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Final Scope for Supplementary EIS suggests shifting 192 apartments to Phase 2, cutting 774 parking spaces; delay seems aimed to accommodate Forest City's joint venture

So, the Atlantic Yards project should change a little, as some square footage (and 192 units) may shift eastward, and some 774 below-ground permanent parking spaces will be cut, a 21% drop from 3670 to 2896 spaces..

Both of those accommodate developer Forest City Ratner's needs and place potential new burdens on the community. But the biggest news in the issuance last Friday, 2/7/14, of the Final Scope for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) regarding Phase 2 of the project, came in the timing, which seems calculated to assist Forest City.

The SEIS was ordered by a state judge who ruled that Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing/shepherding the project, had when it re-approved the project in 2009 failed to study the impacts of a potential 25-year buildout, which state contract documents later allowed.

A Draft Scope was issued 12/19/12, public comments were received at a public session 2/27/13, and written comments were accepted through 3/14/2013. The Final Scope took nearly 11 months.

Given that ESD managed to turn out a Final Scope for the entire project in 2006 at a much faster pace, it seems likely that the state's delay was aimed to accommodate Forest City's ongoing effort to sell a majority of the project--a deal to sell 70% of the remaining 15 towers to the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group is in process.

The Greenland investment is said by Forest City was a way to move the project forward, and is cited in the Final Scope. When the Draft SEIS is issued--[update] it's coming this spring, says ESD--the Greenland investment likely will be cited as a more effective alternative than what several opponents and critics have suggested: breaking up the project site and bringing in other developers.

Responding to comments, but not giving much ground

Along with the Final Scope, ESD also issued a Response to Comments document. It responds to concerns about the timetable by nothing that nothing precludes Forest City from building faster than 25 years--though it does not mention revised contractual terms that could require a faster buildout.

The Response to Comments document--which I'll address in greater detail in separate posts--also pushes back against various calls for accountability: for example, it says that ESD has nothing to do with the Community Benefits Agreement that Forest City signed and thus cannot respond to the developer's failure to hire the promised Independent Compliance Monitor.

Also, because the SEIS was ordered specifically for Phase 2, the segment of the project east of Sixth Avenue and the arena block, it cannot address lingering questions, such as plans for the office tower over the arena plaza, or bass emanating from the arena, because they are part of Phase 1. (Then again, the state never studied the potential of the arena to be a source of disruptive noise.)

Proposed modifications

The Final Scope states:
Because the project sponsors have further developed the design of certain buildings, modifications to certain project elements are being proposed. The proposed modifications include:
 a shift of up to approximately 208,000 gross square feet (gsf) of floor area that was anticipated as part of the Phase I development program into the Phase II development program, thereby increasing the maximum total floor area of Phase II from approximately 4,434,000 gsf to approximately 4,642,000 gsf.
 modifications to the number of parking spaces and the location of parking facilities to be provided on the project site, reducing the total number of Project parking spaces from 3,670 spaces to 2,896 spaces.
Essentially Phase 1, in the residential mixed-used variation (the more likely configuration) would shift from a maximum of 2110 units to 1922 units, while Phase 2 would increase from 4320 to 4508 units. That still adds up to 6430 units, and there would still be 2250 required subsidized units.

And the total floor area of would remain the same.

An alternative to be analyzed in the SEIS would also assess the potential environmental impacts of even fewer parking spaces--surely a savings for the developer, even as it increases the potential burden on surrounding blocks, where there'd be more competition for free parking, in the absence of residential permit parking.

More on the shifting the bulk

Because Forest City agreed in 2006--as part of a last-minute deal with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver--to reduce the height of Building 1 from 620 feet (as analyzed in the 2006 FEIS) to 511 feet, "it was anticipated that the floor area that would be lost in Building 1 could be accommodated within the maximum design envelopes" of the three other buildings on the arena block.

(The cut was so B1 would be shorter than the nearby Williamsburgh Savings Bank building, though it would still block the clock. Also, to some degree the symbolism is moot, as there now are taller structures in Brooklyn to the northwest of the bank, as opposed to southeast, the location of B1.)

