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80 Flatbush hearing March 28: affordable partner named; debate about financial value, scale, shadows, and neighborhood perspective

From Block 80 Flatbush Towers: the smaller proposed tower,
  at 560 feet, looks a bit taller than the 512-foot Williamsburgh
 Savings Bank to the east. The taller proposed tower would be
 986 feet. This angle (from a variable 3-D model) downplays
the size of The Hub, the 610-foot apartment building at left.
The debate over the two-tower 80 Flatbush project (my coverage for The Bridge, As Brooklyn Towers Reach for the Sky, How Big Is Too Big?) is going to heat up.

As part of the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), Brooklyn Community Board 2 scheduled a required public hearing for Wednesday, March 28, 6-9 pm, at St. Francis College, 180 Remsen Street in Brooklyn Heights.

Just before the meeting, the developer made a savvy move, as reported in Politico's Morning Playbook (summarizing a paywalled article):
A sprawling, mixed-use project that would redefine Downtown Brooklyn's skyline will be partially run by an organization whose executive director sits on the City Planning Commission. Alloy Development has tapped the Fifth Avenue Committee [FAC], a well-known nonprofit residential builder, to oversee the construction of 200 below-market-rate apartments at the site, which abuts the Atlantic Terminal and Barclays Center. Michelle de la Uz, who runs the organization, will recuse herself when the planning commission votes on an application to rezone the area, which is bounded by Flatbush and Third avenues and Schermerhorn and State streets, a spokesman for the project said. 
Note that the affordable units--low-income and permanent, a better result than some past projects--are projected to be due in 2025, the timetable for the second tower. (Press release at bottom.) Alloy and FAC also "will work to establish a Community Advisory Group to advise on project impacts and community needs during construction and operation of the community facility/cultural spaces." Such organizations may or may not have teeth. Also note support from another major advocate for affordable housing, the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development.

By partnering with the Fifth Avenue Committee, that gets a potential roadblock--de La Uz, who's opposed some of Mayor Bill de Blasio's plans--as an ally. A significant Fifth Avenue Committee mission is affordable housing, so issues prized by 80 Flatbush neighbors like scale and neighborhood character are likely lesser factors.

Note that the site doesn't quite abut either Atlantic Terminal--the northern perimeter of which is a partial block away, from State Street to Hanson Place--or the Barclays Center, which is below Atlantic Avenue, the southern perimeter of the mall.

Slide via NYC Department of Education/Educational Construction Fund
Fiscal value and real-world scale

One issue sure to get ventilated--if not resolved--is the financial value of the deal. Alloy Development has claimed that the project will provide $230 million in public benefits, while neighborhood opponents argue that the city-owned land and increase in development rights--the difference between an as-of-right project and one with a rezoning--delivers $300 million in value.

Another is the appropriate perspective on the project. See The Bridge (and below) for images from the developer and the city's environmental review. Project opponents have created their own 3-D perspective, which I screenshot above, "to see the true out-of-scale reality of the 74-story and 38-story proposed towers." It obviously depends on perspective, since, from the south and west, the towers are more of a break with neighboring streets.

The shadow fight

Also, last Thursday, representatives of three neighborhood groups gathered under the banner of Save Our Sunlight to protest against an award given to principals of Ally (part of the Brownstoner RADD awards).

They noted that the city's Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) acknowledges that  “The Rockwell Place Bears Community Garden, the BAM South Plaza at 300 Ashland Place, and Temple Square would experience significant adverse impacts," meaning less than four hours of direct sun, which the groups note "would have dire effects on the plants and trees in the garden."

The Draft EIS is fairly clinical about that:
Although incremental shadows could potentially reduce the utility of the open spaces and potentially affect the health of plantings and vegetation within the open spaces, other open spaces with similar uses would continue to be available to residents and workers; therefore, given the relative size of this open space resource, the shadow impact would not constitute a direct significant adverse open space impact.
Site 5, and Pacific Park

I already wrote about how civic groups from Park Slope and Prospect Heights have argued that the project would be a bad precedent for the likely--but not yet advanced--project for Site 5 of the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project just two blocks south along Flatbush Avenue.
February 2018 rendering (via Alloy) of 80 Flatbush, at foreground left; annotated arrow points toward Site 5
But a look at the official documents suggests that neighbors raised several issues related to the Barclays Center and Pacific Park, as described below, and the official response--the environmental review docs are prepared for the city by the go-to firm AKRF--was essentially to downplay the concerns.

