Wednesday, April 30, 2014

In 2004, Forest City said an $80,000 income was too much for an affordable studio/1BR. Now that's in the works.

The demand for affordable housing in today's market is unending. Bisnow reported that Broadway Housing Communities' 124-unit development in Harlem's Sugar Hill drew 48,000 applications for the 98 affordable units. That's a .2% chance.

So the Atlantic Yards affordable housing--when it arrives, December 2015 at the earliest--will surely be in demand.

So, yes, the 73 low-income units and the 36 moderate-income units in the first tower will help the most desperate. 

The moderate- and middle-income units surely will be subscribed too.

But it's crucial to remember that the latter units-- 2012 estimated rents at right--would be way too expensive for most who rallied for the project.

(ACORN members were polled about support for affordable housing, but were not asked about affordable housing accessible to those in their income bracket.)

There's a huge mismatch at work between affordability by Brooklyn standards and affordability as calculated regionally. Affordable projects in New York City must base eligibility on regional Area Median Income (AMI), which is well above New York City income.

That means someone earning nearly $93,000 (as of 2012) could be eligible for an affordable studio, as noted in the graphics below--exactly what Forest City was decrying ten years ago.

The change

Over ten years, Brooklynites have not gained in their ability to pay for apartments, while affordability has grown ever elusive. Some 46% of New Yorkers are struggling to get by, a new report states.

As noted last week in a report from Comptroller Scott Stringer, from 2000 to 2012, median apartment rents in New York City rose by 75 percent (compared to 44 percent in the rest of the U.S.), while real incomes of New Yorkers declined.

About 400,000 apartments renting for $1,000 or less were lost--a sign that a project like Atlantic Yards, even if it had been fulfilled on the original schedule, would have been a drop in the bucket.

In some neighborhoods near the Atlantic Yards site, including Fort Greene, average real rents increased 50 percent or more over the 12-year period.

Who's to blame?

That makes the delay in Atlantic Yards affordable housing that much more poignant: the neediest have not seen their incomes grow, while overall area income growth has lifted the baseline for all affordable housing calculations, making it tougher to qualify for Atlantic Yards housing.

Project backers would blame the delay on opponents and critics. But Forest City's plans and promises were never realistic.

In November 2011, Bruce Ratner talked up his firm’s plan to build the world’s tallest pre-fabricated towers, an innovative, risky, and money-saving tactic, one that initially infuriated construction workers who’d aggressively rallied for Atlantic Yards.

The Wall Street Journal, without raising an eyebrow, reported Ratner’s rationale “that the existing incentives for developments where half the units are priced for middle- and low-income tenants ‘don't work for a high-rise building that's union built.’”

Of course, that’s exactly what Ratner proposed and the state approved--twice, after Ratner got permission to build at the density his firm found economically necessary. Sure, the economics had changed, but they had changed by 2009 when the state re-approved the project. (And, for the record, half the 6,430 units wouldn't be subsidized, just half the rentals: 2,250.)

And now, with the snag in Forest City's modular plan, its new joint venture partner/overseer, the Chinese government-owned Greenland group, plans to build three towers, two of them affordable, using conventional construction. Apparently now the numbers do pencil out.

The Atlantic Yards promise

In March 2004, Forest City's Atlantic Yards point man Jim Stuckey came to a Park Slope Civic Council-sponsored event, saying of Atlantic Yards housing, "From our perspective, we think creating affordable housing is for for teachers and nurses… electricians, police, for the average person who's working and trying to live in Brooklyn today. It's not creating housing for the doctors and lawyers and who people can afford a lot more than that."

Video courtesy of Battle for Brooklyn producers

"We feel there are a number of programs that exist today," Stuckey said. " For example, the city’s 20/30/50 program, the NewHOP program, you can have a family of one or two people earning as much as $80,000 and living in a studio or one bedroom apartment. You can have families of three or more earning as much as $140,000 and living in a one- or two-bedroom apartment. We don’t think that that’s affordable housing and we don’t think that many people here think that that's affordable housing."

Stuckey, however smooth and sympathetic he sounded, was missing some additional context. Later in the session, Rudy Bryant of the Pratt Center for Community Development noted that the median income in Brooklyn was about $26,000, so housing costs had to be substantially lower than the $80,000 Stuckey mentioned.

Changing AMI

Indeed, according to the 2005 Housing Memorandum of Understanding Forest City signed with ACORN, there were to be three affordable housing scenarios, all based on the then-current AMI of $62,800.

In the first scenario--the one initially promulgated to the the press--the income mix was the most affordable: the highest income for one person eligible to get subsidized housing would be $44,376.

In the third scenario--which Forest City soon adopted--the highest income for one person eligible to get subsidized housing would be $61,951.

Those numbers have changed. As of 2012, with an AMI of $83,000, the figure for one person had risen to $92,690, well above Stuckey's number. It's even higher now.

Reality vs. previous estimates

Other affordable housing proponents found that reality--the combination of gentrification and a shift in New York--has outpaced their seat-of-the-pants estimates of who should be eligible for affordable housing.

In 2006, Borough President Marty Markowitz said $80,000 should be a cap on incomes for those eligible.

In 2007, Council Member Bill de Blasio, now Mayor, said, “Definitely below six figures,” he responded. “Absolutely below six figures. Over $80 [thousand] I don’t think is what I’m thinking about, although there may be some exceptions.”

Now Atlantic Yards will offer the $93,000 studio.

New deputy mayor wants to redefine "affordable" by using neighborhood or borough AMI; will that be part of new Atlantic Yards subsidy?

Mayor Bill de Blasio's affordable housing policy is coming tomorrow and likely will have multiple elements, including new incentives trading density for affordability. Already, unions have proposed wage cuts, policy mavens suggested a transit-oriented focus and streamlined approvals (among other things), and a nonprofit executive called for real and permanent affordability.

(WNYC has a preview, citing an increased capital budget, new tax incentives, a huge push for preservation, potentially transferrable air rights, new rules for a higher percentage of affordable units, protections for rent-regulated apartments, and better supportive housing/homeless services.)

Could "real affordability"--not keyed to regionally-based Area Median Income (AMI)--be a possibility? It's not on WNYC's list.

From Alicia Glen's balancing act, in Crain's Insider 3/23/14, regarding the city's new deputy mayor for housing and economic development:
Ms. Glen also wants to redefine the "affordable" in affordable housing, using neighborhood- or borough-specific area median incomes to better allocate sub-market-rate housing.... "You can't design a whole program around 'I know what feels affordable.' You do have to put some metrics around what affordable housing is."
Rents for first Atlantic Yards tower, B2, as of 2012;
when it opens in 2015, the numbers will have increased
This mismatch issue has been raised all around the city, given that projects promising affordable housing, including Atlantic Yards, include much middle-income housing that, based on AMI, is not affordable to local residents. Nor would it be permanent.

The problem is paying for it.

Making AY more affordable?

Should the de Blasio administration find the money, it certainly could make the affordable Atlantic Yards housing more affordable. Or make the units permanent.

Something may happen. Note the Times coverage of the modular snag:
In recent days, [Forest City CEO MaryAnne] Gilmartin has met with Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development, to talk about the next three buildings and the possibility of additional housing subsidies for apartments for poor and working-class families.
“We’re going to drive a tough but fair bargain so we can get this project moving,” Ms. Glen said. “We’re not happy about the pace of construction. But we think that modular is something we should continue to pursue across the city.”
But we've already seen Forest City say it can get the project going, both with the modular plan and by recruiting a deep-pocketed new partner, the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group. In the same article reporting Glen's statement, Forest City said it would start three towers, two affordable, using conventional construction.

