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

Given "complexity and longevity" of Pacific Park, state advisor seeks more process to support public interest as project changes (Site 5, etc.)

Site 5 is indicated by the green arrow at the far left. More on this image.
One looming question about Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park is the fate of Site 5, currently home to P.C. Richard and Modell's, at the parcel bounded by Fourth, Atlantic, and Flatbush avenues, and Pacific Street.

According to plans floated in 2016, that site, slated for a 250-foot tower with 440,000 square feet, could turn into a two-tower project stretching 785 feet tall and nearly three times the bulk.

How would that happen? State approval is still needed to shift bulk from the unbuilt B1 site, aka "Miss Brooklyn," the tower over the arena plaza, and that has been delayed by a legal challenge to the condemnation from P.C. Richard.

But the approval process for that huge project--even suggested last year as a potential home for Amazon.com's second headquarters--may move forward this year. So Jaime Stein, the board member of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) who's pushed the most for oversight, has suggested protecting the public interest by promoting more public discussion and engagement.

This project's different

The draft recommendations (bottom), already shared with community organizations and governmental bodies, argue that the "complexity and longevity of the AY Project requires this additional, independent process." There's a logic to that: rarely has this project been seen whole, and past examinations have ignored key elements of the project.

The draft, likely to be discussed at today's AY CDC meeting, may be Stein's last legacy: she's not expected to remain on the board for long.

Essentially, Stein would like the AY CDC to serve more as an advocate for the public interest, a separate node beyond its parent Empire State Development (ESD), which has the dual--and potentially contradictory--role of overseeing the project while shepherding it forward.

The challenge is convincing the AY CDC board itself, controlled by gubernatorial appointees, and the parent ESD, to add a layer of scrutiny that the developer and, likely, the state would rather avoid, and which may be dismissed as duplicative.

Recommendation: new third-party advocates

Stein suggests that, when the Site 5 proposal is released, the AY CDC Board and ESD should hire third-party planning, design and construction consultants to review the proposal to inform the board and the public.

Those consultants would convene and facilitate at least two preliminary public meetings and then share community priority issues with the board, which is supposed to advise ESD.

Interestingly, Stein recommends that consultants be hired prior to the public release of the Site 5 proposal, with access and review of all relevant documents, and that there are at least eight weeks between the public release of the Site 5 proposal and the AY CDC Board vote. (Alternatively, presumably the consultants could be hired after the public release, as long as there was more time in between.)

The likely response--as we've heard already, when Stein raised the issue at an AY CDC--is that this duplicates the current environmental review process. But that assumes that AKRF, the state's ubiquitous environmental consultant, is hired by ESD to protect the public interest rather than to ensure a project passes legal muster.

Recommendation: broader review

Given an expected Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), Stein recommends that the draft scope for that SEIS be reviewed broadly rather than narrowly: "within the context of the entire project going back to 2006."

There's a logic to that, given that, for example, the previous SEIS addressed only Phase 2 of the project, east of Sixth Avenue, even as Phase 1 elements, including towers around the arena block, were unbuilt, and arena operations contained elements never expected or examined.

Stein suggests a public informational meeting (organized collaboratively with all impacted Community Boards), a review of past state studies, site tours, and another public informational meeting.

The goal is to advise on what should be studied in the SEIS, and to provide resources to the Board and public

Recommendation: a role for AY CDC

The consultant would prepare the AY CDC Board to make recommendations, and provide a public document digesting public responses and comments.

Finally, once the ESD board votes (inevitably) to approve changes to the General Project Plan (GPP), the consultant would present the new documents, the SEIS and the Modified GPP, in a public informational meeting, organized with impacted Community Boards, including the state and AY CDC Board.

The bottom line

Having observed Atlantic Yards since 2004, I think it's clear that any developer--and its governmental allies--resists more process and oversight, since it can delay things and add costs. At the same time, I've seen steps toward more process and oversight taken in response to events, such as when the Ward Bakery's parapet fell.

In the absence of a precipitating event, the counterpressure would have to come from civic groups and elected officials. The argument might be that more process adds more legitimacy, and thus a smoother path in the long run.

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