The comments and responses below are from the Final Scope of Work, which is the document that describes what the Draft (and then Final) Environmental Impact Statement cover.

The Barclays Center transportation impact

One commenter argued that the Draft EIS require "traffic counts taken during peak events at Barclays within a 1⁄2 mile radius of the site to reflect actual traffic network impacts,' given the "enormous impact on neighborhood parking availability."

The response was that the guidelines in the CEQR Technical Manual--the city's process for implementing SEQRA, the State Environmental Quality Review Act--direct that "traffic counts should be collected during typical conditions and not during special events when alternative traffic management plans could be in effect." (Emphasis added)

That doesn't necessarily mean that alternative traffic management plans are put into effect--sometimes they are, sometimes they're not. Otherwise we wouldn't hear complaints from other blocks near the arena.

Another commenter pointed out that, because of "new traffic patterns following the construction of Barclays Center, traffic at the intersection of State Street and Third Avenue has worsened," and the area "already bears the full brunt of the Sam Schwartz Engineering Company’s traffic mitigation for the Barclays Center, an area that experiences crushing congestion, and the noise associated with it, on virtually a daily basis."

That was a reference to the fact that northbound traffic on Fourth Avenue cannot turn left on Flatbush Avenue to head for the Manhattan Bridge, but must go left on Atlantic and then right on Third Avenue to get to Flatbush.

The official response was that the study would "identify the potential for significant adverse impacts as a result of incremental traffic," and, in fact, it did say that there would be some such impacts but most could be mitigated. It did not mention Barclays.

Another commenter wrote:
At the very moment the Barclays mitigation plan’s traffic pattern changes were implemented, the quality of life in the neighborhood deteriorated. The neighborhood experiences crushing traffic congestion. Numerous circling limousines and for-hire vehicles compound the congestion during events at Barclays should they not be idling illegally at fire hydrant locations, crosswalks, and bus stops. Event-goers in cars also overwhelm the local arteries in search of free (typically unavailable) curb parking because the Barclays plan specifically excluded provisions for adequate parking for such events, as it did accommodations for the queuing and idling of limousines and cabs.
The response was simply that the "traffic study will identify the potential for significant adverse impacts as a result of incremental traffic."

Another commenter pointed out that promises regarding big projects are often not met, so "I would very much like to see a report on delivery of promised benefits of jobs and affordable housing of the Barclays Center development."

The response was that "This request is not within the scope of a SEQRA/CEQR impact analysis."

How big a study area?

One of the fundamental questions is how to assess 80 Flatbush in neighborhood and area context. Neighbors asked for a broad study area, but the Final Scope in many cases looks narrowly, stating:
The primary study area for the detailed assessment of urban design and visual resources will be consistent with that of the study area for the analysis of land use, zoning and public policy (400-foot radius surrounding the project site), where the proposed actions would be most likely to influence land use patterns and the built environment. The secondary study area for the detailed assessment will extend a ¼-mile from the boundary of the project site. For visual resources (such as the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank) and view corridors, views from more distant locations also will be considered.
(Emphases added throughout)

Here are the specifics:
The 400-foot study area extends to Atlantic Avenue to the south, beyond 3rd Avenue to the west, Lafayette Street [sic] to the north, and 4th Avenue to the east. Because the study areas for the open space and urban design assessments extend to areas within ¼-mile from the project site, the study area has been extended for the preliminary assessment of neighborhood character, as appropriate. The ¼-mile study area generally extends to Wyckoff Street/St Marks Avenue to the south, Bond Street to the west, DeKalb Avenue to the north, and 5th Avenue/South Portland Avenue to the east. In addition to Downtown Brooklyn, the study areas include portions of the Fort Greene and Boerum Hill neighborhoods.
The document notes that there are large buildings nearby, including 300 Ashland Place, the Atlantic Terminal Mall and Barclays Center, while the Boerum Hill neighborhood is south and southwest of the project site, and Brooklyn’s Cultural District, anchored by BAM, "straddles the neighborhoods of Fort Greene and Downtown Brooklyn."