At the time, those other buildings were expected to be integrated with the Arena, with portions of their envelopes extending above the structure. But the arena is instead a stand-alone building, so it's is no longer feasible to do so. That makes Phase 1 smaller than proposed.

So Forest City proposes to shift up to approximately 208,000 gsf of floor area from Phase 1 to six buildings in Phase 2, east of Sixth Avenue. That averages out to about 34,666 square feet per building, or likely at least three floors.

Reducing parking

Though the surface parking lot on the southeast block of the project site, Block 1129, can accommodate 541 vehicles, from September 2012 through May 2013 there were an average of 122 automobiles parked for an Arena event, and an average of 160 automobiles parked  for a Nets game. Only six events resulted in more than 300 event-related automobiles.

"Consequently, as project planning has progressed, the project sponsors have proposed modifications to the number of parking spaces and the location of parking facilities to be provided on the project site," the Final Scope states.

Yes, more people take public transit or walk than anticipated, but the low use of onsite parking also has to do with the availability of free parking on neighborhood streets, coupled with no residential permit parking to reserve spots for locals, as many have requested.

The 2006 FEIS analyzed a parking plan with 3,670  spaces, including:
  • a below-grade parking facility with approximately 350 parking spaces below Building 2 and Building 3 on the Arena Block
  • a below-grade parking facility with approximately 350 spaces in the southwest corner of Block 1120 (the railyard block, between 6th and Carlton Avenues)
  • a below-grade parking facility with approximately 450 spaces in the northeast portion of Block 1120
  • a below-grade parking facility with approximately 150 spaces below Building 15 (east of Sixth Avenue, between Dean and Pacific streets)
  • a below grade parking facility with approximately 400 spaces below Site 5 (now home to Modell's/P.C. Richard)
  • a below-grade parking facility with approximately 1,970 spaces on Block 1129.
Because of the reconfiguration of below-grade space on the Arena Block, up to 100 spaces of the 350 spaces of parking that would have been provided under Building 2 were relocated from the Arena Block to Block 1129. Building 2, now under construction, will not have any below-grade parking in its footprint.

Now Forest City proposes:
  • between 50 and 100 parking spaces located below Building 3 at the southeast corner of the Arena Block, where there's currently bike parking
  • the elimination of the below-grade parking facility on the southwest corner of Block 1120
  • reducing the size of the below-grade parking facility on Block 1129 to account for the lower anticipated demand for on-site Arena parking.
And that could be cut further, with an alternative studied in the SEIS..

What's in the SEIS

The Final Scope states:
As required by the Court Order, the SEIS will be prepared to examine the potential environmental impacts of a prolonged delay in the completion of Phase II of the Project (i.e., the Extended Build-Out Scenario). The CEQR Technical Manual will serve as a general guide on the methodologies and impact criteria for evaluating potential effects on the various environmental areas of analysis. The SEIS will examine whether the mitigation for Phase II imposed by ESD in 2006 (based on the 2006 FEIS and its 2016 build year) should be adjusted in light of the conclusions of the SEIS, and whether any additional mitigation should be imposed to account for any new or different environmental impacts from the prolonged construction of Phase II.
In addition, the SEIS will consider two proposed changes... [the shift in bulk and cut in parking].
The SEIS will discuss three illustrative construction phasing plans, not a prediction of the exact schedule but to allow for a "reasonably conservative analysis of the range of environmental effects associated with a delayed build-out of Phase II." They include:
A. Construction Phasing Plan 1—Continuous sequential phasing with Block 1129 First;
B. Construction Phasing Plan 2—Continuous sequential phasing with Building 15 on Block 1128 first;
C. Construction Phasing Plan 3—Start and stop sequential phasing with periods of more intense construction activities.
Note that Forest City has already announced plans to leapfrog the railyard and build first on Block 1129, which is terra firma and does not require an expensive deck.