It has tweaked affordability multiple times in its favor, in the notion of a 50/50 split, in definition of the income "bands," and in the allotment of units, failing to make half the apartments (in floor area) two-bedroom and three-bedroom units, then skewing the 2 BR allotment toward the best-off affordable "band."

Before additional subsidy is provided to Forest City and its new joint venture partner/overseer, why not hold them to their promises?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

With value of Brooklyn Nets rising, Ratner finally planning to sell that remaining 20% share

Yes, Forest City Enterprises'  20% share of the Brooklyn Nets is finally on the market, and likely will get a good price. The Wall Street Journal's Eliot Brown reports:
Developer Bruce Ratner is looking to sell his company’s 20% stake in the Brooklyn Nets, and has tapped investment bank Evercore Partners to advise him on the sale, according to multiple people familiar with the team.
As I reported in October 2012, Forest City--a real estate company--was not wedded to keeping the team, which was used to leverage a real estate project. ("That was really the impetus to it, really, bringing professional sports back to Brooklyn," Ratner claimed in May 2010.)

"We're currently evaluating the economics of the team in Brooklyn," executive Jim Lester said obliquely in 2012, according to a webcast of an Investor Day event. "As [arena/team CEO] Brett [Yormark] said, the sales going well. Player salaries are expensive, and the new CBA penalizes franchises for having hefty player salaries, so we're working through that now."

Since then, beginning their second year of existence, the Brooklyn Nets assumed the NBA's highest payroll. While that was the work of principal owner Mikhail Prokhorov, it also hit Ratner's ownership group.

Previous deals

Ratner and co-investors originally paid $300 million for the New Jersey Nets in 2004, then in 2009--facing cash flow problems--announced a sale of 80% of the money-losing team and 45% of the arena operating company to Prokhorov's Onexim Group. As summarized by Sports Business Journal via NetsDaily:
Onexim Group has agreed to put down $200 million in cash; assume about $180 million in franchise debt from Forest City Enterprises, Bruce Ratner's parent company; eat $60 million in costs--including losses--sustained while the team remains in New Jersey; and purchase up to $106 million in junk bonds needed to finance Barclays Center infrastructure, for a total of around $550 million.
(It turned out that Prokhorov offered a $75.8 million loan rather than buy those junk bonds.)

New value

The Nets are still losing money--Forest City's share was about $4.67 million last year. As I wrote last September, the Forest City Enterprises subsidiary that owns 20% of the Brooklyn Nets failed to fund a July 2013 capital call required to support the team's operating needs, but instead of losing a percentage of ownership agreed to pay Prokhorov a fee.

Thanks to a new arena and market, the value of the Brooklyn Nets, Forbes calculated this past January, has continued to skyrocket, from $357 million in 2012 (#14 in league, a 14% rise) to $530 million last year (#9, a 48% jump), to $780 million this year (#5, a 47% leap), the largest increase in the National Basketball Association.  

That number is of course debatable, but the Milwaukee Bucks, a losing franchise in a third-tier market, were just sold for $550 million.

So it may be an opportune time to sell. If that $780 million is solid, that would mean a $156 million take.

On eve of hearing, Forest City discloses plan to accelerate elements of platform construction, delay permanent railyard

With a public hearing on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Draft SEIS) coming Wednesday, developer Forest City Ratner has suggested that it can accelerate building of the platform needed for vertical development over the Vanderbilt Yard--but it does not provide a firm timetable and also asks for 15 months' delay in the required completion of a permanent railyard.

A letter from Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin to Empire State Development (ESD) President Kenneth Adams was posted today on the ESD's Atlantic Yards site and is reproduced below.

Accelerating certain work

Gilmartin wrote:
As a result of our recent partnership with the Greenland Group, Atlantic Rail Yards, LLC (ARY) will be in the position to accelerate the construction of certain platform and building and foundation work, which, if done concurrently with the construction of the yard, would have several benefits. It would accelerate our ability to complete the construction of the platform over the yard. It would reduce the overall duration of construction within the yard, and it would minimize the disruption in the yard for the construction of the platform following the completion of the yard.
The letter does not estimate exactly how much time would be saved, how much of the necessary work would be completed, or when the platform would be built.

Forest City has until 2025 to start the platform, which is needed to construct six towers over the below-grade railyard, the clearest example of the blight the project was supposed to remove.

This would represent an earlier start--but it also could portend a further renegotiation later on.

Short decision time, delayed railyard

In building the arena on the western segment of the Vanderbilt Yard, Forest City had to create a 42-car temporary railyard to the east, so Long Island Rail Road trains could be cleaned and maintained.

A larger permanent railyard, with capacity for 56 cars (though it was supposed to be bigger), is supposed to be finished by 9/1/16. Forest City twice got the MTA to push back the deadline to formally start the permanent railyard and post the completion guaranty for the work. The current deadline to post that guarantee, 6/30/14, would remain under Forest City's proposal.

But Forest City wants an extension of the deadline to finish the permanent railyard to 12/1/17.

MTA posture

Forest City's proposal will be presented for consideration at the MTA Board’s June 25 meeting.

I suspect that the agency will be amenable to the change. First, it's controlled by the governor. Also, the new railyard is needed to facilitate East Side Access: service to Grand Central Station, with Atlantic Avenue to Jamaica trains as a shuttle service.

As of 2012, the MTA had been predicting 2016 as the start date for East Side Access; hence the requirement, in the 2009 revision of the Vanderbilt Yard deal, for the railyard to be finished by 2016. The start date for East Side Access has been pushed back; it will be ready no earlier than 2020 (see p. 25 here).

FCR Letter To Ken Adams 4-28-14

As hearing on Atlantic Yards environmental review approaches, an FAQ

See update on Forest City's plan to accelerate platform construction.

From 5:30-9 pm tomorrow, Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing/enabling Atlantic Yards, will hold a public hearing at LIU  (75 DeKalb Avenue, Room HS107) to accept comments on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Draft SEIS) and changes to the Modified General Project Plan.

Below, a partial FAQ.

Why is there a hearing? Wasn't the project already approved?

Atlantic Yards was approved in 2006. After Forest City Ratner in 2009 reopened terms of the business deal--gaining 21 years to pay for the Vanderbilt Yard, rather than pay the promised $100 million on time, and getting ESD to agree to multiple rounds of eminent domain, again saving the developer cash flow--Atlantic Yards had to be reapproved.

OK, so why now?

Because, after re-approving the project, ESD signed a Development Agreement that gave Forest City 25 years to build the project, without disclosing it to the public. It had long been said to take ten years, and ESD studied only a delay of five years--a 15-year buildout. As the result of a multi-pronged lawsuit filed by two community coalitions, a state judge said ESD had to conduct an SEIS to evaluate the potential impacts of a 25-year buildout.

State Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman slammed ESD for a "patently incorrect" claim and a "failure of transparency," since when re-approving the project it "made no mention of the provision in the Development Agreement for a 25 year substantial completion date for Phase II and, instead, repeatedly cited the provision requiring FCRC to use commercially reasonable effort to complete the Project in 10 years."

What does 'evaluate' mean?

An environmental review is a disclosure document, required to disclose impacts and recommend mitigations. Not everything must be mitigated. But failure to disclose--as in this case--can lead to a rare legal sanction. The Draft SEIS concludes that some impacts would last longer but otherwise not be significant. There are some tweaks to reduce traffic delays and enhance open space near the project.

What are people supposed to do at the hearing?

They're supposed to comment on the various disclosures in the Draft SEIS (from parking to construction oversight to noise) as well as two proposed business changes--shifting some bulk from Phase 1 of the project (the five towers on the arena block and Site 5) to Phase 2 (the eleven towers on the site east of Sixth Avenue) and cutting parking.

But there's one fundamental issue, right?