Is 400 feet enough?

One commenter said the 400-foot study area would be far too small to assess the impacts of a structure stretching nearly 1,000 feet, and the presence of historical buildings and architecturally significant neighborhoods nearby.

The response noted that different analyses are seen in different context; with the quarter-mile primary study area used for Socioeconomic Conditions (indirect business displacement), and Open Space, and shadows assessed at over ¾-mile, and traffic over 1.5-mile.

That said, the 400-foot area for  Land Use, Zoning, and Public Policy, plus Cultural Resources surely rankles. After all, when one commenter said the Boerum Hill Historic District--as currently mapped and as proposed for expansion--the response was that the latter "falls outside of the boundaries of the 400-foot study area for historic and cultural resources, which is determined by CEQR."

Assessing neighborhood character

The Draft EIS notes that the issue of neighborhood character is not, as one might consider colloquially, the character of the surrounding blocks. Rather, it has to do with a broader set of issues under CEQR, and a significant adverse affect is not necessarily a significant impact:
This chapter assesses the proposed project’s potential effects on neighborhood character. As defined in the 2014 City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) Technical Manual, neighborhood character is an amalgam of various elements that give a neighborhood its distinct “personality.” These elements may include a neighborhood’s land use, socioeconomic conditions, open space, historic and cultural resources, urban design and visual resources, shadows, transportation, and/or noise conditions, but not all of these elements contribute to neighborhood character in every case. Under CEQR, an analysis of neighborhood character identifies the defining features of the neighborhood and then evaluates whether a proposed project has the potential to affect the defining features, either through the potential for a significant adverse impact or a combination of moderate effects in relevant technical analysis areas. To determine the effects of a proposed project on neighborhood character, the defining features of neighborhood character are considered together. According to the CEQR Technical Manual, neighborhood character impacts are rare, and it would be unusual that, in the absence of a significant adverse impact in any of the relevant technical areas, a combination of moderate effects to the neighborhood would result in an impact to neighborhood character. Moreover, a significant adverse impact identified in one of the technical areas that contributes to a neighborhood’s character does not necessarily constitute a significant impact on neighborhood character, but rather serves as an indication that neighborhood character should be examined.
The principal conclusions:
The proposed actions would not result in significant adverse impacts associated with neighborhood character. The project site is located in a prominent location on Flatbush Avenue at the entrance to Downtown Brooklyn. As described elsewhere in this EIS, the proposed actions would not result in significant adverse impacts in the areas of land use, zoning, and public policy; socioeconomic conditions; open space; urban design and visual resources; and noise. Although significant adverse impacts would occur with respect to shadows, historic resources, and transportation, these impacts would not result in a significant change to one of the determining elements of neighborhood character.
In other words, neighborhood character has already been altered by the site's association with Downtown Brooklyn, even though neighbors and elected officials consider it a transition to Boerum Hill. As the document states, "A neighborhood that has a more varied context is typically able to tolerate greater change without experiencing significant impacts."


The document states:
The development introduced by the proposed actions would reinforce the existing mixed-use character of the study area. Overall, the proposed actions would facilitate mixed-use development, including a significant amount of affordable housing, as well as needed community facility space for new public schools, office space to provide employment and jobs, cultural facility space to support the study area’s thriving arts community, and retail space to serve neighborhood residents. With the proposed actions, the overall objectives of the City’s development plans for Downtown Brooklyn would be supported.
Regarding open space

The document states:
In the future with and without the proposed actions, the total, active, and passive open space ratios in the residential and non-residential (worker) study areas would remain below the City’s planning goals. With the proposed project, the residential study area’s total, active and passive open space ratios would be below 5 percent. Within the nonresidential study area, the combined residential and worker populations would place additional demand on the study areas passive open spaces, however, the area’s passive open spaces are in relative abundance, as the study area would exhibit an open space ratio 0.262, acres per 1,000 workers, which is above the City’s planning guideline of 0.15 acres per 1,000 workers. Open space is not a critical defining feature of the area, and any effects to open space resulting from the proposed actions would not have a significant adverse impact on neighborhood character.
Regarding shadows