Socioeconomic changes

One criticism is that the delay in the project means that people who might have relied on the affordable housing to stay in the neighborhood will be priced out by gentrification. The Final Scope states:
The analysis will focus on whether changes in background condition by 2035 and the introduction of the Phase II Program over an extended period of time would result in new or different significant adverse socioeconomic impacts as a result of direct displacement of residential population from the project site; indirect displacement of residential population in the study area; direct displacement of existing businesses from the project site; indirect displacement of businesses in the study area; or adverse effects on specific industries. 
Looking at open space

One chapter in the SEIS will address whether delays in producing open space "would result in new or different impacts not disclosed in the 2006 FEIS."

The Final Scope notes that the FEIS "identified a temporary significant adverse open space impact," given the low amount of passive open space per 1,000 workers in the non-residential (¼-mile) study area during Phase II construction, an impact that would continue for a longer duration under the Extended Build-Out Scenario but would be addressed as each building was completed.

Looking at subways

The Final Scope says that, based on the updated travel demand for Phase II, the residential and local retail development associated with Phase II would not lead to 200 or more new trips per hour in any peak period at the Lafayette Avenue IND and Fulton Street IND stations.

So the analysis of subway station conditions in the SEIS will focus on the Atlantic Avenue–Barclays Center station complex and the Bergen Street station, focusing on weekday 8–9 AM and 5–6 PM commuter peak hours and the weekday 7–8 PM (pre-game) peak hour, consistent with the subway station analysis in the FEIS.

Note that that omits analysis of the post-game surge conditions.

Looking at alternatives

The SEIS will evaluate alternatives, including parking reduced below 2,896 spaces:
The “Reduced Parking Alternative” would further reduce onsite parking to reflect the recent zoning changes for Downtown Brooklyn, which eliminated accessory parking requirements for affordable housing units and reduced accessory parking requirements for market-rate housing. Updated forecasts of the Project’s parking demand and this analysis will inform ESD’s consideration of whether and to what extent the parking requirements for the Project should be modified.
The SEIS also will look at what critics and opponents have requested:
Assess the feasibility of requiring Phase II of the Project to be constructed by multiple developers. This assessment will also evaluate whether such an approach to the Project, if determined to be feasible, would be effective in speeding the construction of Phase II.
I'm confident the assessment will conclude that, because of the complications of land ownership, the important pre-planning Forest City has accomplished, and the Greenland deal, it would not make sense to invite other developers.

The analysis also will address whether any other alternatives "would avoid or minimize any identified new or additional significant adverse impacts."

Describing the joint venture (and a mysterious roof modification)

The Final Scope states:
In December 2013, Forest City Enterprises, Inc. (FCE) announced that FCE and Shanghai- based Greenland Group Co. (Greenland) had signed an agreement for a joint venture to develop portions of Phase I of the Project and all of Phase II of the Project. As described by FCE, Barclays Center and Building 2 would not be assigned to the joint venture, but the joint venture would: complete construction of the new LIRR rail yard; build the platform over the new rail yard; build Buildings 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 and Site 5; create the 8-acres of publicly accessible open space; and make certain modifications to the Barclays Center roof. It is expected that the joint venture transaction will close in 2014, but the closing of the agreement is subject to certain regulatory approvals, including the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States and the government of China. As further described by FCE, under the proposed joint venture an affiliate of Greenland would acquire a 70 percent ownership interest in the Project (excluding the Arena and B2, as noted above), codevelop the Project with FCE and its affiliates, and pay for 70 percent of its development costs going forward. In its filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on December 10, 2013, FCE stated that the creation of the proposed joint venture “will help accelerate vertical development of the project, including the delivery of affordable housing.” The statement also noted that “Forest City would manage the day-to-day activities on behalf of the JV, which would develop the project consistent with the approved master plan [i.e., the 2009 MGPP and Design Guidelines].”
(Emphasis added)

I had not previously seen any mention of changes to the Barclays Center roof. (It's not  in either of these Forest City press releases.) After all, the roof is part of an already-built structure. It's possible the changes regard integration with towers yet to be built. Or, perhaps, such changes involve better insulation of sound, so as to plug that leaky bass.

Or--who knows--maybe Greenland will get to add its logo to a space on the roof not currently occupied by the big Barclays logo.


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