Officials say that Forest City has not settled on the final numbers for the project, but that it plans to reduce the size by 500,000 to 700,000 square feet by eliminating hundreds of market-rate apartments. That would enable the developer to cut the height of some of the towers, including a 350-foot building on what is known as Site 5, on the west side of Flatbush Avenue, and possibly at Miss Brooklyn.
This is the lead story for the entire newspaper. They should have done better. Unmentioned is the sequence of proposals, which show that the project could still be bigger than originally announced:
December 2003: 8 million square feet
September 2005: 9.132 million square feet
March 2006: 8.659 million square feet
A reduction of 500,000 square feet would make the project 8.159 million square feet, while a cut of 700,000 square feet would mean 7.959 million square feet.
And even a reduction in bulk would leave Miss Brooklyn and the building at Site 5 quite large. Right now, the former would be about three times the bulk of the Williamsburgh bank, in square footage, and the latter would be nearly twice the size of the bank. In fact, a cut of 700,000 square feet from Miss Brooklyn alone would still leave it bulkier than the bank.
All in the timing
A new cutback was expected; the only question was when. Borough President Marty Markowitz offered criticisms at the August 23 public hearing, saying that the project was too big and that the Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower, at 512 feet, should remain the tallest building (while the proposed "Miss Brooklyn" would be 620 feet), but it's hard to believe that Markowitz didn't vet his words with the developer.
But the cutback won't assauge critics. The Times reported:
“I don’t think the bottom-line community concern is really about aesthetics, which is what shaving a few stories off the heights of the buildings is about,” said James F. Brennan, a Brooklyn assemblyman. “I don’t think this flies.”
There's a tantalizing hint of a tradeoff:
But according to executives briefed by the developer, Mr. Gehry has objected to any changes in his design for Miss Brooklyn. Forest City, they say, will continue to set aside 2,250 apartments for low, moderate and middle-income tenants, even as it seeks additional subsidies for that part of the development.
And why hasn't the public been told what the housing subsidies would be?
The article states:
Mr. Ratner’s project won widespread support in December 2003, when he first announced plans to build a glass-walled arena for the Nets and to erect 4,500 apartments, half of them subsidized. For the romantics, there was the appeal of the borough having its first major professional sports team since the agonizing departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1957.
But over the following two years, the size of the project swelled to 7,300 apartments and the high-rise towers — 19 to 58 stories — took shape, looming over the four- to six-story buildings in the adjoining neighborhoods.
The high-rise towers were there from the start, in renderings released in December 2003.
The article continues:
In March, Forest City reduced the project by 475,000 square feet by cutting 440 market-rate condominiums, but that went largely unnoticed.
What was largely unnoticed was that the developer lied in saying that the "original design" had been reduced. The Times in its coverage at least pointed out that the square footage was greater than the original amount proposed.
Today's article continues:
The reduction in the project’s scope comes as the Empire State Development Corporation prepares to hold two more public hearings later this month before voting on the project in October. Officials say the developer is likely to unveil the changes around Sept. 25, when the City Planning Commission is expected to issue design guidelines for the project and recommend changes, including a reduction in density.
September 25 is conveniently after the two community forums, and just three days before the end of the comment period to the Empire State Development Corporation.
And it's all set, according to the Times:
At that point, there could be a long line of politicians and activists hoping to take credit, including the Bloomberg administration, Mr. Silver, Ms. Millman and Mr. Markowitz.
“Everyone’s going to take credit for something that everyone knew would happen,” said an executive who works with Forest City. “For these guys, it’s very important.”
Then again, the Times said that the last public hearing was August 24, rather than August 23. And the article says a recent Crain’s New York Business poll shows that most New Yorkers approve of the project, although opposition is strongest in Brooklyn, without any caveats.
Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, displays a new flexibility. The Times reports:
"I’m sure the developer is looking at ways to reduce the size of the project,” said Charles A. Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, which has granted initial approval of Atlantic Yards. “It would be a good thing for everyone. It’s an important project for Downtown Brooklyn.”
Well, not only did the Times not catch him on the Downtown Brooklyn error, they didn't point out his statement last December to the New York Observer, which reported:
“There is no need to scale down the project,” Mr. Gargano said, although the environmental-impact study that will gauge the project’s impact on traffic, sewage, school population and so on is still underway.