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Interim surface parking & open space: the road not taken (or a coming compromise?)

Here's a graphic you haven't seen yet. It shows that, less than six months ago, Forest City Ratner considered a hybrid of both interim surface parking and temporary open space for the southeast block of the development--at least by 2010, after the lot had been used as parking for construction workers.

The idea was rejected as impractical, since parking was deemed more necessary, according to the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). So maybe it's the road not taken.

Or maybe the concept remains, to be proffered as a compromise at crunch time, when the developer and the Empire State Development Corporation need to get Atlantic Yards past Sheldon Silver and the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB).

Concerns raised

FCR's current plans for interim surface parking, notably a lot occupying most of that southeast block between Dean and Pacific streets and Vanderbilt and Carlton avenues, have concerned a lot of people.

(At right, an unofficial rendering--adapted from renderings by landscape architect Laurie Olin--of the entire site east of Sixth Avenue as either surface parking, staging, or railyards. This would persist during the construction of the first stage, over four years, which would include five towers and the arena. The rest of the official renderings continue several paragraphs below, under the heading Parking lot forever? Starting just below is the alternative sequence.)

That southeast parking lot would first serve construction workers; then, after the arena was completed, it would be used for the arena until underground parking at the site was completed. BrooklynSpeaks points out that the 944-space lot would be three times the size of Fairway’s in Red Hook, and ten times the size of Key Food’s lot on 5th Ave and Sterling Place.

(At right, the beginning of alternative plan not adopted by Forest City Ratner.)

As Andy Wiley-Schwartz, VP at Project for Public Spaces told me, “We always think: what’s the potential to create a place? A surface parking lot is a great place for a market. Or you can throw some sod down and have a park. If you want to provide connections and amenities, and knit together the neighborhoods, that would be quite a statement.”

Alternatives

The six-phase alternate plan--with the option for temporary open space--is shown in documents on file with the Department of City Planning, which I acquired through a Freedom of Information Law request. The plan by landscape architect Laurie Olin dates from 6/5/06.

Curiously, this sequence from Olin seems somewhat incomplete. The southeast segment does not have a parking lot at all in the initial phases, as if the developer was willing to leave the buildings intact. That doesn't conform to the plan to use it for construction worker parking while the arena is being built.

(Note: generally speaking, the project has been divided into just two phases: one, for the first five buildings and the arena, and a second for the 11 buildings east of Sixth Avenue. Olin, however, uses "phase" to describe the increment of constructing one or two buildings.)

The alternative plan was rejected as impractical; the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Atlantic Yards says that the areas that could potentially be used as open space are needed for construction staging, worker parking, and materials storage. Then again, as noted, it may be a fallback option.

Some contrasts

The phasing offers some contrasts between the diagrams submitted as part of the Atlantic Yards General Project Plan, issued July 18 along with the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

One difference is simply technical; the earlier plans offer one phase per building, while the alternate plan, in certain cases, includes two buildings at a time. Another difference involves what the alternate plan calls Phase 2, in which the project would include both temporary parking and temporary open space. (See two graphics above)

Phase 3B: open space

Most crucially, however, Phase 3B would offer both interim parking and temporary open space, as indicated at right. The document suggests that, as of June, Forest City Ratner was at least considering this option.

The alternate sequence shows another contrast with the general phasing currently planned. The current plans (see several paragraphs below, under the heading Parking lot forever?) move the project clockwise, with buildings going up east along the land between Pacific Street and Atlantic Avenue, then, after hitting the boundary of Vanderbilt Avenue, adding four more buildings between Dean and Pacific Streets.

Marching east

In the alternate plan, the project simply marches east. First, single buildings would be filled in between Sixth and Carlton avenues, and Atlantic Avenue and Pacific streets. Then pairs of north-south buildings, from Atlantic Avenue to Dean Street, would go up east of Carlton, in three distinct phases.

The pairs of buildings, each with associated open space, would offer greater connectivity from Prospect Heights to Fort Greene.

Comments to ESDC

In the Response to Comments chapter of the Final Environmental Impact Statement, the ESDC was told by the Boerum Hill Association:
Instead of demolishing buildings in the eastern section, the developer should be required to develop pleasant, publicly accessible open spaces as part of Phase I. Waiting until all of the buildings are constructed leaves the surrounding communities with no green space for a minimum of 10 years.

ESDC response

The response: The DEIS disclosed that the proposed project would result in a temporary significant adverse open space impact at the end of Phase I in 2010. Options to provide interim publicly accessible open space on the project site to mitigate this temporary significant adverse impact were explored. Providing new publicly accessible open space on the project site by the end of Phase I was determined to not be practical because the areas that could potentially be used as open space are needed for construction staging, worker parking, and materials storage....The assertion that no publicly accessible open space would be available until 2016 is incorrect. Open space would be added incrementally between 2010 and 2016 as development on the project site progresses eastward and each successive building in constructed.