The document states:
Project-generated shadows would reach a total of 32 sunlight-sensitive open space and historic resources, including 21 open spaces and 6 historic resources.... As discussed in Chapter 6, “Shadows,” the Rockwell Place Bears Community Garden, the BAM South Plaza at 300 Ashland Place, and Temple Square would experience significant adverse impacts as a result of the proposed actions. The proposed actions would cause these resources to receive less than four hours of direct sun. Given the duration and extent of incremental shadow, the use and character of these open spaces could be altered and the health of the vegetation found within the open spaces could be significantly affected by new project-generated shadows. Other nearby sunlight-sensitive resources would also receive new project-generated shadows but the project-generated shadows would not significantly alter the use or character of the resources or threaten the health of vegetation within the resources. However, the significant adverse shadow impacts would not result in an impact on neighborhood character because there are several other plazas and gardens in [the] neighborhood that would continue to be sunlit and function in the same way as the affected open spaces.
Regarding historic and cultural resources

The document states:
Defining features of the neighborhood would not be adversely affected due to potential effects of the proposed actions on historic and cultural resources, either singularly or in combination with potential impacts in other relevant technical areas discussed in this section. As discussed in Chapter 7, “Historic and Cultural Resources,” demolition of the historic buildings composing the existing Khalil Gibran International Academy would result in a significant adverse impact to historic resources; however, the demolition would not result in an impact to neighborhood character because the existing historic buildings are not a defining element of neighborhood character.
Regarding urban design and visual resources

The document states:
Defining features of the neighborhood would not be adversely affected due to potential effects of the proposed actions on urban design and visual resources, either singularly, or in combination with potential impacts in other relevant technical areas discussed in this section. The proposed actions would improve urban design conditions by enlivening the streetscape with new pedestrian activity and creating a more consistent street wall....Although the proposed actions would allow for new mixed-use buildings constructed to greater heights and densities than currently permitted as-of-right, the proposed project’s towers would be compatible with the heights of existing and planned buildings in the surrounding area, which include buildings with heights over 1,000 feet. The bulk of the new buildings would be oriented along Flatbush and 3rd Avenues, in keeping with other large developments in the primary study area. With the bulk of the proposed project’s massing fronting onto Flatbush and 3rd Avenues and lower streetwalls along Schermerhorn and State Streets, the proposed project would not adversely affect the urban design characteristics of the lower-scale buildings along Schermerhorn and State Streets. The maximum zoning envelope also would result in the bulk of the project’s massing fronting onto Flatbush and 3rd Avenues, with lower scale development in the middle of the project block and along Schermerhorn and State Streets.
The proposed project would also establish a more pedestrian-friendly streetwall along State Street, with entrances, recessed and projecting façade elements, and new landscaping breaking up the façade and adding visual interest. Like the State Street façades, the lower streetwall heights along Schermerhorn Street would have recessed and projecting façade elements.
It argues that the scale would be in context, especially if a new, taller development several blocks up Flatbush is considered:
The proposed buildings would be consistent with new development projects in the primary and secondary study area in materials, design, and use, including the 53-story (approximately 590-foot tall) glass- and masonry-clad mixed-use building at 333 Schermerhorn Street, the 51-story(approximately 568-foot-tall) glass- and masonry-clad mixed-use building at 250 Ashland Place, the 44-story (approximately 484-foot-tall) glass- and stone-clad building at 66 Rockwell Place, the 37-story (approximately 370-foot-tall) glass- and metal-clad mixed-use building at 80 DeKalb Avenue, the 32-story (approximately 364-foot-tall) mixed-use glass- and metal-clad building at 300 Ashland Place, and the 30-story (approximately 310-foot-tall) mixed-use glass- and concrete-clad building at 230 Ashland Place. The height of Building C would be consistent with the height of the planned development at 9 DeKalb Avenue (located at DeKalb Avenue and Flatbush Avenue Extension), which would rise to a height of approximately 1,071 feet and would be taller than the proposed project. The proposed project’s mix of educational, office, retail, residential, and cultural community facility uses would be in keeping with existing uses found throughout the study areas. The proposed project would include active ground-floor design elements that would enliven the streetscape of the primary study area. These project components would enhance the pedestrian experience at the project site and in the surrounding neighborhood. Overall, the proposed project would provide benefits to neighborhood character by enhancing urban design conditions.
Regarding transportation

