Skip to main content

The silence of PlaNYC regarding Atlantic Yards (and the right way to develop railyards)

Yesterday, when discussing PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New York, Mayor Mike Bloomberg called congestion pricing "the elephant in the room." When it comes to the housing section of the plan, however, the elephant in the room is Atlantic Yards.

Among the tactics to create hundreds of thousands of new homes are upcoming rezonings to direct growth; the use of transit extensions to spark growth; the pursuit of partnerships with City and State agencies, identification of underutilized areas across the city that are well-served by transit; and exploration of opportunities to create new land by decking over rail yards, rail lines and highways.

While numerous examples of past, present, and future projects are provided in the Housing chapter, Atlantic Yards is conspicuously unmentioned.

Given that the project remains high on the mayoral agenda, the omission is curious. Is Atlantic Yards so controversial that it's wise to avoid it?

Or has the production of the new plan pointed out the flaws in the process that led to Atlantic Yards? Indeed, the report recommends a planning process before decking over a railyard--a distinct contrast to the city's embrace of one developer's plan for the Vanderbilt Yard at the heart of the Atlantic Yards plan.

Appropriate growth

"Not all growth is equal," the chapter states. "Between 1970 and 2000, many of our greatest areas of growth have been underserved by transit; many of our most connected urban centers have either lost population or experienced only modest growth."

Arguably, that includes the failure to rezone and plan for significant growth in the area around the Atlantic Terminal transit hub.

Emerging initiatives

Cited among "private zoning applications to change the allowed uses and densities on their sites" are the former Domino Sugar Factory on the Brooklyn waterfront and the former Con Edison site on Manhattan’s east side. The rezoning of Greenpoint-Williamsburg is called "one of the biggest transformations of the city landscape since the rezoning of 1961."

The combination downzoning/upzoning in Park Slope gets a mention. Investment in transit will help the city "turn about 300 acres of rail yards, auto repair shops, and parking lots in the Midtown Manhattan area known as the Hudson Yards into a mixed-use commercial, residential, and hospitality district."

A state-city partnership, a cousin of sorts to Atlantic Yards, is Queens West, which gets some proud promotion: "Clusters of tall skyscrapers are starting to rise in Queens West; since the first apartment building opened in 1997, developers have built 1,000 units, with more than 4,000 units either planned or underway. The City is slated to transform the remaining land with 5,000 new units—60% of which will be affordable to moderate and middle income New Yorkers. The former commuter outpost and industrial center is becoming the newest neighborhood in New York, just a five-minute ferry or one-stop subway ride from Manhattan."

The plan gives examples of transit-oriented development (Jamaica, Coney Island), where new investment would be welcomed. Underused areas, such as "portions of Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn" (location unspecified), are ripe for development.

Building decks

The report's discussion of decks deserves much exposition, given that the effort to deck over MTA's Vanderbilt Yard, the heart of the Atlantic Yards project, isn't mentioned:
We will explore opportunities to create new land by constructing decks over transportation infrastructure Throughout the city, in all five boroughs, highway and rail infrastructure is essential to life in the city. But for the most part, they are places where communities stop; where neighborhood is divided from neighborhood. This need not be so.
Exposed railyards, highways, and rail lines that cleave neighborhoods apart have periodically been built over to open up surrounding land for development—most notably along Park Avenue in Midtown. Just a few blocks west sits Caemmerer Yards in the Hudson Yards area, which will be decked over for housing, offices, a cultural center and public open space. There are numerous opportunities to reknit the city’s neighborhoods together.

As our search for land becomes more pressing in the coming decades, we must be prepared to work with communities to explore the potential of these sites.
Probably, the most frequently cited opportunity to use existing infrastructure sites more creatively is the Sunnyside Yards in Long Island City, Queens. With transit access nearby, and new commuter rail access planned as part of the East Side Access project, it has often been looked to as a potential development site. The open railyards span nearly 200 acres; developing even the first section could create hundreds of housing units with stores, schools, playing fields, and parks.
The site could also include an intermodal transportation facility at the intersection for seven subway lines, the Long Island Rail Road, and Amtrak. Residents could walk directly and safely to the shopping on Steinway Street in Astoria; residents in Long Island City could commute from an LIRR station within their neighborhood and children from the surrounding communities could play on new ballfields.
By developing the site, the City could create an entirely new neighborhood, connect long-separated communities, eliminate the noise and blight of an exposed railyard, and provide a transportation hub for anyone traveling to or from Queens and Long Island.
...Other examples of possible platform projects are the former railroad space adjoining the Staten Island Ferry that could be used to connect the St. George neighborhood to its waterfront, and the 36th Street Rail Yards on the southern edge of the Green Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Building on a platform over it could result in substantial new units of housing.

