Project timetable remains murky; most if not all buildings will have affordable units; interim open space unlikely; LIRR work slips through the cracks of the EIS
Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park is way behind schedule, as I wrote yesterday. Everybody knows that. What they don't know is the expected timetable, and at the bi-monthly Quality of Life meeting Tuesday 5/8/18, the answers from the state and the developer stayed vague.
"Is there an update on whether you are actually going to build the remaining structures?" asked local property owner Jimmy Greenfield. "Are you looking for other developers? Are you looking to walk away from the project?"
"There are no conversations about bringing on other developers," responded Tobi Jaiyesimi, the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project manager for Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing/shepherding the project, and also the executive director of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, set up to advise the ESD.
The developer has built 782 units of affordable housing, with 1,468 more required by the May 2025 deadline for the 2,250 affordable units. The configuration and level of affordability remains unclear. Greenfield suggested that the required affordable housing might be moved to one or two lots.
"There have been no shifts or changes to project documents," said Jaiyesimi, noting the 2025 deadline.
"It is in the public interest that project be completed and deliver its public goods," said resident Gib Veconi. "Can you give us a sense of the strategy… I think at this point, we’re looking at eleven buildings in seven years."
I'd say that seven-year period is only if they intend to finish the entire project with affordable housing in each building, which isn't guaranteed, and/or if they don't get an extension. After all, a former project executive recently estimated that the project would take at least ten more years.
Scott Solish, the project manager for Greenland USA, which will soon own 95% of Greenland Forest City Partners going forward, noted that they'd previously announced pre-development work on the B4 project, at the northeast corner of the arena block, and hope to break ground in late winter or early spring of 2019. According to tentative plans circulated in 2014, that tower would contain 551 rental units, half of them affordable, plus 213 condos.
|This map is based on 2014 plans, which are being revised|
"And then subsequently we’ll be coming back to with plans for the land sites"--sites on terra firm, including B12, B13, and 15--"and a schedule for those," he said. Those are the easiest sites to build on, because no precursor deck is required for permanent construction.
"We’re going to complete the permanent [rail] yard this year," Solish said. "We’re in active design of the platform work, that enables us to build the buildings on top of the platform."
"We’ll be coming back shortly with more information about B4," he said, "and an updated development schedule."
He noted that, given changes in the law regarding the 421-a tax break, "the old Pacific Park 421-a law has gone away," so they can no longer plan, as in 2014, fully market-rate and fully affordable buildings. "So most if not all the buildings will include affordable units, which is part of the ongoing ability to meet all of our obligations to the state and for the project," he said.
In other words, market-rate buildings could get the tax break if the entire project, as a whole, met an affordability threshold, but now the law requires on-site affordability. (Except, um, when a "zoning lot" is grandfathered in, as with linking the 100% affordable 535 Carlton and the condo building 550 Vanderbilt.)
Note that the original plan for Atlantic Yards was to have 11 residential buildings, all 50/30/20 buildings, with 20% low-income units and 30% moderate- and middle-income ones. Then the planned office space--four towers around the arena--was to become condos. Then the project plan got more mixed.
Veconi noted that, in 2014, the developer published an estimated timetable for each building, and asked if a similar type of overall timetable was forthcoming.
Solish didn't quite answer. He repeated that they had publicly discussed B4, and would return to discuss finishing the railyard and the buildings on terra firm.
Resident Peter Krashes noted that, Barika Williams, an affordable housing advocate on the AY CDC, had raised concerns about clustering the affordable housing. "So what is your goal in terms of distribution of affordable housing per building? Are you trying to have the affordable housing distributed throughout the project, evenly distributed through each building?"
"Without making a grand pronouncement about every single building... the goal is to build a great community for all New Yorkers," said Solish, noting that the project already includes a variety of buildings. "Our intention is B4 will be a mixed-income building. So it's a really time and place--a timed decision. The goal is to build a great project that going to serve all New Yorkers and to meet the project obligations. I'm not going to say that B5 is going to be 100% affordable, or it's going to be 75/25, or 50/30/20. I think the goal is to make the best project possible."
Is 2025 the deadline?
