Thursday, February 25, 2016

B4 tower also would have office space; no new info about Site 5, but project is moving (condos at top? tallest building in Brooklyn?)

The bulk from B1 would move across the street
No, there were no renderings of the "Brooklyn Behemoth"--the potential 1.5-million square foot tower-at last night's Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting, which generated both muttered ("terrible") and muted criticism about its preposterous scale.

Nor was there a timetable, concrete information, or chagrin at the notion of moving the entire 1.1 million square footage approved for the 511-foot B1 tower over the arena--thus preserving the plaza crucial to arena activities and appreciated by neighbors compared to the alternative--and adding it to the already substantial 439,050 square feet approved for Site 5.

Mock-up of potential 1.5M square foot tower, approx. 900 ft,
though tapered building could be much taller
That's currently home to P.C. Richard and Modell's--a site the New York City Planning Commission called for reduced height to 250 feet, given its adjacency to low-rise neighborhood.

And while the CEO of Forest City Realty Trust claimed yesterday it's "very early" in the process, its Brooklyn subsidiary Forest City Ratner, part of Greenland Forest City Partners, wants to move quickly, having already set up meetings with elected officials (who are, so far, notably silent) and hoping that the environmental review begins this spring.

Forest City Ratner spokeswoman Ashley Cotton last night revealed another twist: the B4 tower at the northeast corner of the arena block, which at 511 feet and 824,629 square feet was to be the second-largest tower in the project, would be switched from residential to exclusively office space.

"We think we accomplish three important things," she said. "Deliver on [office] jobs... Keep the [arena] plaza permanently open space... Activate the Atlantic Avenue corridor."

The latter sounds like a stretch, because the Atlantic Avenue sidewalk outside the arena is pretty narrow for workers. And while they might redistribute the affordable housing planned for that building to other towers, it's likely they'd move the condos to Site 5 and/or find a way to retain some condos.

About 60 people attended the meeting, held at 55 Hanson Place.

The strategy

Here We Come:
A Skyscraper Specialist from China
The "preserve the plaza" and "add jobs" mantra--space for many thousands of jobs (6000? 10,000?)--is surely meant to inoculate this gambit from criticism.

Still, the move of square footage to Site 5 surely saves Greenland Forest City from construction headaches next to an active arena, likely fulfills a pledge to Mikhail Prokhorov not to disturb arena operations, and (I'd bet) aims to be a signature building for Greenland USA, subsidiary of a Shanghai state-owned enterprise, as well as contain spectacularly expensive condos at the top.

Consider: my rough estimate is that, without significant setbacks, the Site 5 building might be a bulky 900 feet tall--some 80% taller than any building previously approved for the project. With setbacks, it could be much taller; after all, it's nearly three times the bulk of the new 1,066-foot "supertall" planned next to the Dime Savings Bank.

And while Forest City is talking up office jobs, CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin has said office buildings may work only with condos at the top, and--of course--the higher up, the more lucrative. It's also supposed to contain high-end retail, likened to the Time Warner Center.

In other words, though "jobs" would be the justification for this building to be perhaps Brooklyn's tallest, bulkiest tower, the scale would also be driven by condos and retail space.

It also would be a signature building for Greenland, which in December 2013, not long after it announced major projects in New York and Los Angeles, part of a huge worldwide push, put up a billboard in Times Square stating, "Here We Come! A Skyscraper Specialist from China" (see above). Greenland owns 70% of the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project, excepting the Barclays Center and the B2 modular tower.

Perhaps there's already a plan for an anchor tenant, or naming rights.
Mock-up of potential 1.5 million square-foot bulk; a tapered building would be much taller, likely well over 1000 feet
The process

"Today I can confirm we are requesting the ability to transfer development rights from B1 to Site 5," Cotton said last night.

The won't ask for extra square footage or change the affordable housing plan, she said, and any proposal will go through a public review by Empire State Development (ESD), including a new Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and new Design Guidelines. (The process of eminent domain to acquire the site continues, as well as a lawsuit.)

It will require public hearings, and input from the City Planning Commission, though no vote from the CPC, because this is a state project.

Though ESD in the 2009 Modified General Project Plan described Site 5 as "a transition in scale from the neighborhoods to the west and south of the Project Site," surely this gubernatorially-approved body will do the governor's bidding.

