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80 Flatbush: calculating the FAR math, and looking at the context from above

I've been asked how I calculated the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) recommended by Borough President Eric Adams for the proposed 80 Flatbush project.

Remember: while he called for a 39% reduction in height for the taller tower in the two-tower project--from 986 feet, nearly twice as high as the Williamsburgh Savings Bank (with the clock tower), to some 600 feet--he called for a 12% reduction in bulk.

Not that he spelled it out. Here's my math, which Adams's office confirmed, looking at the recommendations on p. 26-27 of his letter (right) to the City Planning Commission:
  • The requested C6-9 zoning (18 FAR) be amended to C6-4 (10 FAR). Total: 10.0 FAR
  • For the school, exempt up to 50,000 square feet from definition of zoning floor area. The site (p. 4) is 61,400 square feet, so 50,000 square feet represents 81.4%, or .81 FAR. Total: 10.81 FAR
  • Modify zoning resolution to enable maximum community facility FAR, adding 1.0 FAR. Total: 11.81 FAR.
  • To advance a subway station improvement, allow a 20% FAR bonus, adding 2.0 FAR. Total: 13.81 FAR.
  • To enable affordable housing, a 20% FAR bonus, adding 2.0 FAR. Total: 15.81 FAR.
Considering the context

80 Flatbush in center;
photo from 333 Schermerhorn
Is an FAR of 15.81 realistic, when rezoned Downtown Brooklyn maxes at an FAR of 12? Well, Council Member Steve Levin in November 2016 compromised on a project called 141 Willoughby, which had a proposed FAR of 18, bringing it down to 15.

Levin has said that location is more clearly Downtown Brooklyn than the 80 Flatbush Avenue site, which borders busy, wide Flatbush but also row-house State Street.

At a recent City Planning Commission hearing, “From the perspective of the folks in Boerum Hill,” City Planning Commissioner Anna Hayes Levin asked, “how can we feel right about the planning decision that locates such scale so close to them?”

“I think the overriding principle is the location on Flatbush Avenue,” responded Regina Myer of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, a "business advocacy group" (as she's put it), emphasizing the Downtown Brooklyn edge of the site and noting the new high-rise construction along that artery, including mixed-use projects like 300 Ashland. “This is really our last location to develop at that scale.”

What she didn't say, as the photos show, is that the other side of the site--which is formally in a Special Downtown Brooklyn District, designated as a transitional zoning--backs into a row-house block, and that the tallest building to the southwest is the 14-story YWCA building.

So expect some more discussion about that balance, since the transition--for both 80 Flatbush and the proposed project at Site 5--is pretty dramatic. The 80 Flatbush site would include two towers with office and residential space (some 20-25% affordable), a schools building with a replacement high school, and cultural space in refurbished historic buildings.

More overhead views

80 Flatbush site in center; photo from 333 Schermerhorn

80 Flatbush in center; Site 5 in background; photo from 333 Schermerhorn