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The UNITY plan expands, and will be up for discussion

The UNITY plan for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard was unveiled in September, the project web site was re-launched in mid-January, and there's a public meeting Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., to update people and seek further input on UNITY.

The discussion will broaden to more of the Atlantic Yards footprint rather than just the 8.5-acre Vanderbilt Yard.

Indeed, when the graphic at right was unveiled, it raised some questions. Why was the triangular plot of land west of Fifth Avenue included and planned for park space, given that it's not part of the yard.

Urban planner Tom Angotti of Hunter College, one of the designers of UNITY, responded, "As a practical matter, Forest City Ratner owns most of the land and much of it is vacant. Its location is important, and leaving it out of the plan would lead to questions about what to do with it."

That, of course, would require the developer to both abandon its project and, if so, to give up piecemeal development.

Site 5 too?

Angotti added, "As a side note, I am going to propose that the next UNITY workshop consider incorporating Site 5 (Modell's, P.C. Richard and the Brooklyn Bears Garden) in the park, thereby dramatically changing the character of the area. The two stores could be easily relocated (and are slated for removal anyway)."

"The park would be compatible with the Bear's Garden and relieve it from its isolation," he added. "This is my idea alone; I don't mind it being publicized but it should be attributed to me and not UNITY or anyone else since we haven't discussed it."

Given the traffic surrounding it, I asked, what kind of safeguards regarding noise and pollution would be necessary to make it work as outdoor park space?

Angotti responded, "UNITY calls for traffic reduction on the major arteries that converge there, so the noise and pollution resulting from traffic would be sharply reduced. In addition, design measures can be used to buffer the most actively used portions of the park from traffic and noise. We're calling for bicycle lanes on Flatbush and Atlantic, and they can be part of the solution."

Big contrast

What's clear is that two very different visions have emerged. While the UNITY plan would add significant residential density (1500 units over eight acres would be 187.5 units/acre, compared to 6430 units over 22 acres, or 292 units/acre), it would concentrate the tallest buildings at the east end of the site, near Vanderbilt Avenue.

It would place a park at the congested intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, while Forest City Ratner's plan would have an Urban Room, which will serve as a subway entrance and an entrance to the arena and arena block buildings, while housing an atrium, retail, and Nets ticket windows.

In the Empire State Development Corporation's General Project Plan (p. 10) suggests that the western-most portion of the Arena Block presents the most significant potential for mixed use and commerical development due to its location on the two major commercial arteries (Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues) and its ability to connect direclty to the Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street subway station. In addition, Site 5... also has high potential for either commercial or residential development, while providing a transition (in height and scale) to its surroundings.

...The Project would create a new neighborhood context along the Atlantic and Flatbush Avenue corridors in keeping with the stature of these streets as two of the principal (and widest) routes through the borough.


And while Angotti sees Site 5, bounded by Fourth, Flatbush, and Atlantic avenues and Pacific Street (and row houses on the south side of Pacific), as potential parkland, the City Planning Commission, in its 9/27/06 endorsement of minor modifications to the Atlantic Yards plan, wrote:
Site 5, located on a site bounded by Atlantic, Fourth and Flatbush avenues, is proposed for a height of 350 feet and to contain approximately 572,000 zoning square feet. The Commission recognizes the prominence of this site, which is located across from both the Williamsburgh Savings Bank and Building 1 of the Arena block, as well as directly adjacent to the low-rise buildings west along Atlantic Avenue and the terminus of the Fourth Avenue corridor. The Commission believes that Site 5’s height should be carefully assessed within this context. Given this location, the Commission therefore recommends that Site 5 be reduced to a height of 250 feet with a reduction of approximately 180,000 zoning square feet to approximately 392,000 zoning square feet in order to provide a more varied composition of building heights and to provide a stronger transition to the Fourth Avenue corridor to the south.


This was the only cutback recommended that has apparently not been proposed by Frank Gehry nine months earlier.

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