning appoints new Brooklyn director: Winston Von Engel's appointment comes amidst borough's development boom:
New York City’s Department of City Planning just appointed a new director for its Brooklyn office, The Real Deal has learned. Winston Von Engel, a 25-year veteran of the planning department, will direct the borough’s urban design and land use policy, guide housing and economic development initiatives, and advise the City Planning Commission on zoning issues...
“Today, Brooklyn is growing and thriving and I am particularly excited by this administration’s historic challenge to plan for, and especially the charge to plan with, communities for affordable housing and resiliency to make this a better and more equitable city for all,” Von Engel told TRD by email. He will replace Purnima Kapur, who became the department’s executive director in June.
Von Engel, a graduate of the Pratt Institute, started at City Planning as an intern in the Brooklyn office, and was most recently the deputy director of that office. He has worked on initiatives such as the Downtown Brooklyn Plan, which aims to stimulate business in that neighborhood, as well as on Atlantic Yards (now Pacific Park Brooklyn), and on a study to examine the growth potential of East New York, which will be the site of the de Blasio administration’s first major rezoning.
Um, the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning was approved in order to stimulate office development, but turned out to spur much new residential development.

About Atlantic Yards

As to Von Engel's work on Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, well, remember that it's a state project, and the Department of City Planning had only an advisory role.

Von Engel's most public moment regarding Atlantic Yards, at least in my memory, concerns DCP's lack of work. The passage below is from a 3/17/06 post on the history of the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area, which includes the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard but not other property (except Site 5) that was part of the Atlantic Yards map.


But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday [3/16/06] of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisman, aide to Council Member Letitia James, honed in on the question. The topic was land use, and Winston Von Engel, Deputy Director of the Department of City Planning's Brooklyn office, was on the hot seat in the Borough Hall courtroom. 

"Just to be clear, this was a project that was initiated by the developer--is that right?" asked Suisman, whose boss is the leading public official opposed to Forest City Ratner's project.

"That's our understanding," Von Engel replied. (Well, Borough President Marty Markowitz approached developer Bruce Ratner with the idea of bringing a basketball team to Brooklyn, and the developer recognized that a standalone arena wouldn't make economic sense.)

"Had the city been looking at making use of the land?" Suisman pressed on politely.

"Not that I can recall," Von Engel said. He noted that there were once plans decades ago for a campus for Baruch College of the City University of New York, as part of the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area (ATURA). "This area was looked at in a very large context. What survived was the Atlantic Center mall, the Atlantic Terminal mall, the housing. So, in that sense there were plans at one point, but some of them were not realized."

He cited a recent rezoning for the Newswalk building--condos built out of an old Daily News manufacturing plant that sits on a piece of land sliced out of the Atlantic Yards footprint--and noted that other property owners in Prospect Heights had begun to convert industrial buildings to residential ones.

Suisman continued: Was there a reason the city didn't take a look at the area?

"We didn't decide to take a look at the yards," Von Engel replied. "They belong to the Long Island Rail Road. They use them heavily. They're critical to their operations. You do things in a step-by-step process. We concentrated on the Downtown Brooklyn development plan for Downtown Brooklyn. Forest City Ratner owns property across the way. And they saw the yards, and looked at those. We had not been considering the yards directly."

At the head of the table, Markowitz looked a bit pained, as a woman young enough to be his daughter educed the city's diffidence in developing the site. There were fewer than ten people in the audience, and maybe a dozen public officials, aides, and community board representatives around the table. It was another episode in the Atlantic Yards Committee's curious mix of impotence and importance.

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