(At right, the beginning of the construction sequence as currently planned, according to the Draft Design Guidelines that are part of the General Project Plan. The additional phases are below.)

Parking lot forever?

The Society for Clinton Hill commented:
The option of putting in a huge surface parking lot on the eastern end of the project site is something that should have its own EIS. This parking lot could last for decades and would no doubt become a magnet for drivers from all over the larger area to come and park there and use local public transportation which is already stressed beyond its capacity.

ESDC response

The ESDC responded:
The GPP governs development on the entire project site, which does not envision having large permanent surface parking lot on the project site. Should the project program change in a magnitude necessary to warrant a modification of the GPP, the proposed project would require additional environmental review to reassess the impacts on environmental conditions. During construction, the surface parking on the eastern end of the project site would be for construction workers, in order to minimize the potential for construction worker parking impacts on the surrounding area. Following the opening of the arena, the interim parking facility would be accessory to the project uses.

Parking lot bad influence?

Several organizations commented:
The interim surface parking lot should be eliminated. It will encourage arena attendees to drive to the site, have negative impacts on new and old businesses along Vanderbilt Avenue, and make the area less attractive and safe. A surface parking lot will hamper NYCDOT plans to implement traffic calming along Vanderbilt Avenue, and discourage the commercial redevelopment that is occurring along the street a few blocks south. The DEIS does not make the case for this lot because even in the busiest times in 2010, there are 800 vacant parking spaces within ½ mile of the project.

ESDC: game demand


The ESDC responded:
As demonstrated in the EIS parking analyses, without the proposed 1,596 interim parking spaces on blocks 1120 and 1129, there would be a deficit of off-street parking capacity in the vicinity of the arena during a weekday or Saturday Nets basketball game in 2010, resulting in a significant adverse impact to off-street parking conditions and increased demand for on-street parking spaces during these periods

More concerns

The Boerum Hill Association and the Municipal Art Society commented:
There are issues about the phasing of the plan, which calls for the block bounded by Dean Street and Atlantic, Vanderbilt and Carlton Avenues to be surface parking and a staging area for construction for several years while the project is built.

The Park Slope Civic Council commented:
Regarding the interim surface parking lot proposed for Block 1129, the community would best be served if the developer used the Phase I period to test remote parking and alternate transportation methods, rather than encouraging construction personnel to drive to the site.

ESDC: could've been worse

The ESDC responded:
As part of the preparation of the DEIS, the construction phasing, staging and sequencing was assessed. This included examining what construction sequencing solutions could be implemented to limit the effects of staging, construction worker parking and construction activities to the surrounding community. This consideration resulted in the selection of Block 1129, which is bordered by Dean Street, Pacific Street, Vanderbilt Avenue, and Carlton Avenue, to be used as an on-site staging/parking area for a large portion of the construction period to keep construction-related vehicles off neighborhood streets to the extent practicable.Without this designated staging/parking area, the neighborhood and surrounding streets would be more affected by the project’s construction activities (e.g., more or longer lane closures). The strategy of dedicating space on Block 1129 for staging and parking is also logical because the construction of project components on Block 1129 would require a smaller workforce and less construction equipment, compared to what would be required during the earlier phases of construction. Hence, during the latter stages of the project construction on Block 1129, when designated on-site staging/parking areas would be the least available, the requirement for truck staging and construction worker parking would also be at the lowest.

WTC better example?

Several parties commented:
There is no need to demolish Block 1129 for staging. Not only is an entire city block unnecessary for staging, it is physically far from the arena site and causes an empty space for 10+ years for numerous Prospect Heights citizens. Seven World Trade Center was completed with a staging area no more than 10 percent of this staging plan.

ESDC: it's different in Brooklyn

The ESDC responded:
The staging needs for the Atlantic Yards project are substantially greater and different in nature than those for the Seven World Trade Center and the New York Times Headquarters buildings. The construction of a new state-of-the-art railroad facility for the LIRR, retaining walls, foundations for a platform and the future residential buildings, the platform itself and related supports over the Vanderbilt Yard, in particular, along with the installation of utilities and the construction of the Arena structure, require more equipment compared to projects like Seven World Trade Center or the New York Times Headquarters buildings. As stated in the response to the other similar comments, the use of Blocks 1128 and 1129 for staging and construction worker parkingwould keep construction-related vehicles off neighborhood streets to the extent practicable, and allow for staging and material delivery in a controlled and efficient manner. Furthermore, since the existing buildings on Blocks 1128 and 1129 would ultimately be replaced by the proposed residential buildings and open space, demolishing them early in the project schedule to facilitate better operation of construction activities and the benefit to the surrounding environment is appropriate.

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