Wednesday, June 03, 2015

As hearing on new Atlantic Yards school approaches, remember: this "benefit" was required to mitigate "significant adverse impact"

As I wrote, Brooklyn Community Board 8 will hold a public hearing tonight at 7 pm on the New York City School Construction Authority's (SCA) plans to create a primary and intermediate school within District 13.

The location: CNR-Center Light Health Care Center, 727 Classon Avenue (corner of Park Place). Public comments will be accepted until 6/29/15.

The school is to be housed in B15, the a 27-story tower with more than 300 market-rate apartments, part of the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project, just east of Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets.

The previous plan (see graphic above) was to put the school in B5, a building over the railyard, with more open space adjacent to it.

Notably, as discussed below, the school may be framed by the developer and even some community groups as a project benefit, but it's more accurately seen as a required mitigation of project impacts.

(Somewhat similarly, the project "open space" is less a gift to the community but rather needed to forestall the impact of new residents on existing open space.)

Other schools in area

From the Final SEIS, note graphic below. I've highlighted B15 with a purple oval.
Schools in area, from Final Supplemental EIS; B15 outlined in purple

Issues at the hearing

One topic likely to come up tonight is construction impacts; the developers must put in double-paned windows, but that likely will affect use of the project open space.

Another issue will be traffic and pedestrian access; though many if not most students will walk, arena activities--especially daytime deliveries and load-in--could pose a challenge.

The Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council said:
Neighborhood children deserve a middle school that reflects the diversity of its school district and is accessible to all. Local residents must have the opportunity to participate in the design process in a meaningful way so that traffic and pedestrian safety at the site is ensured, and the operation of the school works for students, neighbors and nearby fire and police services. Come out and speak up for accountability on one of Atlantic Yards’ key public commitments!
Benefit, or mitigation?

Greenland Forest City has framed the school construction as a project benefit. (It was not, however, part of the original "Jobs, Housing, and Hoops" pitch.)

"The benefits that we are proud of in Brooklyn relate to 2240 [actually 2250] units of affordable housing, relate to a school in the base of one of those housing buildings," Forest City executive Ashley Cotton recently told the Nassau Legislature.

That perspective is also reflected in a statement from the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC), "One of the key benefits promised by the Atlantic Yards project is a new public school to be created at the site." (The same language has been repeated by the BrooklynSpeaks coalition, which includes PHNDC and several other community groups.)

Actually, as described further below, the school is no gift to the public but rather a requirement to mitigate a "significant adverse impact"--a shortfall in school seats caused by the significant increase in school-age population.

As the New York City Independent Budget Office put it in 2009, "If the school is needed to serve the residents of the new Atlantic Yards buildings, FCRC would build it as part of the project construction, although the city would cover the cost."

Noise

From the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, Construction, Community Facilities:
As per the MEC [Memorandum of Environmental Commitments], the proposed school will be constructed to provide adequate noise attenuation so that noise in the vicinity of the school (including Project-related traffic, general construction and the school playground) will not result in interior noise levels within the school in excess of 45 dBA L10.
Ok, but the exterior? What about the students outside? Note that the language above indicates that the school playground will be outside.

Who's paying?

The school is expected to occupy 100,000 square feet in the building, and will have capacity for 616 seats. Greenland Forest City Partners has agreed to build space for the school, which will be paid for by the SCA.

The "Alternate Sites Analysis" at bottom states, "Because the proposed space within the planned B-15 building would help to accommodate the increase in the local public school student population associated with the new housing that is under consideration and planned as part of the Atlantic Yards project, no alternative sites have been considered."

Greenland Forest City is paying for the school's core and shell, while the city will pay for construction. The developer gets the right to increase the project buildout elsewhere by the 100,000 square feet that will be devoted to the school.

In other words, it's not a huge lift for Greenland Forest City, but it helps deflect attention from the use of eminent domain and the drastic difference in scale.< From the 2009 Modified General Project Plan:
If DOE determines that there is a need for a School, FCRC will be permitted to increase the size of the buildings located east of 6th Avenue by up to a total of 100,000 square feet in the aggregate to provide such space for the School without reducing the proposed project program. At DOE's option, DOE shall have the right to own or lease such square footage from FCRC. If the square footage is leased to DOE, such lease shall be on a triple net basis with a total rent of $1.00. If the square footage is conveyed to DOE, the total consideration shall be $1.00. FCRC will construct the School's core and shell; DOE will construct the School's fit out. FCRC and DOE will agree upon a total cost for the core and shell construction, costs above which will be paid by FCRC.
On mitigation

Note that different project documents project different times for the impacts.

