Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Was school not considered for southeast block because developer was planning to sell two sites?

Placard on construction fence at 664 Pacific
inaccurately predicts completion as "4th quarter of 2018"
Now that we know that the school at 664 Pacific (aka B15) is delayed until seemingly 2020--in February, an affidavit from the developer said it would take four years--it's worth looking back at a suggested alternative.

Local elected officials and school advocates, however concerned about the location near the Barclays Center and a police and fire station, backed the B15 plan, thinking it was worth the risk to get a dedicated middle school by 2018. That was the opening date predicted as of last year, though it was already jeopardized (and, indeed, as of this year, they started saying 2019).

The three Community Boards sharing the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park site were more cautious, raising questions about the school site, within a 27-story market-rate rental building, and, in the case of Community Board 2, flatly suggesting a move.

And hindsight now raises a question: was an alternative school site not considered because developer Greenland Forest City Partners (GFCP) was already considering a sale of three building sites?

Looking back

CB 2, noting that the School Construction Authority did not consider an alternative site, proposed instead "building B13, on Block 1129 (bounded by Vanderbilt Avenue, Dean Street, Carlton Avenue and Pacific Street), [which] has the same construction timetable as B15 but is further from the arena, the major thoroughfares, and the public safety facilities."

The "same construction timetable" referred to the already out-of-date August 2014 tentative timetable that had both buildings opening by February 2018. B13 was supposed to start construction next month, while adjacent B12 was supposed to start construction in July 2015; neither has moved ahead.

Both of those condo buildings are delayed, an executive from GFCP said last week. Both are among the three building sites--along with B4, at the northeast flank of the arena--that are being marketed to outside investors, a plan announced in April.

Consider this (as a reader pointed out): if GFCP as of last year was already contemplating selling those valuable sites, why would it complicate (or impede) the sale by proceeding with a school? (Those are the only available sites that would be built soon enough to partially mitigate a shortfall in school seats.)

In other words, it's reasonably to ask if the choice of B15 site was aimed not merely to deliver a school relatively soon--and to paper over the use of eminent domain to remove property owners-- but also to serve the developer's business needs.

Depending on the role and timing of outside investors, it's still possible that the buildout of the B12 and B13 condo towers--which should take less than two years each--will come sooner than 664 Pacific, adding even more need for school seats and raising more questions about the siting decision.

Locational concerns

Tight site: 664 Pacific is behind construction fence next to
497 Dean; across street, 38 Sixth Avenue rises
As I wrote last September, Community Board 6 wrote to support a middle school at the project site, but urged the SCA "to reconsider the location of that school to one with safer access unhindered by future construction and further removed from the Barclay Center."

The Dean Street Block Association wrote, "With the exception of proximity to transit, B15 falls short of most other building site options east of 6th Avenue depending on the variable assessed."

The questions they raised were legitimate, though school backers believed--and still believe--that proper planning can ameliorate some of the challenges.

Several of those challenges were already glaring. What no one publicly considered at the time, however, is what we now know: the decision to build such a large tower adjacent to an 8-unit residential building has generated litigation about the impact of such construction on the building.

1 comment:

  1. This is what happens when public oversight over a project as complicated as Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park is neutralized. The timing of the school location-vetting process was almost certainly the developer's to choose. Instead of trying to time the school to the point the school would be needed as a mitigation for elementary students -- the opening of the first residential building in the project -- it appears to have been delayed so that the school could be put in the developer's desired location.

    461 Dean is going to be the first residential building opened in the project. 550 Vanderbilt will be the second. 461 Dean's location isn't great for a school, plus there is the complication the building is modular. But 550 Vanderbilt would have been a good location, I think, and unlike 461 Dean, it was started after the public disclosure in the 2014 SEIS that any elementary students it contributes would cause an adverse impact.

    In other words, I appreciate the point of this article, but it wasn't just B13 the developer was skipping over. It was also 550 Vanderbilt.