Yes: should Forest City Ratner (and its new partner) be trusted. For the quickest answer, see: Failure to Hire Independent Compliance Monitor. The problem, of course, is that the only overseer for now is Empire State Development, which lost a major lawsuit regarding its trustworthiness. Only political pressure from/on the governor, who controls ESD, can change that dynamic.

Is it relevant that the Barclays Center is, from the perspective of tickets sold, a business success? Or that revenues lag well behind projections?


Will they stick to those issues?

Unlikely. If past patterns continue, some project critics/opponents will lodge some general criticisms, while proponents will tout "jobs, housing, and hoops." But the former will likely be the only ones to try to assess the Draft SEIS.

What does Forest City Ratner want?

To be in the driver's seat. "In order for our company to build Atlantic Yards as quickly as you and we want to, it is imperative that the community work with us and not use litigation to stall the project," a company spokesperson said, ignoring 1) that litigation has not stalled the deliver of housing and 2) that the most recent delays have been caused by its own modular process.

What does Greenland want?

I don't know for sure, but I suspect it wants Forest City to absorb all the flak and manage the local political dynamic, while it reaps new revenues and establishes itself as a major player internationally.

What do community critics want?

Faster delivery of the affordable housing, new oversight for the project as a whole, and improved oversight of construction and environmental impacts.

How has the dynamic changed?

Well, some of the most vocal opponents, centered around Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, have been far less active, though some may surface for this hearing. And one of the Community Benefits Agreement signatories, BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development), no longer exists, though it's still a defendant in a pending lawsuit filed by those in a coveted training program who say they were promised union cards and construction jobs. ACORN has been succeeded by New York Communities for Change.

Will elected officials show up, pro or con?

Good question.

What about the unions?

They were distinctly frustrated by Forest City Ratner's plan to build all the towers using modular technology, but the umbrella union compromised, suggesting that the lower compensation was worth the possibility of future, consistent work. A few more specialized unions, like the Plumbers, were highly critical of the modular plan.

But hasn't Forest City's plan changed?

After saying they planned to build it all modular, at lower cost (with lower compensation and tax revenues) and with lessened community impact (trucks, workers, waste), Forest City disclosed to the New York Times that its new joint venture partner/overseer, the Greenland Group, has decided that three towers will start this year, using conventional construction. That means more union jobs and higher compensation. And more noise and traffic.

Is that certain?

The new schedule for three towers, while announced to the press, is not memorialized in any formal documents. (Two would be on the southeast block, now used for parking, and one would be at the southeast corner of the arena block.) Nor is there any guarantee that Greenland will build, as press reports suggest, in eight to ten years.

If Greenland does build faster, doesn't that short-circuit some of the Atlantic Yards criticism?

To some extent. But it does not deal with the fundamental question of trust.

Wait--didn't Bruce Ratner say that union-built high-rise housing with a 50% affordable component (of the rentals) couldn't work economically?

Yes. Apparently it now can. Greenland, which will own 70% of the remaining project (outside the Barclays Center and the under-construction B2 tower) plans two towers with subsidized units, one with condos.

Is Greenland officially a partner?

The deal has not been announced as closing, as it still needs Chinese and U.S. government approvals, which are expected. But Greenland already has led the decision-making.

Is Greenland in charge?

Well, sort of. While Greenland has more seats on the board of the joint venture, all major decisions require consensus. But a deadlock can lead to one partner being bought out and you have to think the bigger investor has more sway.

Is Forest City being rescued by Greenland?

To some extent, yes. But Greenland, which has a lot of money, doesn't have the local political or construction skills to jump into Brooklyn. And Greenland surely needed an American partner to raise $249 million in low-interest loans from Chinese investors seeking green cards.

Is the modular plan a failure?

Well, it's certainly not a success. The first tower, which broke ground in December 2012, was supposed to take less than two years--faster than conventional construction--but then was said to take two years. Now it looks like three. But perhaps the ever-rising value of prime Brooklyn real estate makes Atlantic Yards more viable. Forest City says it wants the fifth building to be modular. Stay tuned.

Why did the Draft SEIS study the potential impact of conventional construction, rather than modular?

Because the former was considered a worst-case scenario, with more workers, trucks, and debris on site.

Aren't late night modular deliveries a problem?

Well, they certainly can be noisy. But the Draft SEIS said there was no significant adverse impact, because the noise would be comparable in magnitude and duration to that which would result from operation of any heavy truck on the roadway adjacent to the receptor.

Would Atlantic Yards have passed if New York taxpayers knew their direct subsidies and tax breaks were helping out the Chinese government?

Unlikely. (Ditto for helping a Russian oligarch gain a 45% share in the arena and see the value of his investment in the Nets skyrocket.)

Isn't Greenland paying for the green roof planned for the arena?

Yes. And it's not about sustainability. The business reason is to enhance views for residents of the apartments around the arena. And to tamp down the escaping bass.

But that construction--which will require extended periods of cranes outside the arena--was not studied in the Draft SEIS.

That's because it's still considered part of Phase 1. Which for the purposes of this round of environmental review, is a "background condition."

But Phase 1 isn't close to done. Does that mean Building 1 and Building 4, two huge towers planned around the arena, also fall through the cracks?


Wasn't the SEIS ordered more than two years ago, with a final court case resolved in June 2012? Why has it taken longer than the 2006 environmental review, which was much more extensive?

We can't be sure, but I'd bet the delay was partly to let Forest City sell part of the project.

Didn't community critics call for Empire State Development to consider the possibility of multiple developers to speed the project?

Yes, but ESD said the project was so complex that untangling it would take too long. (Which is true, but that's because the state changed the rules for Forest City.) And, by now, Forest City has new capital from Greenland and says it can get the project done faster.

What about that cut in parking?

Well, given fewer people using the on-site arena parking lot and the availability of transit, the amount of parking will be cut from the 3,670 spaces analyzed in 2006 to 2,896 spaces. A "Reduced Parking Alternative" would cut the number to 1,200 spaces.

Is the latter likely?

Sure. It's less costly to build.

Isn't less parking good news, in general, if there are subways nearby?

Yes, but in this case, there's an arena that already draws numerous drivers seeking free, on-street parking. But residential permit parking, a fixture of districts like that around Wrigley Field in Chicago, is not being considered. Nor was the impact of major league hockey considered, though crowds from Long Island should be coming to see the Islanders next year.

Don't they plan to move the new school?

Yes, they'd long said the school would be in Building 5, a tower over the railyard just east of Sixth Avenue. Now they're suggesting Building 15, a tower directly to the south. (See outline in yellow to right.)

Why the change?

No reason was announced, but it's far easier to build on terra firma than over the railyard, which requires an expensive deck.

Wasn't one of the major goals of the Atlantic Yards project to remove blight, as exemplified by the below-grade railyard?

Yes. According to the SEIS, "the completion of Phase II of the Project at a later date would delay the delivery of some of the aforementioned Project benefits." In other words, the blight will persist.

Isn't it paradoxical that the extended "localized impacts would not result in significant adverse neighborhood character impacts in the Prospect Heights neighborhood"?

Yes. When it comes to neighborhood impacts, the larger neighborhood context--in which the impacts can be mostly dismissed--holds sway. But when it came to analyzing blight, the larger neighborhood context--which could have demolished the study's conclusions--didn't matter.

Won't much of the open space--especially that potentially used by the public--be delayed until they build over the railyard?

Yes. See graphic below right. The open space around the first four towers on the southeast block would pretty much be for tower residents.

The state says the amount of open space, which is far less than city guidelines, isn't a problem because meeting those goals is not feasible everywhere. What did they leave out?

That the goal is relative to the city's existing pattern of streets, since the latter provide additional open space not counted in the ratio. But they're taking wide Pacific Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues for construction staging and later open space.

When is a platform over the railyard required to be built?

Not until 2025, 15 years after the project's "effective date," which was in 2010.

