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

RPA points to parking lots near regional train stations as source of 250,000 homes, including affordable ones

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has long been touted as "transit-oriented development," with the argument that proximity to transit can justify increased density. That argument is a question of degree, of course.

Atlantic Yards, with a projected 6,430 apartments housing 2.1 persons per unit (as per Chapter 4 of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement), can make some dent at full buildout, with 13,503 new residents, 8,358 at market rate. Among the 5,145 people in below-market units, there'd be 1,890 in 900 low-income affordable rentals, and 2,835 in 1,350 moderate- and middle-income affordable rentals--plus 420 people in 200 middle-income condos.

More affordability needed, try the suburbs

But the city and region need much, much more. Hence the press release and report 11/14/17 from the Regional Plan Association, RPA: Development Near Commuter Rail Stations in Suburban Areas Key to Regional Affordability, which proposes ways to bring 250,000 new homes to the region by developing on train station parking lots.

Some unspecified percentage of apartments would be affordable (aka below-market)--but the increase in supply and proximity to transit would also generally aid affordability.

That derives from analysis of 349 regional commuter rail stations in the suburbs on three train lines: Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North, and New Jersey Transit. As City Limits noted, 85 of the stations are located in areas with insufficient sewer capacity for new development, but that leaves 264 sites, most of which are hampered by zoning laws.

Why there? Because people can commute to urban centers, and the expected increased use of shared, on-demand and autonomous vehicles will reduce both parking lots near train stations--by 75%, the RPA estimates--and vehicle ownership.

The study points to changes to zoning that limit multi-family housing and require parking, practices that "keeps communities exclusively wealthy and white." (Well, mostly.)

It also recommends making infrastructure funding contingent on new zoning laws and calls for reforms in federal financing mechanisms to allow for easier mixed-use development.

To ensure some housing is below-market, it recommends inclusionary housing requirements region-wide, and that New York State--following the lead of Connecticut and New Jersey--to require that all municipalities provide affordable housing opportunities. And it also recommends increased funding for public transit.

The report cites a Transit Village Initiative promoted since 1999 by New Jersey’s Department and Transportation and New Jersey Transit, with technical and financial support to 32 cities and towns for development. New York is behind.

Not one size fits all

The report envisions different types of development. The largest are dubbed Jobs Centers:
While not at the scale of the major urban downtowns of the non-New York City areas, such as Newark or Stamford, jobs centers are mixed office-residential areas, with not only homes and shops, but also employers who draw in commuters and contribute to economic activity, and a major cultural, health or educational anchor as well. In addition, there are often signature structures, with traditional multistory office buildings, hotels, or sometimes apartment buildings. Places such as New Brunswick, NJ or White Plains, NY would be current examples of jobs centers.
The RPA assumes an approximately 5.5 Floor Area Ratio (FAR), the measure of bulk as a multiple of the lot. With an average of 935,742 square feet of surface parking space within ½ mile of a rail station, this could mean, per location, about 2250 new homes and 1.2 million square feet of retail and office space.

Then come Village Centers:
Village Centers usually consist of smaller mixed-use developments, with the largest usually being 4 or 5 story apartment or condominium buildings with a commercial ground floor. In addition to homes and storefronts, some office space for neighborhood professional service businesses such as legal offices, doctors and dentists, and accountants are often also part of a good village center, along with smaller cultural, arts, or community spaces. Great Neck Plaza, NY or Montclair, NJ are two examples of a typical Village Center.
The RPA assumes a 1.25 FAR, representing a typical village center development of 5 stories covering 25% of a lot. For the average station area, this would mean about 670 new homes and 120,000 square feet of retail and office space. 

Finally, Neighborhood Multifamily:
Even in areas where infrastructure does not support larger-scale development, neighborhood multifamily developments can still be feasible. These would include garden apartments, townhouses, or other smaller scale development, usually two or possibly three floors at most. While there is usually not enough density to support a significant retail component, small businesses such as a corner store or coffee shop are often present.
The RPA projects a new neighborhood of 300 homes, and about 16,000 square feet of commercial space, enough for a few shops or cafes, or even a small neighborhood grocery store.

The report notes that, multifamily buildings are less expensive to produce than single-family homes, that transit-oriented development lowers transportation costs for residents and the cost of delivering municipal services. 

Beyond that, such increased density fights sprawl, is more energy efficient, and requires less dispersed wastewater treatment facilities. And, of course, such development reflects the growing lifestyle preference for walkability, among both millennials and even seniors.

A New York City angle. though not in Brooklyn

City Limits noted:
RPA’s study focuses on areas outside the city. But one map does indicate where there is at least theoretical potential for transit-oriented development within the five boroughs. RPA found, “There are currently over 6 square miles of land within a 10-minute walk from a subway or rail station which prohibit multifamily housing – an area about the size of Manhattan below 34th street.”
According to a map, these areas included several pockets along the Staten Island Railroad corridor, a patchwork of neighborhoods in eastern Queens and the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
So far, most of those areas would not be affected by the city’s rezonings, which aim to add density to parts of the city that can absorb it.
City policy evolving

In an 11/28/17 follow-up, Amid Population Swell and Affordability Worries, NYC Looks to Region to Absorb Some Growth, City Limits traced the demographic changes that are prompting the city to look more regionally:
While in the 1980s and 1990s, immigrants made up more than half of those moving to the city, from 2010 to 2014 people moving from other parts of the United States and metropolitan region made up 58 percent of newcomers. For the first time in the past forty years, White people, and people making salaries above $50,000, are coming to the city in larger numbers than are leaving. In other words, the city is attracting, among others, Americans who have the economic privilege to live elsewhere—and who can outcompete disadvantaged city residents for jobs and housing.
The article notes that the RPA has been advocating for regional urbanization, with jobs and housing in smaller cities (beyond the suburbs noted above), creating multiple job centers.

The de Blasio administration in 2016 "appointed its first regional planning director within the Department of City Planning, Carolyn Grossman Meagher," aiming at a regional approach, which could enhance housing for those who work in the city.

It should be noted that former City Planning Commission Director Carl Weisbrod, in a March 2015 speech, called the housing crisis a regional challenge. Moreover, in a 9/8/16 lecture, he said:
Recently I created the first-ever regional planning division at City Planning to cultivate select opportunities for bilateral/multi-lateral cooperation and programs that can benefit the region as a whole. Other regions of the country have done a better job at this and we should catch up.
The City Limits article does ventilate skepticism about how much New York--which still has many residents struggle--should encourage economic growth in other cities and whether growth in the city can really trickle down benefits.


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