The document states:
The proposed project would add incremental vehicle and person trips to the study area, resulting in significant adverse vehicular and pedestrian traffic impacts at several locations. As described in Chapter 19, “Mitigation,” most of the traffic impacts, with the exception of impacts at four intersections, could be fully mitigated with the implementation of standard traffic mitigation measures (e.g., signal timing changes, parking regulation changes, and/or lane restriping).... While there would be increased traffic activity in the future with the proposed actions, the resulting conditions—even if unmitigated—would be similar to those seen in the high activity urban neighborhoods defining the study area and would not result in conditions that would be out of character with the study area or surrounding neighborhoods. Therefore, while certain traffic impacts would not be fully mitigated, this would not result in significant adverse neighborhood character impacts.
Regarding noise

The document states:
The defining features of the neighborhood would not be adversely affected due to potential noise effects of the proposed actions, either singularly, or in combination with potential impacts in other relevant technical areas. As described in Chapter 14, “Noise,” the analysis finds that the proposed actions would not result in any significant adverse noise impacts at nearby noise receptors. As a result, there would be no operational noise-related impacts on neighborhood character.
The press release regarding the Fifth Avenue Committee

Fifth Avenue Committee Partners with Alloy Development to Spearhead Affordable Housing Component of 80 Flatbush Project in Downtown Brooklyn
Project will deliver approximately 200 units of permanently affordable housing, designed to meet the needs of the local community, along with essential on- and off-site resident services
Partnership will establish a Community Advisory Group to advise during project construction and ongoing around the community facility/cultural spaces 
Downtown Brooklyn, NY (March 26, 2018) – Alloy Development today announced that Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC), a Brooklyn-based nonprofit community development corporation, has joined the 80 Flatbush development team to spearhead the project’s affordable housing component. FAC will develop and own the project’s 200 units of permanently affordable housing along with Alloy, and oversee the marketing, leasing, and operation of the affordable housing as well as coordinate and provide essential on- and off-site resident services. With FAC’s guidance, the partnership will work to deliver affordable housing that meets the needs of the local neighborhoods, with a goal of achieving deeper levels of affordability than are required through the New York City’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program. Additionally, Alloy and FAC will work to establish a Community Advisory Group to advise on project impacts and community needs during construction and operation of the community facility/cultural spaces on an on-going basis.

80 Flatbush, which is being developed jointly with the New York City Educational Construction Fund (ECF), is a mixed-use development in Downtown Brooklyn that comprises five buildings, old and new. The project will include nearly 900 apartments (approximately 200 of which will be designated affordable under MIH), 15,000 square feet of cultural space, 200,000 square feet of Class A office space, 40,000 square feet of retail space along with two new state-of-the-art public schools – the new Khalil Gibran International Academy high school and a new public elementary school. The project will be built in two phases, with each providing significant public benefits: the two schools in the first phase, and the affordable housing and cultural facility in the second. 80 Flatbush is located adjacent to Atlantic Terminal, the Brooklyn Cultural District, and Barclays Center on a site bounded by Flatbush Avenue, Schermerhorn Street, 3d Avenue, and State Street.

FAC is one of Brooklyn’s oldest and most well respected affordable housing developers and advocates whose mission is to advance economic and social justice. Founded in 1978, FAC is a nationally-recognized nonprofit community development corporation and NeighborWorks America member that serves over 5,500 low- and moderate-income New Yorkers each year. FAC has built or renovated 900 units of affordable housing to date and currently has 1,200 additional units in development. A wide range of services are provided at FAC’s offices in Brooklyn and at several of their affordable housing developments including job training and placement, benefits access, financial coaching and credit and legal counseling, case management, adult education, community organizing and advocacy.