What if they don't build it?

Then they won't get to build the six towers over the railyard. Those towers represent 54.5% of the eleven Phase 2 buildings, but they'd account for 64.8% of the population. So if they don't build those towers they won't meet the goal of 2250 affordable housing units.

Will they ever build that expensive deck?

Who knows. Atlantic Yards is a "never say never" project. Maybe they'll find more EB-5 funds for the deck, as with Hudson Yards developers in Manhattan. Maybe Mayor de Blasio will offer new subsidies. After all, [updated] they've just announced a plan to accelerate elements of the platform.

They're asking de Blasio for more housing subsidies, right?

Yes. He's supposed to announce his ambitious housing plan on May 1. I would have bet it was once to include a big push for modular, with perhaps an "innovation grant" to bolster the modular factory. Now that the first Atlantic Yards tower hit a snag, who knows.

Will that mean new housing benefits?

Maybe that will help Forest City/Greenland come closer to fulfilling the pledge that 50% of the units, in floor area, would be family-sized. But I doubt they'd make the affordable housing permanent, as with some other programs.

Atlantic Yards housing not permanently affordable; units in first tower would last 35 years; stay tuned for tweaks

Also see FAQ on upcoming hearing.

Surely the biggest selling point for Atlantic Yards, outside the "new home team," has been the promise of affordable housing, an amorphous concept that no one dares oppose in the abstract.

There are lots of reasons to be skeptical about the housing promises, but one aspect has gained very little attention (including from me): the housing would not be permanently affordable. The affordable units in the first tower, for example, would last some 35 years.

No wonder documents from Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing/enabling Atlantic Yards, do not address the issue of permanent affordability. And ESD was somewhat cagey with me when I inquired about this basic fact.

A 35-year term (or 30-year one) is not out of line with many other subsidy programs in New York City. However, in some cases, as with the recent agreement at the Domino site in Williamsburg, the housing will be permanently affordable.

In fact, the city's Inclusionary Zoning program, which offers developers increased density in exchange for the creation or preservation of affordable housing (on- or off-site), requires permanent affordability. After all, the density bonus is permanent, too. Atlantic Yards is a state project, not a city one, but the state override of zoning resembles a privately negotiated inclusionary zoning bonus--but without permanent affordability.

So, it's possible that the affordable units in first Atlantic Yards tower, scheduled to open in late 2015, will be more than halfway through their cycle of affordability by the time the last building opens, given a 2035 "outside date" for project completion.

Other cities do much better at longer or permanently affordable terms. So the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), a trade association for neighborhood-based housing groups, has pushed for permanent affordability, as in a Spring 2010 report, A Permanent Problem Requires a Permanent Solution.

Touting Atlantic Yards

Consider how, as Atlantic Yards faced its first round of approvals in October 2006, Forest City Ratner circulated the flier excerpted above right, claiming "Atlantic Yards will create over 6,800 new units of badly needed mixed-income housing for Brooklyn."

Of course, the units are not "for Brooklyn" and Atlantic Yards will not "create" the apartments out of nothing. The affordable units require an allotment of scarce subsidies, which might provide more bang for the buck elsewhere.  (The total planned is now 6430 units, including 4500 rentals.)

While 2250 rental units--50% of the total-- would be subsidized low-, middle-, and moderate-income apartments, they've taken a long time to be delivered.

We've since learned that, in the first tower, Forest City will not come close to meeting its goal to have 50% of the affordable units, in square footage, be devoted to family-sized 2BR and 3BR units.

Not only are there no 3BR units, the 2BR units are not distributed evenly, with the largest number (15 of 35) assigned to the highest-income affordable "band," households earning $116,201 to $132,800 as of 2012, as noted in the graphic above.

Rent would be $2740 according to 2012 standards, surely higher by 2015. And while that's well below market rent, and would be welcomed by some in the brutal Brooklyn market, such units do little for the core constituency, organized by ACORN, that rallied so hard for Atlantic Yards.

The Atlantic Yards deal

There was surely an argument for permanent affordability. After all, the developer not only gets increased density in perpetuity, it also gets eminent domain and other government aid.

Now that the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group, Forest City Ratner's new joint venture partner/overseer, will own 70% of the project going forward, it's tough to imagine the city and state would have been as generous had the Chinese government been promising affordable housing in exchange for a density bonus.

During a conference in 2007, Bertha Lewis, who negotiated the Atlantic Yards housing deal as head of New York ACORN, suggested that any development done on city or state land be subject to a land trust, so it would be “affordable forever, not 30 years, not 40 years.”

When it came to a project partially on state land, Atlantic Yards, ACORN didn’t push for such a deal. The Atlantic Yards Community Benefit Agreement states says affordability will be guaranteed for a “period of thirty years.” The major subsidy program--the 50/30/20 program--that the project would rely on typically uses a 30-year term, to parallel the tax-exempt financing.

Drilling down

I contacted Empire State Development with a simple question, about the term of the housing in the first tower, and I couldn't get an answer. I was told to contact the mayor's office. Instead, I looked at documents available on the web site of the New York City Housing Development Corporation (NYC HDC).

The official statement for the first tower, known as 461 Dean Street or B2, states on p. 10:
Apartments in the Project be subject to rent regulation for 25 years in accordance with the New York City Rent Stabilization Code and that the Low Income Rental Apartments and Middle Income Rental Apartments be subject to rent regulation for not less than 35 years in accordance with the New York City Rent Stabilization Code.
In NYC HDC board materials, p. 2 states:
Following initial occupancy, rents on the Project will be subject to Rent Stabilization. Pursuant to the terms of a regulatory agreement to be executed by the Corporation and the Mortgagor..., the occupancy restrictions will remain in effect for as long as the Bonds are outstanding and for a minimum of thirty (30) years from the date the Project is first occupied. Both the low and middle-income tenants in occupancy at the expiration of the Occupancy Restriction Period will be protected by the terms of the HDC Regulatory Agreement, which mandates that the tenants be offered continuous lease renewals in accordance with Rent Stabilization.
After checking directly with NYC HDC, I got some background information. The occupancy restriction will last at least 35 years. If a rent-stabilized tenant has a lease in place at the 35-year mark, the tenant will still get lease renewals under rent stabilization guidelines.

If an affordable unit is vacated during the 35 years, any increase in rent must still remain within the existing guidelines.

After 35 years, a vacant unit will leave rent stabilization. That means a big boost, most likely, for the building's owner.

What's next?

Will the other subsidized units in Atlantic Yards have a 35-year term? It's too soon to tell, since there are many variables, including number of affordable units, unit sizes, and levels of affordability.

I'd bet that the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio--set to announce a major affordable housing plan on May 1--may push for more larger units, and/or salute Forest City's new Atlantic Yards partner, the Greenland Group, for promising to start three more towers, two with affordable units.

Getting permanent affordability would be a bigger lift.

From the ANHD report

The Spring 2010 report, A Permanent Problem Requires a Permanent Solution, noted that recent advances in affordable units were met with a significant amount of expiration:
The Bloomberg administration’s housing program, The New Housing Marketplace Plan, is on track to create or preserve 165,000 affordable units by 2014. This commitment is historic and represents a tremendous investment of public resources for affordable housing. The plan, however, is weak from a sustainability perspective as the overwhelming majority of the units developed are only restricted for the length of the financing, which typically lasts 30 years and sometimes much less. Indeed, this flaw means that the city may not be developing housing for “the next generation” since for every affordable unit added or preserved, at least one other may be lost due to expiring affordability restrictions or loopholes in the state’s rent stabilization laws.

