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The Times Real Estate section tackles "Living In Prospect Heights," soft-pedals Pacific Park's impact (updated)

Updated with comments from and responses to Gib Veconi.

So this Sunday (and already online) we get the latest iteration of the New York Times Real Estate section's periodic "Living In" feature, in Prospect Heights, Where Historic Meets Brand New. (Here's the 2011 iteration, which links to previous ones.)

The article is, not unexpectedly, unskeptical about Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, but at least it doesn't buy the developer's claim that Pacific Park is "Brooklyn's newest neighborhood," and the map belies that.

The article begins:
Rebecca Saltman, 41, an instructor at Teachers College, Columbia University, and her husband, Benjamin, 39, a doctor, were enthusiastic about the sense of community and the cultural amenities of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, when they bought their townhouse there in 2010 for just over $1 million, with help from Ms. Saltman’s parents, who live in the garden apartment.
“I can walk down the street and see my neighbors every time I go to the grocery store...
But the Saltmans knew that a big change awaited them: the controversial $4.9 billion, 22-acre development then called Atlantic Yards and since renamed Pacific Park Brooklyn. It was about three-quarters of a mile from their home, and “we were very unsure of the impact it would have,” she said.
The Barclays Center, the development’s centerpiece, opened in 2012, and arena-related traffic has added about 20 minutes to Dr. Saltman’s commute home from Long Island. On the plus side, however, the couple have gone to two Nets games at the center, and when Ms. Saltman took her mother to a Barbra Streisand concert there, “my mom was beyond thrilled.”
So that’s it? It’s only added some commute time? How about ten more years of construction, workers sitting on people’s stoops, regular street closures, noise, rowdy arenagoers, a huge fence encroaching on Dean Street and on Carlton Avenue delaying traffic.

The role of neighbors

The article continues:
With more than 6,000 rental apartments and condominiums to be built as part of Pacific Park by Greenland Forest City Partners, as well as other new construction, the population is expected to grow to almost 34,000 in 2025, from around 19,600 in the Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey, according to Gib Veconi, the chairman of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, an organization founded in 2004 that has advocated for historic preservation and traffic calming, among other issues. Pacific Park is scheduled for completion in 2025.
Well, that downplays the impact on the buildout. Do note that the PHNDC, as part of BrooklynSpeaks, was a lead proponent of the settlement that led to the new timetable for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, pledging to get the affordable housing built by 2025.

As part of that settlement, however, the “community” negotiators got a weak, gubernatorially-controlled advisory body to help oversee the project, the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation. It has done almost nothing to improve oversight and transparency, despite the efforts of a few members.

Update: Veconi writes to remind me that any Local Development Corporation with decision-making power that would have been formed also would have been gubernatorially-controlled. That's correct. However, the LDC model would also have had, as BrooklynSpeaks (the coalition involving PHNDC) along with the Municipal Art Society advocated, "a formal advisory board made up of representatives from civic associations, community-based organizations and Community Boards from affected neighborhoods." That hasn't happened, which weakens the AY CDC. The fact that it hasn't met for some four months, and was not consulted regarding the plans for the tower at Site 5 further points to its weak position.

The Times should have talked to other members of the community who are a wee more skeptical of and frustrated by the construction and operations of the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park development.

Gentrification and history

From the article:
Based on the census bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey, Mr. Veconi said 58 percent of the area’s residents were white, 29 percent were black and 8 percent were Asian.
That's a rather curious way to back into the fierce gentrification that Atlantic Yards was supposed to fight, but didn't, and won't.

From the article:
Depending on the particular street, a stroll through Prospect Heights might offer a view of 19th-century brownstones; luxury prewar apartment houses; or ultramodern buildings. Part of the neighborhood belongs to the Prospect Heights Historic District.
Note that the historic district was formed in [added: in part in] reaction to the Atlantic Yards project, and actually bookends it. Which makes the finding of “blight”–to further eminent domain–in Prospect Heights completely bogus.

Update: Veconi writes regarding the formation of the historic district:
That’s only partly true. PHNDC sponsored historic designation of Prospect Heights primarily because unused FAR throughout the neighborhood was resulting in out-of-character additions and extensions to existing buildings, and even in some cases, wholesale demolition of historic buildings in favor of new residential projects that maxed available density. We felt that Atlantic Yards would add to development pressure in the future, but we would have pursued designation anyway given the patterns that existed at the time. I might speculate that the district moved through the designation process quickly because of Atlantic Yards, but I have no direct knowledge that was the case.
He is obviously more of an authority on that process, but I can say that the historic designation was significantly pitched as a response to Atlantic Yards, hence this Municipal Art Society Action Alert on 4/5/07: "With the Atlantic Yards proposal moving ahead, it is crucial that Prospect Heights gain protection through historic district designation before development pressures resulting from the project permanently alter the its intact historic character."

Update: Veconi writes regarding my comment on blight: 
I am not a defender of the Atlantic Yards blight study, but based on the definition of the Prospect Heights Historic District, no buildings within the Atlantic Yards footprint would have qualified for inclusion. The existence of a 19th century rowhouse neighborhood next to the Atlantic Yards site doesn’t in itself say anything about the conditions that existed there.
Well, there were 19th century rowhouses within the Atlantic Yards site, but, rather than rely on New York State's immensely vague and malleable definition of blight, I'd refer to planning professor Lynne Sagalyn's definition: "when the fabric of a neighborhood is shot to hell." In other words, eminent domain is needed because there's no market trend to lift the neighborhood up. That's why it's bizarre and, yes, bogus to see blight next to a historic district. People want to live there.

About the school

The article states:
The lack of a large neighborhood middle school has been a touchy point since Middle School 571 was closed in 2013, according to Mr. Veconi of the neighborhood council. The Department of Education last month announced that a middle school with room for about 600 students will be established in a residential tower under construction as part of the Pacific Park development.
The only other local options for that age group, according to Mr. Veconi and to data from the city’s Department of Education, are small or specialized ones, such as Brooklyn East Collegiate Charter School andIntermediate School 340 North Star Academy, which is for gifted students.
The new dedicated middle school is planned for B15, the 27-story Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park tower just east of the arena and Sixth Avenue, between Dean and Pacific streets. Problem is: no curb cuts or other planning for buses, crowds, etc. 

It’s across the street from the arena and very near both police and fire stations. The nearest neighbors, in the Dean Street Block Association, thought the site was a bad idea. Others in Prospect Heights wanted a dedicated middle school so bad they were willing to sacrifice location.

Update: Veconi writes:
Did you in fact talk to people in Prospect Heights who made statements about being “willing to sacrifice location?” Even if you had heard such things, you are certainly informed enough to know that there was absolutely no certainly a middle school would be programmed at the B15 location simply because locals did not challenge siting the facility there. Your statement implies a quid pro quo which is unsupported by facts.
The phrase "willing to sacrifice location" is my observational summary of testimony at public hearings and public events. I agree that there was "no certainly a middle school would be programmed at the B15 location simply because locals did not challenge siting the facility there."

While I understand why my phrasing may sound like a quid pro quo, it doesn't have to. I simply meant that their advocacy stressed getting a middle school while downplaying the diceyness of the location. Here's a quote from Maggie Spillane: “Maybe we wouldn't pick it [the location] as a first pick, but we don't have a middle school."


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