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

Before Atlantic Yards CDC meeting, talk of a rubber-stamp; ESD musters lame defense of 100,000 square foot bonus

This afternoon is a meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation will hear a presentation of proposed changes to the Atlantic Yards Modified General Project Plan (MGPP), which the parent Empire State Development (ESD) deemed unworthy of a public review process. Here's a link to coverage of issues raised at last week's precursor Quality of Life meeting, including 100,000 square feet of new, below-ground space, a cut in vehicle parking, and a change/cut in bike parking.

Among the 40 or so people at the meeting, there was significant skepticism about the ESD's haste in moving the proposal forward, the lack of disclosure before the meeting, and the lack of interest in public comment.

"You already have a fait accompli, and you have not already discussed it with the board that represents us as the public," said resident Pauline Blake of the AY CDC. "You're just asking them to rubber-stamp it, without any opportunity for them to come back to us as a community and ask us questions."

AY CDC agenda
Indeed, the AY CDC, which is controlled by representatives of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has pretty much been a rubber-stamp, for example endorsing a change to the project's open space guidelines.

"Is that that true or not true?" followed up resident Robert Puca.

Tobi Jaiyesimi, Atlantic Yards project director for ESD, sort of shrugged.

"The reason I'm hesitating to respond is, explaining the process, and understanding the way ESD handles modifications to its many GPPs, I think rubber-stamping is the wrong term," she said. "There are different skills, and different levels of public review… depending on the materiality of the modification of the GPP."

"Because if you believe this presentation to the AY CDC board is a rubber stamp, I respect and understand that," she said. "But if staff has made the determination that these are minor modifications that do not require additional environmental review, then that's just us following what the agency’s procedures and policies are."

That said, the feedback at the meeting was overwhelmingly negative and most of the AY CDC members--there are supposed to be 14, though there are vacancies--seem quite uninformed, relying on ESD briefing.

Two new members, Gib Veconi and Ethel Tyus, did attend the Quality of Life meeting, and Veconi expressed skepticism about some of the changes. (Veconi's first AY CDC meeting as a member was in March; Tyus hasn't been to a meeting.)

A telling exchange
Sometimes I forget that ESD is supposed to work for the public, rather than simply be a tool of the governor.

If Jaiyesimi had said that adding commercial space was the equivalent to a replacing parking, she would have gotten laughed out of the room. (Remember, parking is typically costly to the developer, while new retail/commercial space is a profit source.)

Consider, parking is described as spaces, not square footage. As of 2014, it was approved under all four towers on the southeast block of the project, B11 through B14.

As I wrote, they chose not to build parking under B11, aka 550 Vanderbilt. Now, in a separate amendment to the General Project Plan, they want to ratify that decision by cutting total project parking from 1200 to 1000 spaces.

What's interesting is they're not cutting (much) parking under B12/B13, but adding more underground space, with the extra 100,000 square feet.

There was never an agreement, or explanation, that some unspecified amount of parking could be swapped for retail/commercial space. That's why it's not a clarification. It's a change.

A bonus for the developer

In fact, the fitness center might be seen as part of "gross square feet," which includes underground (and things like walls), rather than "zoning square feet," which is typically above ground and is part of the exterior building envelope.

The buildings at issue are approved at max 317,185 and 327,215 gross square feet. (The first will get 10,000 more square feet from a swap with B15.) So adding 100,000 square feet is a material change, a more than 15% bonus.

It helps developer TF Cornerstone, which bought development rights for B12 and B13 from master developer Greenland Forest City Partners. Maybe an un-announced part of that deal was for Greenland Forest City to wrangle that extra 100,000 square feet.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle quoted Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon:
The community wouldn’t object to this reason for constructing the sports facility if ESD were forthcoming about it, she said.
“If you would be honest and tell me what it is your problem is, like we need to have revenue here because this new developer can’t build this building without additional revenue. Okay, tell me that. I can understand that,” she said. “I have to assume that’s what’s going on.
“Okay, so then how can we work together to resolve that issue? Maybe I have a good idea about how to do it in a way that works for you and the community.”
It may well be that the fitness center is part of the business case for the building. But until and unless they are far more transparent about finances, I'm not sure Simon's scenario could even be contemplated. And then there would have to be a more rigorous review.