...According to our analysis, 294,402 units were created or preserved with city subsidy over this twenty year period [1987-2007]. While this is a tremendous accomplishment, 169,561 of these units may be at-risk of losing their affordability between 2017 and 2037 due to either expiring affordability restrictions or physical deterioration. This total does not include units developed under the city’s Inclusionary Housing program, which requires permanence and those units under the control of mission-driven not-for-profit owners who are generally committed to maintaining affordability for the life of the building.
In 2010, at least, ANHD thought the economics were favorable for New York to adopt policies like more forward-thinking cities:
ANHD believes that there is a window of opportunity for engaging in discussion and commit- ting to reshape policy around permanent affordability. The lack of private financing and a softer real estate market have increased private developers’ appetites to do affordable projects, as well as their receptiveness to longer affordability terms and a return that is driven by fees, not the property’s residual value. On the governmental side, the current budget shortfalls facing the State and City of New York warrant critical and innovative thinking regarding the best use of public resources.

In addition to ANHD’s research to determine the number of city-subsidized units at-risk of losing their affordability, we have also been in conversation with housing officials, policy experts and housing developers across the country to determine what policies and programs other jurisdictions have enacted to enable very long-term and permanent affordability. Numerous cities such as Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco have surpassed New York in this regard.
The solutions:
Two of the various mechanisms that are particularly relevant for New York State and City to avoid recreating the expiring-use crisis include:
Authorizing the state and city to have a “Purchase Option” in any project developed on public land, with public subsidy, or benefiting from a tax abatement or zoning density bonus. Such an option would put the fate of these units back in the hands of the public agencies that helped create them.
Creating a new property tax abatement and requiring language in future regulatory agreements that would trigger mandatory extension of the project’s affordability restrictions if the abatement is made available when the initial term expires.
A corollary recommendation is the initial affordability term should be extended to 60 years, which is the maximum period that current abatements permit.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Work on B2 clearly slows, as only six modules delivered in two weeks; sixth floor to start in June, not May

Now that B2, the first Atlantic Yards tower, is officially delayed a year, it looks as though developer Forest City Ratner has seriously slowed down. According to the latest two-week Atlantic Yards Construction Alert, dated today and issued by Empire State Development after preparation by FCR, about 117 modules have been delivered and installed.

That's only six more than the number two weeks earlier, or barely more than .5 module a day, considerably below the 3 modules per day pace in the previous two weeks. The building requires about 930 modules.

In fact, the total of "approximately 117 modules" is fewer than the 122 modules claimed to the New York Times a week ago. (Are they going backward? Did they fib to the Times? Is the current document unreliable?)

Also, while the alert two weeks ago said erection of 6th floor modules would begin in May, now the plan is to begin that in June.

Other elements in the new alert:
• Alleyway drainage plumbing between B2 and the arena has commenced and is anticipated to be completed during this period. Gravel backfilling will be completed upon sign off of the plumbing.
• Rough in for the MEP trades in the basement and ground floor will continue during this reporting period.
• Electrical switchgear will be delivered and installed during this reporting period.
• Block work in the cellar will continue during this reporting period, weather permitting. Interiors layout of the first floor will commence.
• Spray on fireproofing on the 1st floor and Dean Street steel will continue during this reporting period. ConEd work within the vaults has commenced.
• Hoist cars have been set. Installation of first tie-in to the 3rd floor will commence this reporting period. The hoist will be erected at the southwest corner (Dean Street & Flatbush Avenue) of the building.
• Particulate monitoring will be resumed while soil disturbing activities take place at the B2 site.
LIRR Yard Activities Block 1120 & 1121

There's no new element announced below regarding the Long Island Rail Road work, but the previous alert disclosed test pit work on Atlantic Avenue near Sixth Avenue that's apparently completed:
• Stage 2C work has commenced and consists of Support of Excavation (SOE) work along Pacific Street between Carlton Ave and Vanderbilt Ave. SOE installation includes 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 has completed drilling the 24” diameter soldier piles along Pacific Street.
• Contractor will continue installation of tiebacks, lagging, excavation of soil and demolition of the lower portion of the concrete retaining wall along Pacific Street during this reporting period.

Forest City "generally" in compliance with environmental protocols re Atlantic Yards construction. Locals have their doubts.

Community critics seek increased oversight regarding Atlantic Yards, such as an independent board to ensure fewer violations of construction rules, but the state says everything's pretty much OK.

Chapter 3A: Construction Overview of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Draft SEIS) issued by Empire State Development, suggests everything's mostly fine, though some improved protocols are coming.

It's tough to take that on faith. For example, it contrasts with the July 2012 report, commissioned by the community initiative Atlantic Yards Watch, that catalogued violations of the Memorandum of Environmental Commitments (MEC) in much detail. And it's been impossible to get records in a timely manner.

It's true changes have been instituted since then, as noted in the Draft SEIS, and there are fewer complaints. But there's also been a lot less construction. The announced changes suggest there was room for improvement.

And though the Construction Overview chapter suggests there are few documented violations, it's tough to trust that. After all, as I reported in July 2012, documents suggest that ESD condoned a cover-up of a Forest City contractor's falsification, as a draft report acknowledging the latter decision was edited to excise such a mention.

The summary

Chapter 3A: Construction Overview contains a lengthy account regarding ENVIRONMENTAL COMPLIANCE AND OVERSIGHT and the role of ESD's technical consultant, Henningson, Durham & Richardson Architecture and Engineering (HDR):
HDR found that the project sponsors were generally in compliance with the requirements set forth in the MEC. In the areas that the project sponsors were not in compliance, HDR noted that prompt action was generally taken to address the non-compliance issues. HDR observed that there were improvements to processes and protocols after construction began, which resulted in improved compliance. The measures outlined in the MEC will continue during Phase II construction. Further, the project sponsors have agreed to incorporate a number of improvements recommended by ESD and HDR to improve the project sponsors’ MEC compliance program. The SEIS analyses presented in the subsequent construction-related chapters examine whether there are additional practicable measures that should be implemented beyond those already required in the MEC for Phase II construction activities under the Extended Build-Out Scenario. ESD will continue to require the project sponsors to implement the required environmental impact avoidance and mitigation measures. During construction of the Project, ESD will also continue to retain the services of appropriate professionals to monitor compliance.
So everything's fine, but there will be some improvements.

What was in MEC?

Some specific MEC components include:
  • MPT [maintenance and protection of traffic] Plans to minimize traffic disruption during construction; 
  • An emissions reduction program, including the requirement to use ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel and diesel particle filters (DPFs) on construction equipment to reduce the air pollutant levels from construction equipment; 
  • A Community Air Monitoring Plan (CAMP) implemented during excavation and other soil disturbing activities; 
  • Remedial Action Work Plans to address contaminated or potentially contaminated soils and materials on the Project site; A noise mitigation program relating to on-site equipment and offering double-glazed or storm windows and air conditioning units to all significantly impacted sensitive uses as identified in the 2006 FEIS (e.g., residential, community facility, houses of worship) to partially mitigate the project’s noise impacts during construction; 
  • Vibration monitoring and Phase 1B archaeological studies to protect historic resources during construction; and 
  • Site-specific rodent control plans. 
Specific elements

Regarding Transportation, the report states, for example, that ten additional speed limit signs around the construction site led to an improvement in compliance with speed limits, while an additional flagger at the entrance of the queuing area prevented trucks from queuing and idling on Vanderbilt Avenue prior to opening of the queue area gates. 

New protocols led to a decrease in idling and a new security guard ensured fewer uncovered loads or inadequate wheel washing. "According to the project sponsors’ records, the Project achieved an average truck protocols compliance rate of approximately 98.8 percent during peak Arena construction," the report states.

While construction workers sometimes illegally parked in non-parking areas, that was reduced thanks to increased NYPD ticketing, "but NYPD would need to remain vigilant in ticketing illegally parked vehicles to keep this issue from resurfacing."