“80 Flatbush is designed to meet multiple critical community needs for public schools, truly affordable housing and community/cultural space and being a model of publicly accountable, sustainable, transit oriented development. Informed by the people and communities we serve, FAC has long advocated for these things and is honored to be working with Alloy’s dedicated team to advance this worthy project," said Michelle de la Uz, Executive Director of Fifth Avenue Committee. "FAC believes that Alloy’s extensive community outreach and depth of commitment to achieving meaningful public benefit sets a new standard for developers in New York City and truly advances equity and inclusion." 
“The Inclusionary Housing Program was designed to work best in high-rent/high density areas where the market rate housing can effectively cross-subsidize the affordable housing, and the fact that a mission-driven non-profit developer will have oversight of the affordable apartments at 80 Flatbush will help to ensure this essential public benefit," said Ben Dulchin, Executive Director of the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development. "A large project in an area like Downtown Brooklyn can do even better than the standard Inclusionary Housing affordability options by creating more affordable units and at lower rent levels that really meet the needs of the community and the city, and this should be the outcome of the public review process." 
“It’s critical that 80 Flatbush’s affordable housing truly responds to local community needs, and we couldn’t think of a better partner than Fifth Avenue Committee to make that happen,” said Jared Della Valle, Founder and CEO of Alloy. “Michelle and her team have deep experience building and managing affordable housing and providing social services across the borough, with a specific depth of knowledge in this immediate neighborhood. They are a perfect example of the essential role nonprofit housing developers play in creating projects that really make an impact in addressing the city’s affordability crisis.”

FAC and Alloy will work to form a Community Advisory Group, in consultation with Community Board 2,to be facilitated by FAC and Alloy’s Equity Officer, that will weigh in on construction concerns, local hiring, project management, programming for the community facility/cultural space and commercial leasing, among other aspects, throughout project development. FAC has advocated for and established similar advisory groups on other projects and found the ongoing collaboration between the project team and the community resultsin a better/more successful project that simultaneously advances the community’s goals and addresses community concerns.
FAC will also provide and coordinate both on- and off-site resident services such as access to benefits and entitlements; financial, credit and legal counseling; adult education; individual and family supports and job training and placement services for the project’s affordable housing tenants. And FAC will work closely with Alloy’s Equity Officer to further bolster local hiring efforts. 
The Community Advisory Group builds on Alloy’s commitment to community engagement throughout the development of 80 Flatbush. Last month, Alloy announced several significant changes to the project based on feedback provided over the course of more than 100 meetings with community members over the past 19 months. Those modifications include an overhauled design of the planned Phase I tower, a lower-scale street wall along State Street, the elimination of parking, and the removal of a loading dock on State Street – all of which address significant concerns of local stakeholders. Along with the project changes, Alloy also announced a list of project supporters, many of which were cultivated through the course of stakeholder meetings. Those supporters include planning, schools, transit, parks, social service, cultural and business advocates, among others (a full list, along with letters of support, is available at www.80flatbush.com). 
In addition to the new schools, the project, which will be built without any public capital funding, addresses a number of key needs for Downtown Brooklyn, the borough and the city. It will help address the city’s housing crisis by increasing supply of permanently affordable housing at an average of 60% of Area Median Income or lower, including 10% at 40% of Area Median Income and market-rate housing across from Atlantic Terminal, making the project a model for transit-oriented development in New York City.
Upon completion, the footprint of City-owned land will increase by 5,500 square feet compared to today, allowing for the provision of large pieces of school program (e.g., gyms and auditorium). The project is expected to create roughly 3,000 jobs, including 1,500 permanent jobs. As part of those job-creation efforts, Alloy recently partnered with 32BJ SEIU to ensure good paying permanent jobs to the project. The agreement provides that in addition to fair wages, all building maintenance and security staff will receive healthcare, job training and retirement benefits.

Construction of the first phase of the project, which will include the two schools designed by the Architecture Research Office and the redesigned Phase I tower on the site’s eastern edge, is expected to be complete by 2022. The second phase, which will comprise a 74-story residential, office, and retail tower (which will contain the approximately 200 units of permanently affordable housing) along with the rehabilitation of the existing 362 Schermerhorn buildings, is expected to be complete by 2025.

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