Exposed highways offer a similar opportunity. One such site is over the Brooklyn-
Queens Expressway (BQE) between Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill also in Brooklyn. Just south of Atlantic Avenue, the BQE dips into a depressed section of roadway bordered on either side by Hicks Street. Continuing straight through to the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, this sunken highway divides Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens from the river and the community along Columbia Street.
A platform could be constructed over the below-grade section of the BQE to create nine new blocks of housing while reconnecting two neighborhoods. Another example of a disruptive highway that could potentially be covered over includes the Gowanus Expressway.

Some of these areas may be better suited than others for future development due to
their accessibility to rail and mass transit, and the physical configuration of the sites. Given market conditions, some may not be able to support development for many years while others may make economic sense sooner.
We know that the one-size-fits-all approach of earlier eras will not work. Building communities requires a carefully tailored approach to local conditions and needs that can only be developed with local input. We will begin the process of working with communities, the agencies that operate these facilities, and other stakeholders to sort through these complicated issues.

(Emphasis added)

How to do it

On p. 2 of Appendix B, the city further lays out the process for the possible construction of new decks:
1) Identify railyards, rail lines, and highways that coincide with sustainable development and have the capacity for anticipated growth
2) Conduct feasibility assessments and identify opportunities for rezonings and required infrastructure investments

There was no pre-Atlantic Yards feasibility assessment for the Vanderbilt Yard (remember, the city had no plans for it before Forest City Ratner proposed Atlantic Yards), no effort to foster a rezoning, and no announcement of infrastructure support before the city and state had embraced the developer's project.

And, of course, there was no local input until after the project was embraced by the city and state.

[Update 9:30 a.m.: Community planner Ron Shiffman, a member of the Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn advisory board, told me that yesterday at one of the briefings he asked if, based on the template above, the city agreed to not bypass ULURP, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, in future projects regarding decks. Rohit Aggarwala, head of the mayor's sustainability office, responded that he couldn't make such a statement at this time, according to Shiffman.]

In his speech, Bloomberg said, "But our most important tool – and the way to achieve our goals while still fighting over-development is to re-zone areas with good access to mass transit, which are best able to absorb additional growth. That is why 95 percent of the sites that we propose for new housing development are within a short walk to mass transit. Some of these sites are brownfields that have taken too long – much too long – to clean up."

For Atlantic Yards, the state would override city zoning--not just the height and bulk of the buildings but also the prohibition against placing an arena within 200 feet of a residential district.


Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming + FAQ (post-dated pinned post)

This graphic, posted in February 2018, is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. Note the unbuilt B1 and the proposed--but not yet approved--shift in bulk to the unbuilt Site 5.

The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change. The project is already well behind that tentative timetable.

How many people are expected?

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has a projected 6,430 apartments housing 2.1 persons per unit (as per Chapter 4 of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement), which would mean 13,503 new residents, with 1,890 among them in low-income affordable rentals, and 2,835 in moderate- and middle-income affordable rentals.

That leaves 8,778 people in market-rate rentals and condos, though let's call it 8,358 after subtracting 420 who may live in 200 promised below-market condos. So that's 5,145 in below-market units, though many of them won…

The passing of David Sheets, Dean Street renter, former Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality

David Sheets, longtime Dean Street renter, Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality, died 1/17/18 in HCA Greenview Hospital in Bowling Green, KY. He was 56.

There are obituary notices in the Bowling Green Daily News and the Wichita Eagle, which state:
He was born in Wichita, KS where he attended public Schools and Wichita State University. He lived for many years in Brooklyn, NY, and was employed as a legal assistant. David's hobby was cartography and had an avid interest in Mass Transit Systems of the world. David was predeceased by his father, Kenneth E. Sheets. He is survived by his mother, Wilma Smith, step-brother, Billy Ray Smith and his wife, Jane all of Bowling Green; step-sister, Ellen Smith Alexander and her husband, Jerry of Bella Vista, AR; several cousins and step-nieces and step-nephews also survive. Memorial Services will be on Monday, January 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm with visitation from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday at Johnson-Vaughn-Phe…

Some skepticism on Belmont hockey deal: lease value seems far below Aqueduct racino; unclear (but large?) cost for LIRR service

As I wrote for The Bridge 12/20/1, The Islanders Say Bye to Brooklyn, But Where Next?, the press conference announcing a new arena at Belmont Park for the New York Islanders was "long on pomp... but short on specifics."

Notably, a lease valued at $40 million "upfront to lease up to 43 acres over 49 years... seems like a good deal on rent for the state-controlled property." Also, the Long Island Rail Road will expand service to Belmont.

That indicates public support for an arena widely described as "privately financed," but how much? We don't know yet, but some more details--or at least questions--have emerged.

An Aqueduct comparable?

Well, we don't know what the other bid was, and there aren't exactly parcels that large offering direct comparables.

But consider: Genting New York LLC in September 2010 was granted a franchise to operate a video lottery terminal under a 30 year lease on 67 acres at Aqueduct Park (as noted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo).


Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…