Regarding Air Quality, "[a]ccording to the project sponsors’ records, on average, 98.5 percent of the construction equipment used during peak Arena construction met the DPF [diesel particulate filters] requirement specified in the MEC."

While a Construction Air Quality Measures (CAQM) Compliance Plan was finalized and implemented in April 2010, "HDR observed that a number of the provisions in the CAQM Compliance Plan were not adequately followed, including the submission of the project sponsors’ quarterly environmental monitoring reports in a timely manner, completion of the environmental monitor daily inspection form on a regular basis, and proper training related to the MEC air quality requirements to all contractors working on-site." Follow-up meetings led to some improvements, and more are planned.

Regarding Hazardous Materials, "the project sponsors were generally compliant with the hazardous materials MEC requirements."

Regarding Noise, contractors generally followed Construction Noise Mitigation Plans (CNMPs) but "there were a few instances where violations of the CNMPs were identified, including the use of non-compliant equipment." 

While project sponsors generally "complied with the noise barrier requirement where 8-foot to 16-foot fencing, portable noise curtains, or other means of shielding such as noise blankets were used to reduce noise levels," there was one incident in which a generator and an air compressor were placed at street level near a property line without noise shielding. Since then noise blankets are required.

Regarding Vibration, a monitoring program measures vibration levels at the Swedish Baptist Church and the town houses along Dean Street immediately adjacent to the Project’s Building 15, as well as buildings in the Prospect Heights Historic District within 90 feet of project-related construction activity:
There has been no recorded incident of a vibration threshold exceedance caused by construction activity to date. However, there have been limited instances of vibration threshold exceedances which the project sponsors’ structural engineer has confirmed to have been caused by a local disturbance (e.g., a basement boiler turning on in the building containing the monitor). Based on observation and readings made over the course of Project construction, HDR found that the project sponsors have been in compliance the MEC requirements for construction-related vibration.
Improvements coming

The project sponsors have agreed to incorporate a number of improvements recommended by ESD and HDR, including:
Six-Month Look-Ahead Reports. The project sponsors will provide ESD and HDR reports at regular intervals that describe the activities anticipated on the project site for the next six months.
Contractor Training. The project sponsors will improve the contractor training program by conducting presentations about the detailed requirements of the MEC to all foremen, project managers, field managers, and similar key personnel of all subcontractors upon mobilization, and every 90 days thereafter.
Contracts. The project sponsors will include in their construction contracts, and require their contractors to include in all subcontracts, an exhibit incorporating an excerpt from the MEC that sets forth all construction-related requirements contained in that document. The project sponsors’ construction contracts will expressly require each contractor to comply with all the terms of the MEC that apply to its construction activity, and to require its subcontractors to do the same. The project sponsors will add to their standard MEC-related contractual terms a provision that reiterates the project sponsors’ remedies for a contractor’s non-compliance with the MEC, including the rights to withhold payment or terminate the contract; such provision, however, will be in addition to other remedies available to the project sponsors to address any contractor’s non-compliance with an MEC requirement.
Staffing. The number of OEM [on-site environmental monitor] staff will be adjusted according to the level of construction activity, including any after-hour and/or weekend construction work, to ensure a proper level of monitoring coverage is maintained.
Traffic. Sufficient trained staff will be assigned to oversee compliance with the truck protocols. If any violation is observed, a system will be instituted to facilitate the reporting of violations to the project sponsors. Where a contractor or driver has been found to be a repeat violator of the truck protocols, the project sponsors and ESD will agree on the steps to be taken to deal with the repeat violator.
The project sponsors will ensure that the Pacific Street queuing area between Carlton Avenue and Vanderbilt Avenue will be used to the greatest extent practicable and appropriate, if available.
Maps that identify acceptable truck routes, location of queuing area(s), and construction site access points will be provided to all contractors as part of the MEC training program.
Air Quality. As part of the training program, contractors will be instructed on how to complete and submit documentation needed to confirm compliance with the DPF requirement of the MEC. Where practicable, all equipment that is compliant with the DPF requirement (or equivalent controls) will be prominently labeled.
CAQM Compliance Plan. In 2014, the CAQM Compliance Plan was updated to reference the contractors and personnel working at the project site and to reflect current protocols and procedures. Exhibits to the CAQM Compliance Plan were updated to improve the effectiveness of the CAQM Compliance Plan.
Dust Suppression. A fugitive dust management plan will be prepared for each major phase of work identifying: the location of water supplies, wheel washing procedures, gravel placement, and other pertinent site specific information.
Air Monitoring. Routine inspections of the dust monitoring equipment will be conducted by the OEM to ensure functionality.
Soil Stockpiling. The on-site training PowerPoint presentation for relevant contractors will be updated and improved.
Noise. A written protocol has been developed to confirm that certain “noisier” equipment complies with the noise levels set forth in Table 17c-3 of the 2006 FEIS. All applicable equipment will be checked by the OEM staff either before or promptly upon mobilization to ensure compliance with the MEC noise requirements. In addition, the project sponsors will assure that perimeter fencing meets the requirements of the MEC. Where it is impracticable to meet the noise fence height requirements of the MEC because of site constraints, the project sponsors will install the best practicable sound barriers such as sound attenuation blankets, additional sound barriers, and/or cantilevered fences.
The project sponsors will continue to meet with Con Edison to arrange for the provision of grid power to each building site for use during construction.
Construction staging areas that are located within 200 feet of a sensitive receptor and are used in connection with nighttime work will be shielded (by noise mitigating fencing and/or blanketing) on the side facing those sensitive receptors unless ESD determines that shielding is not required because of the level of anticipated activities and/or duration of such activities.
Comments came first

Note that the Response to Comments document produced by Empire State Development to accompany the release of the Final Scope for a Supplementary EIS contains comments expressing frustration about the state's record, citing the creation of Atlantic Yards Watch to document community impacts and Forest City's inconsistency in providing a construction coordinator.

As public hearing approaches, multiple messages but basic divide: Forest City wants free hand, while critics seek accountability, enforced timetable

As a public hearing approaches Wednesday, April 30 on the court-ordered Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Draft SEIS), a familiar divide--albeit with different particulars--recurs in the Atlantic Yards saga.

Developer Forest City Ratner (plus, presumably, its allies) wants a gentle hand from the state overseer/enabler of the project, Empire State Development, while community critics, against all past evidence to the contrary, urge a faster timetable and additional oversight.

The hearing will be held from 5:30 to 9 PM at Long Island University, 75 DeKalb Avenue, Room HS107.

Written comments on the Draft SEIS will be accepted through 5/12/14, while written comments on minor changes to the Modified General Project Plan--shifting some bulk from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of the project, and cutting the number of parking spaces--will be accepted through 5/30/14.

Hearing background

The Draft SEIS was ordered by a state judge after Empire State Development gave Forest City Ratner 25 years to build a project long said to take ten years--but the state authority never studied the potential impact of a 25-year buildout.

The Draft SEIS essentially says 25 years would pose few impacts not previously disclosed and recommends some minor mitigations. The business changes are more impactful to the developer.

And while there's no proposed amendment enforcing a faster timetable, Forest City's new joint venture partner/overseer, the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group, has said it aims to build the project closer to the original timetable.

So it's ironic that Forest City urges that the community "work with us and not use litigation to stall the project," since litigation was necessary to force the state to act responsibly.

The judge also awarded attorneys' fees to the successful parties, two sets of petitioners organized by BrooklynSpeaks, which has long tried to reform Atlantic Yards, and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, which organized lawsuits to stop the project.

Equally ironic, Empire State Development took longer to produce the Draft SEIS than to produce the much more extensive 2006 Draft EIS--likely because that allowed Forest City to recruit the Greenland Group to buy 70% of the remaining project.

