Skip to main content

UNITY workshop begins to address the whole AY footprint

Is it realistic to consider another future for the planned Atlantic Yards footprint, one based on the principles of the UNITY plan unveiled last September? That was the premise of a workshop Saturday organized by the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development, along with the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN).

And while the four-hour session didn’t produce definitive solutions, it did for the first time extend beyond the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard, the major public property in the AY site, to the rest of the footprint, now owned mostly by developer Forest City Ratner. In other words, the project, launched in 2004 as Understanding, Imagining and Transforming the Yards (UNITY), might need a revised acronym.

About 40 people attended the event, held at the Belarusian Church on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill. Their conclusions were not particularly surprising: development should be contextual; major current buildings should be preserved; space for industry/manufacturing should be maintained; and new public space should be created. (Space for affordable housing was already part of the plan.)

Needless to say, an arena was not on the table, and any new plans would ultimately have to be measured against the costs of development. And the Ward Bakery, a building participants would like to save, is currently under demolition.

Thinking ahead

Still, there are reasons to be thinking ahead. “It’s highly unlikely that the second phase of the project will get built, or built as proposed,” suggested Hunter planning professor Tom Angotti (right), suggesting that zoning would be the tool to ensure a multiplicity of scale, a diversity of design, and truly public open space.

(Photos of event by Jonathan Barkey)

Another author of the UNITY plan, longtime community planner Ron Shiffman, noted that small lots would mix different types of buildings and multiple developers, thus enabling faster construction. Not present was lead architect Marshall Brown, who now lives in Cincinnati but has returned to New York for UNITY planning and presentations.

AY doubts

Some, in fact, believe that the whole project may be iffy. “Lest you think we are completely nuts,” commented Candace Carponter, co-chair of CBN, ground has not been broken for the project. Beyond pending litigation, she said, there’s a credit crunch and too little funding for affordable housing.

She noted that construction costs have risen steadily and suggested that if they go up “significantly,” the Public Authorities Control Board would have to take a second vote, given that its job is to approve the soundness of the state financing contemplated.

Stopping in to salute the group’s work were anti-AY stalwarts Council Member Letitia James (UNITY's original sponsor) and State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, as well as City Council candidate Craig Hammerman, who didn’t cite his candidacy but stressed he was speaking personally rather than in his weekday capacity as District Manager of Community Board 6.

A bigger park

The UNITY plan already incorporated a planned park space in the triangle of land (right) between Fifth, Flatbush, and Atlantic avenues, beyond the railyard. Angotti proposed that the park be extended across Flatbush Avenue to Site 5, which currently houses Modell's, P.C. Richard, and the Brooklyn Bears Garden, between Flatbush, Fourth, and Atlantic avenues.

That idea was received mostly with enthusiasm, though several participants cautioned that a salubrious space wouldn’t come easy. “We like the idea of the ‘Angotti Park,’” observed Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors (right), summarizing the results of his breakout group, but “it needs to be designed to mitigate the effect of traffic and noise.”

Angotti suggested that the park could be the subject of a design competion; participants suggested a competition on two levels, one involving professionals, the other involving local students.

“If we’re talking about placemaking,” noted CBN’s Jim Vogel, “one of the focuses has to be displacing regular surface traffic.” That could involve light rail, trolleys, or bus rapid transit, known as BRT. Shiffman suggested involving both the Project for Public Spaces and Transportaiton Alternatives in writing the scope for a competition.

Larger issues

Participants noted that the focus of the UNITY plan shouldn’t be the park but rather larger issues of housing and manufacturing. Shiffman approved of the notion of housing light manufacturing over commercial space, noting that there’s a huge demand in the borough for manufacturing space.

A handout included description of various zoning options, including a special zoning district for the Vanderbilt Yard, which permits the maximum flexibility for contextual design. While the City Planning Commission isn’t a fan of such special districts, which require review, “it can be a powerful tool,” Angotti said.

Photographer and Dean Street resident Tracy Collins (pointing in photo), summarizing the results of his breakout group, suggested that density should be closer to existing taller structures, such as the Atlantic Temrinal 4B public housing building on Carlton Avenue across Atlantic Avenue, and the Newswalk building between Pacific and Dean streets.

Among the zoning alternatives presented by the Hunter team, one would shift higher density and residential uses near the Vanderbilt Yard. Another would shift industrial uses toward Flatbush Avenue but upzone the area closer to Vanderbilt Avenue.
Buildings of the same size, as one group suggested, would produce more consistent shadows, Shiffman warned.

Looking forward

The process is still in the early stages. The three breakout groups must write up their findings, to be incorporated in future revisions of UNITY by Angotti and colleagues. Should Atlantic Yards actually face a setback, rather than just a stall, there might be political momentum to move UNITY--or some other zoning alternative--forward, which would involve the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and a lot more public process.

There were a few moments of levity. At one point, McClure referenced the recent contretemps in which videographer Katherin McInnis and photographer Collins have been stopped or harassed while taking photos; he suggested the plan should include a “First Amendment district” for photographers.


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 (post-dated pinned post)

This graphic, posted in November 2017, 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 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.

The previous graphic, from August 2017 (without the ghost B1)

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…

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…

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 …