Cotton noted that B2, now being built as residential, was once permitted as commercial space. Now they would shift B4 to residential, so that  B4 and Site 5 "will act as bookends." That's questionable, given that the book within them is an active arena on a large plot.

Brooklyn's biggest building?

Cotton was asked about the pledge, made at the last minute when Atlantic Yards was first approved in 2006, to reduce the B1 tower from 620 feet to 511 feet (without a cut in bulk), thus preserving the Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower as the tallest building in Brooklyn, though it would still--contra Borough President Marty Markowitz's request--block the bank's clock.

"I think Brooklyn's changed so much since then," Cotton said with a knowing expression. "Hate it or love it... a lot of things have passed the Williamsburg Savings Bank [in size]."

She's right, though the Atlantic Yards site, even the buildings closest to the transit hub, remains a tight fit adjacent to residential neighborhoods.



Really a transfer of rights?

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association, a persistent questioner at these meetings, called "time out" on some of the rhetoric regarding the project. The developer should not say it would “transfer” development rights, he said, because the project plan was developed "based on planning principles," and the decision not to build on B1 could have other business reasons.

"So my question is: who is the planner?" he asked. "Site 5 was supposed to step down the project tint the community.... My concern is this may be generated by nonplanning decisions."

(Well, duh. Forest City and Greenland aim to maximize returns to shareholders. That's their job.)

Cotton said they had planners on staff. And surely planners at AKRF, the ubiquitous consultant used by the state to massage environmental reviews, will weigh in. But Krashes's statement suggested that community critics of the plan will have to produce their own experts to explain why this makes little sense.

He also asked why the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), the advisory body set up last year, hasn't been brought into the loop. Presumably they'll be informed at the meeting March 15.

Of course, Greenland Forest City likely has a "compromise"--still huge, just not as huge--in its back pocket. Perhaps it's moving "just" 650,000 square feet, which would still make a building over 1 million square feet.

Moving the housing

The B4 tower was supposed to contain 213 condos and 551 rentals, with half of the latter affordable. Where, asked Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council and BrooklynSpeaks (which in 2014 negotiated a new, 10-year timetable for the affordable housing, as well as the advisory AY CDC), would the affordable housing units go?

"We think those units can be accommodated in the project," Cotton said. So 275 or so units would have to be spread among other buildings.

Would it have any impact on unit sizes, Veconi asked.

(The first tower with affordable units, B2, has only 20% two-bedroom units, and no three-bedroom apartments, despite Forest City’s promise, in the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding, that 50 percent of the affordable units, in floor area, would be family-sized units. The next two "100% affordable" towers will have 35% two- and three-bedroom units, which may meet the goal.)

No, said Cotton, though that sounds fuzzy. After all, every building, as Gilmartin has said, is "a conversation with the city," and unit size also depends on subsidies.

She wasn't asked about the condos, but I have to bet many would move to Site 5.

Asked about the long promoted Urban Room, the atrium in the entrance to B1, Cotton said it was a project requirement and would have to be eliminated in the revised project plan.

What's next


"You're presenting this as something that's being explored," Veconi asked. He asked if there was ongoing work, or a contract, regarding the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and was told no.

Still, Cotton said they wanted to move quickly. She couldn't offer any timetable.

Pacific Street resident Mae Taliaferrow was skeptical. "My house is right there [next to the building]," she said. "That massive building is going to appear without a plan." She said she couldn't believe that Forest City had no plan.

"That's our rough plan," Cotton said, summarizing what's been described. She said she'd be speaking to local organizations and there also would be formal meetings.

She shrugged off a question about moving air rights to the Atlantic Center mall, though I wouldn't be surprised if that comes up as a compromise.

The Brooklyn Bear's Garden, adjacent to Site 5 and never part of the Atlantic Yards plan, would remain, she said. [Though, I'd observe, surely it would be severely impacted by construction and operation of the building and, who knows, might get offered money to move.]

Noting that the developers would potentially save money, Krashes asked "is there any thought of any extra giveback" to the public?

"What do you have in mind?" Cotton asked.

"I think everybody would have different ideas," Krashes said, and the audience cracked a few jokes.

3 comments:

  1. Anonymous12:45 PM

    How much office space would B4 have? You didn't clarify B4 situation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I added--though I thought it was implied--that it would be exclusively office.

      Delete
  2. Did they even think of people whose views of all Manhattan north of Midtown will be blocked by these buildings?

    ReplyDelete