Though the first tower, the world's tallest modular building, is now said to be a year late, Greenland has also said it wants to start three buildings this year, using conventional construction, which Forest City earlier said was financially untenable.

Presumably some allies of Forest City Ratner, such as Community Benefits Agreement signatories and construction unions, also will back the developer's position. It's hardly likely that Empire State Development will respond to the community criticism--it's essentially a rubber-stamp for the governor-- but, to the extent criticism translates into overt or covert political pressure, it may have some effect.

[Updated] Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn issued a statement this morning. I'll have further analysis tomorrow on the hearing and the issues.

Make Some Noise, Speak Up for the Community at the Atlantic Yards Public Hearing
This Wednesday, April 30th starting at 5:30 the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) is holding a court-ordered public hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS).
That's the Atlantic Yards project (not) being built by the Chinese government*, Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov and their minority partner Forest City Ratner. *After Mikhail Prokhorov bailed Ratner out in 2009 the great subsidy—and green cards for cash—abuser has found a new savior - the Chinese government. The Greenland Group, a Chinese government-owned development firm has a joint venture agreement to buy a 70% controlling interest in the project from Ratner pending Treasury Department approval. The agreement would put Greenland in decision-making control of the project and the firm may eventually buy out Ratner's remaining 30% stake.)
If you thought that there was no oversight or accountability before a foreign government took control of the project, well...let's just say it's likely to get worse:
How, exactly, will accountability and oversight come to be with the controlling developer on the other side of the world when there wasn't any with the developer based in Metrotech?!
Who, exactly, will Greenland be accountable to; more to the point, who in our government will hold the Chinese government accountable moving forward?
When the community has issues with the project over the coming decades, who can we turn to: Beijing???
Why is this hearing being held?
Because ESDC and Ratner lied to misled the court about key project documents. DDDB and other groups sued over this and won a court ordered supplemental review of the bulk of the project because it became clear that the developer's 10-year construction period was going to be at least 25 years, leading to a variety of new and unique impacts on the community. Had ESDC and Ratner not misled the court there is a good chance the project would not have been able to move forward at all back in 2010. (The back story to the long case history is here.)

Remember: Forest City Ratner and a basketball team's worth of elected officials (including the new Mayor) promised that the publicly funded, eminent domain fueled Atlantic Yards project would bring 2,250 units of "affordable housing," 10,000 jobs, publicly accessible open space, and would remove alleged "blight." They promised all these pies in the sky would arrive within ten years.

But four years after they broke ground what do we have? We have an arena enjoyed by ticketholders, a huge demolished hole in the neighborhood, ongoing realconstruction blight, rising rents and five stories (of 32) of the first of 16 towers that are to be built. Not a single housing unit, "affordable" or not, has been built and that first delayed tower is going to take at least a year longer than announced at its groundbreaking. (See last week's NY Times article.)
Why should you attend this hearing?
We encourage you to come to the hearing and give oral testimony expressing your thoughts about the project. While we have ten years worth of reasons to doubt that the ESDC will give a darn about what the community has to say, it is important to come and let ESDC, Forest City Ratner, and the media in attendance know what you think of the project, its failures and its impacts on the community:
If you think oversight and accountability are the least the community and taxpayers deserve, come to the hearing and say so.
If you want to say, "we told you so," come to the hearing and say so.
And If you think the project would never had seen the light of day if it originated as the Chinese government's NYC taxpayer-funded plan to demolish a neighborhood and let it sit mostly vacant for decades while a Russian oligarch's vanity team plays a handful of playoff games where people used to live and work...then come to the hearing and say so.
Feel free to bring homemade Russian and Chinese flags and any other appropriate props.

(PLEASE BE WARNED: there is likely to be an abundance of dogs and ponies in attendance.)
From Brooklyn Speaks

BrooklynSpeaks issued a statement, headlined Public Hearing on the Atlantic Yards DSEIS is your chance to demand promises will be keptSpeak up on delays in affordable housing, extended construction blight:
In 2009, sponsors of BrooklynSpeaks filed suit against the New York State Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and Forest City Ratner Companies for their decision to allow the completion of the Atlantic Yards project to be delayed from 10 to 25 years. A State Supreme Court ruled in July 2011 that ESDC’s failure to study the effects of the 15-year delay on surrounding communities violated State environmental law.
Now, four and a half years after its illegal approval of the delayed project schedule, ESDC has issued a draft environmental report that claims waiting until 2035 to complete Atlantic Yards won’t be a big deal for our community.
Our neighbors in danger of being displaced through rising rents can’t wait a generation or more for Atlantic Yards to make good on its commitment to provide 2,250 affordable apartments. The community asked that the State consider bringing in other developers to speed up the project. Can’t be done, the State tells us.. In the meantime, Forest City just announced that the first building at the Atlantic Yards site will be delayed for yet another year—until the end of 2015.
Local residents haven’t forgotten the disruptions they suffered during construction of the Barclays Center arena, either—disruptions that were supposed to be relieved through environmental commitments by Forest City that ESDC failed to enforce. ESDC says it’s learned from past mistakes, but we’ve heard that before. Should we have to take a chance on the agency’s utter inability to look out for the community’s interests for another two decades?
Atlantic Yards is the only large State project where decisions are made by a board of political appointees with no local members. It’s time to tell Governor Cuomo how you feel about giving Forest City Ratner the exclusive right to hold 22 acres of our community hostage for 25 years with no accountability to the public.
Join us! Make your voice heard for accountability, transparency and community input and speak up for Brooklyn!
From Dean Street Block Association

The Dean Street Block Association, which represents residents closest to the project site, is focusing on construction impacts:
The next weeks are very important for the future shape of our community, perhaps the most important in years. If we all work together, we can make a difference.
In 2009 New York State and Forest City Ratner broke the law when they failed to assess how our community may be negatively impacted by twenty-five years of Atlantic Yards construction instead of ten. They chose to put us at risk in order to be eligible for federal tax-exempt bonds for the arena. Together with the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council [one of the petitioners in the suit organized by BrooklynSpeaks], we sued and won.
Finally, as part of a court ordered process, a hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday evening, April 30th, and we can submit written statements until May 12th. Our block association is coordinating an effort to get local residents to speak at the hearing on the 30th, and also to write personal statements for the 12th.
Our quality of life is directly impacted by the way the project is implemented and operated, whether built quickly or slowly. For years residents have documented violations of environmental commitments related to negative impacts like air quality and noise that the State of New York has failed to enforce. For years we have looked at chain link fences and watched our street trees cut down without a credible replacement timetable. We are in the ninth year of demolitions, excavations and jackhammering, and construction of the sixteen high rises, affordable housing and open space in the project has just barely begun.
Future construction may take a generation more.
Together with other local civic organizations, Dean Street Block Association has identified a few specific goals we think moving forward will most help those of us impacted by the project. First, we seek new oversight for the project by a dedicated public development corporation or subsidiary with a board that includes directors appointed in conjunction with local elected officials. We also seek improved oversight of environmental impacts, most especially those related to construction. Forest City Ratner is attempting to sell 70% of the project to a foreign developer owned by the Chinese government who will have control of the remainder of the development. We believe poor responsiveness to community concerns, and lack of accountability to the public, may only get worse...
From Forest City Ratner
Dear Community Members,
On Wednesday, April 30, Empire State Development (ESD) will be holding a hearing on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) for Atlantic Yards. We hope you will turn out to testify at the public hearing on which will be held Wednesday, April 30th from 5:30 – 9:00pm at Long Island University in room HS107 located at 75 DeKalb Avenue.

The SEIS was undertaken to look at the possible impacts of an Atlantic Yards build out through 2035. The draft SEIS does a very thorough job and we would like ESD to adopt it as quickly as possible so that we can work to make the many benefits of Atlantic Yards a reality.

