Skip to main content

The unexpected housing boom in Downtown Brooklyn, some curious statistics, and an Errol Louis misreading

The Downtown Brooklyn redevelopment story suggests that markets can be very hard to predict and that the city has prioritized development over equity.

The Downtown Brooklyn Development Plan certified by the Department of City Planning on 12/1/2003, revised slightly five months later, and approved 6/28/04 by City Council, was supposed to give Brooklyn a dramatic boost in competing for back offices lured to New Jersey from Manhattan. The plan was mostly about jobs:
The public investment provided for in this plan would act as a catalyst to generate an estimated 4.5 million square feet of new commercial office space, creating 18,500 office jobs and 8,000 construction jobs. It would add some 1,000 new housing units and result in the addition of new, vibrant public spaces and cultural resources.

Since the plans were formulated at the turn of the decade, however, the regional economy has shifted, and developers instead have found the rezoned Downtown Brooklyn, with new opportunities for density, prime territory for luxury condos. Only about one-third the original amount of projected office space, 1.584 million square feet, is planned, and only one-fifth of that is currently under construction. Oddly enough, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP) documents count Atlantic Yards office space as already under construction.

Meanwhile, more than 7500 housing units are in process, according to press reports. However, a 4/11/07 summary distributed by the DBP indicated 565 units completed, 1515 units undergoing approval/review, and 8473 units under construction. The latter number, according to the DBP, includes the 6430 units at Atlantic Yards, which, under the best-case scenario, would take a decade and still face legal hurdles; the AY territory is actually outside the area that was rezoned but DBP considers the project within its bailiwick.

The Village Voice, echoing the views of some businesses facing eviction and activists seeking more public benefit, points to the contradictions in the city's plan. Joe Chan, president of the DBP, looks on the bright side, suggesting that there are opportunities for new "creative" industries. And Daily News columnist Errol Louis, ignoring the contradictions, sees only positives, a posture reminiscent of his Atlantic Yards cheerleading.
(At right, the future Willoughby Square, according to the Department of City Planning.)

Pointing to the irony

Neil deMause's Voice article, headlined On the Outs in Brooklyn: The city's complicity behind the borough's soaring eviction rate, points out the irony:
"There was no constituency that had a vision of downtown Brooklyn as a high-rise bedroom community," notes Robert Perris, the district manager of Brooklyn's Community Board 2, which covers Brooklyn Heights, downtown, and Fort Greene. "Even people that were pro–economic development are disappointed that what we've gotten instead are 40-story residential buildings."

That's because, however much such buildings contribute to short-term construction jobs, additional retail customers, and street life, they don't produce the nearly the economic boost that jobs do (see, for example, the fiscal impact of slicing office space from Atlantic Yards plans).

Also, the city didn't think to try to extract affordable housing as a tradeoff for giving developers more space to build. The failure to do so makes the privately-negotiated affordable housing component of Atlantic Yards seem more enlightened, though arguably any public process regarding the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard would have included some affordable housing, and would have publicly tried to balance the tradeoff between increased density and stress on local infrastructure.

Office space challenge

As has been previously reported, the office market is in trouble, and the Voice follows up:
The Brooklyn commercial market has stubbornly refused to rebound; MetroTech itself saw both JP Morgan Chase and Empire Blue Cross move out last year, leaving some 350,000 square feet of vacant floor space. Chan, looking on the bright side, told the Real Deal recently that this presented "a real opportunity to draw in new industries." Chan tells the Voice that the "renaissance" of the surrounding neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill, and Fort Greene presents special possibilities, creating "a residential base that translates well to the employee base" of "creatively driven industries" like graphic design and architecture.

(At right, a revamped Flatbush Avenue median, according to the Department of City Planning.)

deMause also points to "the incestuous nature of the planning process," involving public-private organizations led by staffers who worked for Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff or Borough president Marty Markowitz.

Defending development

Council Member David Yassky defends his vote for the plan, saying it was to keep businesses from moving to New Jersey. The changes in Downtown Brooklyn, he says, have less to do with zoning than market forces.

However, deMause points out the hand of government:
It's a market, though, that was largely created—or at least abetted—by the city's own rezoning. "We had a significant jump in developable floor-area ratio in some of these areas, so some of these buildings would not have gone up without that incentive," says CB2's Perris. "When you increase the size of the building by 50 percent, it changes all the numbers."

The city's ability to create tremendous wealth for landowners simply by tweaking a few floor-area ratio numbers is one reason many urban-planning advocates have pushed for something called "inclusionary zoning," in which developers must agree to provide a certain percentage of affordable housing in order to exceed the existing height limits.

Activists in Williamsburg and Greenpoint later got inclusionary zoning as part of the rezoning there, but there was no organization to push for it in Downtown Brooklyn--arguably, few were anticipating housing--and Brad Lander, then head of the Fifth Avenue Committee (and now of the Pratt Center for Community Development) tells deMause that a Downtown Brooklyn Council official suggested the city wouldn't buy it.

(At right, another example of how plans change; the Department of City Planning included a rendering of the Brooklyn Public Library's planned Visual and Performing Arts Library, aimed for the wedge of land just west of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, and part of a planned Brooklyn Academy of Music cultural district. That library plan is on hold, and does not even appear on the DPB's map at top.)

Louis's take

In the Daily News yesterday, columnist Errol Louis wrote Yes, in my backyard: Atlantic Yards is one plan that will boost jobs & housing downtown:
Almost lost in all the hoopla over Atlantic Yards - the junk lawsuits, futile protests and other antics of the project's publicity-hungry opponents - is the fact that an even larger, more dramatic cluster of homes, office towers and hotels is already rising a mile away, in downtown Brooklyn.

(Perhaps he can't be blamed for the headline that refers to Atlantic Yards rather than Downtown Brooklyn, but his disparagement of "junk lawsuits" might be news to the state judge and federal judge who seem to be taking them seriously.)

He writes of the new development:
That's far more than the $4 billion sports arena and housing complex planned for Atlantic Yards. And plans call for more than 7,700 residential units and 1,253 hotel rooms, dwarfing the 6,430 condos and apartments slated for Atlantic Yards.
The explosion of new development, set off by a sweeping rezoning approved by the City Council years ago, will alarm those who'd like to freeze the area's rent, income, building heights, shopping choices and quality of life where they are right now.

While more than 7700 residential units may be planned by developers, they certainly weren't part of the city's plan and projections, as detailed above. And Louis sets up a straw man, suggesting that critics and opponents of the Downtown Brooklyn plan are NIMBYs living in the past; the challenge is equitable development.

Without pointing to the issue of inclusionary zoning, Louis points to one downtown project that will provide 200 housing units for the formerly homeless and another, with 50 low-income units in Bedford-Stuyvesant, as part of a deal to build a luxury building downtown. The question, again, is the balance.


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 …

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…

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

Click on graphic to enlarge. This is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change, and the project is already well behind that tentative timetable.

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…