"I know the affordable housing has a 2025 deadline," I asked, setting up a bit of a loaded question. "Are you guys aiming to finish the entire project by 2025?"
"Yeah," said Solish, offhandedly, without great conviction or clear uncertainty. After all, they haven't publicly said that before, and the market shows no signs of cooperating.
Righteous anger and interim open space
Resident Jim Vogel got up and read a statement about how ESD had been guilty of "hit-and-run planning" and "blighting a neighborhood," with the failure to provide promised benefits like a school and a park (technically, the eight acres of promised open space).
"The state should exercise its right to reclaim the project in a timely manner," he said, though project documentation to not allow that as of now. "An interim park must be immediately established by the state."
Veconi noted that, according to project agreements (and as previously discussed), the developer this month must advise ESD if there are lots that are not going to be developed in the next year, so they can be potentially deployed as temporary open space.
"I would like to understand if ESDC has received that kind of communication from the developer," he said.
"We have been in communication with developer over past year about lots that could be used for temporary open space," said Jaiyesimi, though she went on to douse cold water on the idea.
The B15 site, east of Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets, she said, "is tied up with site access agreements with a neighbor." Well, that has delayed digging for foundations for the planned building, but presumably open space could be created with a buffer between neighbors.
On the southeast block of the site, she said, the B13 site contains construction logistics trailers and the B12 site "is currently being used for construction staging" for Long Island Rail Road work.
The Memorandum of Environmental Commitments (MEC) leaves an out:
In the event FCRC does not expect to commence construction of a particular portion of the Project site or to use such portion of the Project site for interim parking facilities or construction-related activities, including staging, in each case for a period of time to be set forth in the Project Documentation, then such portion of the project site shall be used as publicly accessible temporary open space, subject to safety and security requirements.One resident said there were three trailers at B13, but Ashley Cotton, representing the joint venture, said it was more like six.
LIRR work slips through the cracks
Krashes asked for a time frame for that LIRR staging. He noted that, once the fence was lowered, there's no noise mitigation at the B12 site, and late night work has been disruptive.
He noted that Cotton, at the most recent AY CDC meeting, said the LIRR need not comply with the Memorandum of Environmental Commitments but was being asked to be a good neighbor.
"From my point of view," he said, because ESD was letting the LIRR used those sites, "isn’t it your responsibility to address it?"
Jaiyesimi noted that Cotton had said the LIRR is not subject to the MEC. "The conversations we’re having with them, they’re cognizant they’re doing work in a residential community." She said the LIRR was open to changing the angle of floodlights that might impact neighbors. "
"You’re saying the MEC only relates to the contractors of the developer," Krashes said. "But the MEC is the product of the environmental analysis and is your guarantee to the community that we’re not to be impacted."
"There was no asterisk in the EIS [environmental impact statement] that this applies only to developer’s contractor," he said. "It applies to the project." He said the state was not requiring a fence or blanketing of equipment. "I’m asking you to explain how the notion of mitigating noise impacts fits in here."
"Peter, I understand deeply the concerns and questions that you’re raising," Jaiyesimi said. "I’m not trying to put you off… we’re trying to figure out how it is that we’re minimizing impacts. You’re right there isn’t an asterisk. But the LIRR is not subject to the MEC. The MEC is a document for the project developer. So we’re working on it."
Veconi noted that the project will probably undergo another revision of the guiding document, the Modified General Project Plan (and, I'd add, another environmental impact statement). "I suggest you deal with it, because that’s an omission."
Cotton said that a switch connection for the railyard required 100 LIRR staff on site for 55 straight hours over a weekend. "We appreciate people’s patience."
Now they can move on to activating the West Portal, a passageway from the railyard to Atlantic Terminal, which is "imminent." Then comes three months of work on the East Portal, a tunnel at Vanderbilt Avenue.
Atlantic Avenue at Vanderbilt will be narrowed to two lanes from three. The Atlantic Avenue sidewalk on the south side will be closed from Clermont Avenue to Vanderbilt, and the Vanderbilt Avenue sidewalk will be closed form Pacific Street to Atlantic Avenue. "The full impact is about three months," she said.