It is important to note that this does not mean that the project will take until 2035 to complete. In fact, with our proposed joint venture with Greenland Group it is our hope to accelerate the project and we are planning on beginning construction on three more of the residential buildings at Atlantic Yards in the near future.

In order for our company to build Atlantic Yards as quickly as you and we want to, it is imperative that the community work with us and not use litigation to stall the project.

We have worked hard to be very responsive to community concerns and inquiries throughout this lengthy process. This will continue throughout the build out of Atlantic Yards. We are a part of this community and will always work to be good neighbors.
I look forward to working with you in the future and I hope that you will contact me if you have any questions about the hearing...
Ashley Cotton
Senior Vice President
Forest City Ratner Companies
The official notice

PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that a public hearing, open to all persons, will be held at Long Island University, 75 DeKalb Avenue, Room HS107, Brooklyn, New York, from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday April 30, 2014 in connection with the Atlantic Yards Land Use Improvement and Civic Project (the “Project”) by the New York State Urban Development Corporation d/b/a Empire State Development (“ESD”) pursuant to the State Environmental Quality Review Act (Article 8 of the New York State Environmental Conservation Law), and the regulations adopted pursuant thereto (6 NYCRR Part 617) (collectively “SEQRA”), and the New York State Urban Development Corporation Act (Chapter 174, Section 1, Laws of 1968, as amended; the “UDC Act”) to consider: (a) the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“DSEIS”) for the Project; and (b) the March 2014 Proposed Amendment to the Project’s 2009 Modified General Project Plan (the “Proposed Amendment”). The public hearing is for the purpose of: (1) informing the public about the Project, the DSEIS, and the Proposed Amendment; and (2) giving all interested persons an opportunity to provide comments on the DSEIS and Proposed Amendment under SEQRA and the UDC Act.
Project Site and Project Description
The Project site encompasses approximately 22 acres in Brooklyn and includes (i) all the property bounded by Atlantic Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, Dean Street and Vanderbilt Ave, except that within Block 1128 (bounded by 6th Avenue, Dean Street, Carlton Avenue and Pacific Street) only lots 1, 4, 85, 86, and 87 are included in the Project site; and (ii) a parcel bounded by Atlantic Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, Pacific Street and 4th Avenue, including Block 927, lots 1 and 16 but excluding Block 927 lot 26. The Project is described in detail in the Project’s 2009 Modified General Project Plan (“2009 MGPP”), available to the public as set forth below. In addition to the completed Barclays Arena, Carlton Avenue Bridge, and subway improvements, the Project includes development of: (i) a reconfigured and improved Vanderbilt train yard (the “Yard”) to be operated by the Long Island Rail Road; (ii) the development of 16 buildings for residential, office, and retail uses and potentially a hotel, including up to 6,430 units of housing, including 4,500 rental units of which 2,250 units (50%) will be affordable to low, moderate, and middle income households; and (iii) eight acres of publicly accessible open space.
Public Purposes
The public purposes of the Project include: (a) eliminating blighted conditions on the Project site; (b) provision for new development at the Project site, including the Arena; office space; housing, including housing available for low, moderate and middle income families; related local retail and community facilities; and eight acres of publicly accessible open space; (c) reconfiguration and improvement of the Yard; and (d) generation of substantial fiscal and economic benefits for the City and State and the
creation of construction and permanent jobs.
Potential Environmental Impacts of the Project Identified in the DSEIS
ESD, as the SEQRA lead agency, has accepted the DSEIS as satisfactory with respect to its scope, content, and adequacy for purposes of public review under SEQRA. The DSEIS has been prepared to address potential environmental impacts resulting from a prolonged construction period for Phase II of the Project, pursuant to Court Order dated July 13, 2011. The DSEIS also considers the Proposed Amendment described below. The DSEIS indicates that a prolonged Phase II construction period would result in a significant localized adverse impact on neighborhood character during the construction period in the immediately surrounding area of the Phase II site as a result of construction traffic and noise impacts and the visual effects of construction that would be experienced in the area. The DSEIS also identifies significant adverse environmental impacts with respect to community facilities, construction-period open space, transportation (operational and during construction), and construction noise. The DSEIS identifies measures to mitigate these significant environmental impacts to the maximum extent practicable. With respect to the predicted shortage of public school seats, operational traffic and pedestrians, construction traffic and construction noise, no practicable mitigation has been identified to fully mitigate significant adverse impacts.
The Proposed Amendment
The Proposed Amendment would: (a) allow a transfer of up to 208,000 gsf of floor area from Phase I to Phase II of the Project (i.e., from the western portion to the eastern portion of the Project site); and (b) reduce Project parking requirements. The floor area shift would not increase the maximum total floor area of the Project or the approved maximum bulk of any individual Project building, and would not change the Project requirement of 2,250 affordable housing units. The required number of Project parking spaces would be reduced from approximately 2,246 in the Project’s initial phase and approximately 3,670 at Project completion to approximately 1,160 parking spaces in the Project’s initial phase and approximately 2,896 at Project conclusion. Alternately, a “Reduced Parking Alternative” would further reduce the required number of parking spaces at Project completion to 1,200. The Project’s Parking Key Plan would be modified accordingly.
Availability of the DSEIS and the Proposed Amendment
The DSEIS and the Proposed Amendment are on file at the office of ESD, 633 Third Avenue, New York, New York 10017 and are available for inspection by the general public between the hours of 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, public holidays excluded. Please contact ESD’s Derek Lynch at (212) 803-3736 or to arrange an appointment. Persons seeking a copy of the Executive Summary of the DSEIS, a CD-ROM that includes the entire DSEIS, the Proposed Amendment, or the 2009 MGPP, any of which will be available without charge, should also contact Mr. Lynch. Copies of the DSEIS, the Proposed Amendment, and the 2009 MGPP also are available at the ESD web site at Project/AYP.html. Paper copies of the DSEIS can be ordered from Mr. Lynch for a charge to cover the cost or reproduction. In addition, paper copies of the DSEIS are available at the Brooklyn Public Library at its central location at Grand Army Plaza and at the branches located at 25 Fourth Avenue (Pacific Branch), 496 Franklin Avenue (Bedford Branch) and 93 Saint Edwards Street (Walt Whitman Branch). Pursuant to the UDC Act, ESD also has filed a copy of the Proposed Amendment in the office of the Clerk of Kings County and the office of the Clerk of the City of New York, and has provided copies thereof to the Mayor of the City of New York, the Brooklyn Borough President, the Chair of the City Planning Commission, and the Chairs of Brooklyn Community Boards 2, 6 and 8. Copies of the DSEIS have been provided to all involved agencies and to other parties as required under SEQRA. Copies of the DSEIS Executive Summary, the Proposed
Amendment, and the 2009 MGPP, and an inspection copy of the DSEIS, also will be available at the public hearing.
Comments on the DSEIS and the Proposed Amendment are requested, at the hearing and/or in writing. ESD’s protocol for the conduct of the hearing is also available at the ESD web site noted above. Comments on the DSEIS must be received at ESD on or before Monday, May 12, 2014. Comments on the Proposed Amendment must be received at ESD on or before Friday, May 30, 2014. Written comments should be delivered to ESD at 633 Third Avenue, New York, New York 10017 (Attention: Derek Lynch), or may be submitted by e-mail to Comments also may be made verbally at the public hearing. All comments received at the public hearing and all written comments received by ESD prior to the deadlines set forth will be considered by ESD prior to final consideration of the DSEIS and the ProposedAmendment.
Further Action

After the public hearing and public review and comment, a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“FSEIS”) will be completed by ESD. ESD Directors will be requested to issue the FSEIS and affirm, or if appropriate, modify the Proposed Amendment, and make any requisite statutory findings under SEQRA, the UDC Act, or other applicable law.