Friday, February 19, 2016

Activists and electeds seek safety fix at Times Plaza; what about open space impact if "Brooklyn Behemoth" tower arrives?

The plans for the "Brooklyn Behemoth"--a 1.5+ million square foot office/retail building at Site 5, currently home to Modell's and P.C. Richard--put a new gloss on the expected redesign of the modest, 1/10-acre space planned for half of Times Plaza, and to me suggests the plaza might be overwhelmed by workers from the adjacent building.

So far, the public discussion has centered around the Department of Transportation's (DOT) plans, funded by Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park developer Greenland Forest City Partners, to add plants, benches, tables, chairs, and programming to the plaza, which is bounded by Atlantic, Flatbush, and Fourth avenues.

As I reported, many neighbors said the improvements--aimed significantly for public space created by the demapping of a piece of northbound Fourth Avenue--could not be considered independently of improvements to pedestrian safety.
The proposal would essentially pile the bulk of B1 on top of Site 5

Indeed, last Saturday, as Streetsblog reported, activists from Transportation Alternatives and several officials--Borough President Eric Adams, City Council Members Brad Lander and Stephen Levin, Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon, and representatives from Senator Velmanette Montgomery’s office and the Atlantic Avenue BID--to press for safety.

Their letter to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Forest City, and the DOT is at bottom.

Enter the "Brooklyn Behemoth" and the deficit for workers

Look behind Times Plaza in the screenshot above: that's Site 5, slated for the Brooklyn Behemoth, which has a plot of about one acre and, I suspect, room for little or no ground-level open space. (Maybe up higher?)

Plans for Times Plaza
The thousands of workers at and visitors to this building will be using Times Plaza, slated to have benches seating some 40 people and place tables with a capacity for 20 people. That seems rather small.

(And construction and operation of the building, should it go forward, likely will harm the adjacent Brooklyn Bear's Community Garden.)

As I wrote, oddly enough, the formal reason for the upgrade, disclosed in 2014 in the court-ordered Atlantic Yards Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), is not to help the neighbors but rather to mitigate a temporary deficit of public space for workers in the area.

Consider this passage, from Chapter 5, Mitigation, of the SEIS:
Chapter 4C, “Operational Open Space,” finds that Phase II of the Project would not result in significant adverse impacts related to open space upon the Project’s completion. However, the 2006 FEIS identified a temporary significant adverse impact on passive open space resources in the non-residential (¼-mile) study area during Phase II construction. This impact would continue until a portion of the Phase II open space is phased in. As analyzed in Chapter 3E, “Construction Open Space” the Extended Build-Out Scenario would prolong the temporary significant adverse impact on the passive worker ratio in the non-residential study area that was identified in the FEIS by between approximately 7 and 9 years, compared with the Phase II schedule analyzed in the 2006 FEIS (the analysis in Chapter 3E uses the commercial mixed-use variation and assumes that all of the Phase I buildings are built by 2018). While the temporary significant adverse impact on passive open space resources in the nonresidential study area would be fully mitigated by new Phase II open spaces that would be gradually completed during the construction of the Phase II buildings, Phase II under the Extended Build Out Scenario would prolong the duration of the temporary significant adverse impact, compared to the Phase II schedule analyzed in the 2006 FEIS.
(Emphases added)

This is odd in a couple of ways. First, it was impossible then and now that the commercial mixed-use variation of Atlantic Yards, with four office towers and some 2 million square feet of office space, would be built. 

That said, if this 1.5 million square feet Brooklyn Behemoth is built, and a significant fraction of it is office space, there would be a significant amount of office space.

Compounding the deficit, not solving it

More importantly, the deficit of open space for office workers on Site 5--at the far west end of the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park footprint--will not be solved when the Phase II open space is built.

The first segments of that open space will be at the far southeast block of the project site, Block 1129, formerly the site of the surface parking lot. Only later will open space be built around and behind towers on a deck over the Vanderbilt Yard.

Even then, why would office workers from Site 5 bother to walk over there? They'd first go to open space made available as part of the building (assuming that's the plan), then to Times Plaza, then to the arena plaza (which doesn't have any place to sit). Or maybe to residential Pacific Street next door or other places in the neighborhood.

Presumably this will be addressed in the environmental review required if plans for the Brooklyn Behemoth go forward.

Bottom line: Times Plaza may become a somewhat more pleasant place to hang out, despite the traffic nearby.

If the Brooklyn Behemoth is built, it's hard to see how the plaza will have no shortage of visitors. Heck, even if the already-approved tower, with 439,050 square feet, is built, the plaza will have no shortage of visitors.

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