Thursday, March 10, 2016

At CB 2, minimal info on 461 Dean, but other discussion of affordable housing and the coming "Brooklyn Behemoth"

Truth be told, there was little illuminating about Forest City's presentation to Community Board 2 last night regarding the upcoming 181 units of affordable housing at 461 Dean Street, the modular tower also known as B2. (They similarly presented at CB 6.)

And presumably the presentation tonight to Community Board 8 will be similar: no details about the units but rather a reminder that information will be available this month, with online applications via NYC Housing Connect and paper applications via Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY). Applicants must choose one only.

MHANY is a successor to ACORN as a signatory of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement and Housing Memorandum of Understanding. MHANY's Ismene Speliotis and Forest City Ratner's Elizabeth Canela said they would be back at a future meeting with more specifics, including affordability. (I outlined the range, as detailed in 2012, in my article.)

But even a brief visit to the CB 2 meeting last night was interesting. District Manager Rob Perris said something a bit ominous. Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP) President Tucker Reed said something a bit provocative, and U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries said something a bit odd.

Perris's alert

In his report to the board, Perris alerted them to the unspecified but seemingly in-motion plans by Greenland Forest City Partners to move 1.1 million square feet from the B1 site at the Barclays Center plaza to Site 5, currently home to P.C. Richard and Modell's and already approved for 439,050 square feet--a giant office tower I've dubbed the "Brooklyn Behemoth."

Controversial land use projects, he noted, tend to come to the board only at two times of the year: summer, and between Thanksgiving and Christmas. "We have this sort of half-announced proposal," he said, noting there isn't much detail, but scoping--the first stage in the state process--for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is expected to begin this spring.

He noted that B4, the second-largest project tower, at the northeast corner of the arena block, "is in play" too, with plans to switch it from residential to office space. "There seem to be very few details, but we're going to begin review relatively shortly," he said.

The review will be a state review, and any role by the affected Community Boards will be advisory, but that at least would ventilate questions and concerns.

The DBP's report

The DBP's Reed and colleague Alan Washington presented an update on in-process residential, office, and retail construction. Reed acknowledged that the unanticipated influx of residential units since the 2004 rezoning had strained the infrastructure, leading to proposal for more park space (the Brooklyn Strand) and the School Construction Authority's promise to add 1,800 new school seats.

"We don't have the ability to slow down residential growth," he said, but a "fresh look" at zoning could mandate new office space and affordable housing.

Board member Maisha Morales, who described herself as a business owner displaced from the Albee Square Mall and said more than 1,000 residents had been displaced [I'm not sure of the numbers], aked what the DTB was doing for affordable housing.

Reed noted that the DBP doesn't "do anything ourselves," but said, "I totally agree with you about affordable housing. It's not nearly enough." The 1,000 or units coming rely significantly on city land dispositions in the BAM Cultural District, with the low land price helping foster for affordability.

The mayoral administration is considering various rezonings to mandate affordable housing, Reed noted, but Downtown Brooklyn is not on that list--which he said may be a lost opportunity, given that rising land costs (see below) are changing the equation.

He described the issue as "contentious" on the DBP's board, which I'd note consists significantly of landowners and developers trying to maximize profits. "From a public policy perspective," he said, without mandatory inclusionary zoning, "that pipeline of mandatory affordable is going to dry up."

Reed said he thought the increased numbers of people living in Downtown Brooklyn "is finally going to move the needle on office" space, given that some people would like offices closer to their homes.

Rising land prices

Land prices in Downtown Brooklyn have been skyrocketing, Reed said, from $80 per square foot "a year and a half ago" to an asking price of $500 per square foot. (In June 2015, he said similarly, "Land values in Downtown Brooklyn alone, over the last 18 months, have gone from $80 a square foot to 500 [dollars]," so let's assume some flex in his timeline.)

Currently most transactions are in the "high 200s" or "low 300s"--meaning sales around $300 per square foot.

Note that, upon the deal with Greenland Holdings to develop most of Atlantic Yards, Forest City Ratner said in December 2013, "the total anticipated costs yield an expected average cost per square foot of approximately $180-$220 per square foot, prior to vertical development.” In other words, high then, a seeming good price now, albeit with an adjustment for affordable housing.

Jeffries on affordability

Rep. Jeffries, who was back in his wide-ranging district, gave a brisk, friendly overview of some of the issues in Washington, notably criminal justice reform.

Whatever people thought about Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, said Jeffries--who was alternately critical and supportive--it's important that they take advantage of the available affordable housing.

That was an understandably politic message, but Jeffries went on to muddy the waters by saying that, because of the need for affordable housing in the area, his efforts added Community Boards 2 and 3 to the zones eligible for the preference in the housing lottery: 50% of the units will go to residents of Community Boards 2, 3, 6, and 8.

That struck me as odd, and perhaps pandering to the CB 2 audience, because CBs 2, 6, and 8 were always considered part of the neighboring community (see the Community Benefits Agreement), eligible for the preference, because the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park footprint is shared by all three districts.

I queried Jeffries as he was exiting the meeting and he confirmed, as I'd suggested, that the preference was added during 2007 state legislation to reform the 421-a law. As I wrote, it was plausible to add CB 3, given its proximity to the project area, as well as the serious need for affordable housing. (It also surely helped Jeffries, then an Assemblyman, aid current and future constituents.)

But he maintained that both CBs 2 and 3 were added at the time. Not so--while the legislation did cite all four CBs, previous documentation--including at a 2006 Forest City Ratner-sponsored session on affordable housing--already mentioned CBs 2, 6, and 8.

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