From the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement, Executive Summary:
The proposed project would result in a significant adverse impact to both elementary and intermediate schools within the ½-mile study area when enrollment at these schools exceeds their program capacities, which could be as early as 2013. [Note: that was presumed on a faster project buildout.] While there would be projected shortfalls in elementary and intermediate school seats for schools located within ½ mile of the project site, there would remain available capacity in both the larger CSD 13 and CSD 15 (and thus CSDs 13/15 combined). Although the methodology outlined in the CEQR Technical Manual calls for the assessment of school capacity within the larger CSD, the elementary and intermediate school shortfalls within the ½-mile study area would be substantial enough to create a significant adverse impact to elementary and intermediate schools in the vicinity of the project site. To mitigate this shortfall, either one or a combination of the following measures would need to be undertaken: shifting the boundaries of school catchment areas within the CSDs to move students to schools with available capacity; creating new satellite facilities in less crowded schools; leasing school space to be constructed on the project site; and building new school facilities off-site.
Since the issuance of the DEIS, the project sponsors have reached an agreement with the New York City Department of Education (DOE) that upon DOE’s request, the project sponsors would provide adequate space for the construction and operation of an approximately 100,000-square foot elementary and intermediate school in the base of one of the Phase II residential buildings. At this time, the lower floors of Building 5, located on the east side of 6th Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street, have been identified as a possible site. This school space would be made available at a time that would allow the school to be constructed and open at the beginning of the school year in which the significant adverse impact would be projected to occur, i.e., when the projected enrollment in either the elementary or intermediate schools within ½ mile of the project site would exceed their program capacities. This could occur as early as 2013.
The new school would be designed in accordance with DOE’s specifications for new P.S./I.S. construction, and would include standard school facilities such as classroom, administration, and assembly space, gymnasium, cafeteria, library, and outdoor play areas. The school would have a separate entrance from the other uses within the building.
(Emphases added)

That changed by 2009, when the project was reapproved, with a Technical Memorandum. As summarized in the  Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement:
The 2009 Technical Memorandum included a revised analysis to determine whether the changed background conditions (including new enrollment data and updated enrollment projections) and updated methodologies (i.e., a change to the CEQR generation rates for public school students and child care eligible children) would result in any new or different impacts than those previously identified in the 2006 FEIS. The revised analysis concluded that the Project would result in a significant adverse impact on elementary schools within the ½-mile study area but that it would no longer result in a significant adverse impact on intermediate schools in the ½- mile study area. The Project sponsors’ obligation to provide space for an elementary and intermediate public school on the project site was included in the MEC [Memorandum of Environmental Commitments] associated with the 2009 Modified General Project Plan (MGPP). 
Here's the June 2014 Second Amendment Memorandum of Environmental Commitments:
As mitigation for the projected significant adverse impact to the supply of elementary and intermediate school seats, FCRC shall, if requested by the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”) or the New York City School Construction Authority (“SCA”) prior to the date that is 18-months prior to the anticipated commencement of construction of the first Phase II residential building constructed after completion or substantial completion of each of the Phase I residential buildings (or such other date agreed to in writing by FCRC, DOE and ESD), convey or lease to DOE, space within a development parcel sufficient in size to allow for the development of an approximately 100,000 gross square foot elementary and intermediate public school of contiguous space, a portion of which shall be located on the ground floor of the building (the “School”).
Update: note that, as hinted (though not fully explained) in the memo above, by 2014 the state had actually reversed its 2009 change, stating in the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement:
The 2006 FEIS also disclosed a significant adverse impact on intermediate schools, but the 2009 Technical Memorandum did not find a significant adverse impact. Therefore, the combination of the Extended Build-Out Scenario and updated analysis methodology and baseline data would result in a significant adverse impact that was not disclosed in the 2009 Technical Memorandum but would not alter the previous finding of the 2006 FEIS that the completed Project would result in a significant adverse impact to intermediate schools.
Zimbalist footnote

Fun fact: Forest City Ratner consultant Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist, concluded in his (discredited) 2005 report, "Hence, it does not seem that the Atlantic Yards development will necessitate the construction of any new school buildings"

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