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

Parking cut from 1,200 spaces to 1,000 provokes skepticism; move would ratify 2014 decision to exclude parking from tower then slated to have it

The is the second of multiple articles about the 7/16/19 Quality of Life meeting, which focused on proposed modifications to the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Modified General Project Plan (MGPP), none of which were said to trigger further official review. The first article concerned plans for a 100,000 square-foot below-grade fitness facility. The third concerned a cut in bike parking. The fourth concerned modifications to the B5 tower design. The fifth concerned a cut in the North-South walkway width. The sixth concerned planned ventilation structures. The seventh concerned a swap in square footage and a change in the design guidelines. The eighth concerned updates on infrastructure work and the fate of Site 5.

Another proposed change, described as "Project Parking Requirement Reduction (Block 1129)" would reduce the overall number of parking spaces in the project to 1,000, from 1,200. (There were once slated to be 3,670 spaces, but the total was cut in 2014 to 1,200, after first considering 2,896 spaces.)

The justification: existing parking at the project, and at new developments around Downtown Brooklyn, is underutilized.

But several people at the meeting reacted with skepticism, suggesting that parking supply was needed for those who have cars, to accommodate arenagoers, who often circle the streets looking for free parking, and to anticipate congestion pricing, which should increase parking demand near Downtown Brooklyn. (There's significant lack of enforcement of illegal parking, as well as much use of placards by police officers and firefighters.)

Only my post-meeting look at past promises, however, revealed another rationale: the parking cut would ratify a previous decision that saved project developer Greenland Forest City Partners (GFCP) significant money.

Parking distribution

The meeting presentation (bottom) contained a slide (below) indicating that, besides 67 parking spaces at B3 (38 Sixth), flanking the arena, and 240 planned for Site 5, site of a future two-tower project, there would be 693 parking spaces at the southeast block of the project.

Those include 303 existing spots at B14 (535 Carlton), plus 390 additional spots underneath towers B12 and B13, slated to be built next year by TF Cornerstone, which has bought development rights from GFCP.


Revealing a savings decision already made

A comparison between the proposed plan and the 2014 plan (below) is revealing.

The plan approved in June 2014 was supposed to include parking under all four towers at the southeast block. By contrast, the pending plan excludes parking at the B11 condo building (550 Vanderbilt), which began construction in December 2014.
From 2014 Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement; added arrow points to 550 Vanderbilt
In other words, the decision to build less parking on that southeast block was made in 2014, and the new plan seems to have been triggered significantly by that choice, rather than a post-hoc analysis of parking usage. Needless to say, there was no mention of the 2014 parking map at the Quality of Life Meeting. Nor was a decision to exclude parking mentioned when 550 Vanderbilt was under way.

So this change, part of a package to go before the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation July 22 and then soon to the Empire State Development (ESD) board of directors, seems aimed to ratify that previous decision.

Not building parking saves money. As I wrote in November 2015, original developer Forest City Enterprises at the time had estimated $99.6 million for 950 parking spaces, or $104,842 per space, an astoundingly high cost. In 2013, a Department of City Planning study said median parking structure costs in New York City were $21,000 per space but could reach $50,000 per space.

If parking costs $100,000 per space; excluding 200 spaces saves $20 million. If parking costs $50,000 per space, that saves $10 million. At $25,000 per space, that's still $5 million saved--a nontrivial amount.

Why the cut?

Tobi Jaiyesimi, Atlantic Yards Project Manager for ESD, which oversees and shepherds the project, explained the cut by saying a new "analysis was done."

This updates the 2014 analysis. As noted in the 2014 Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), a 2012 zoning text amendment to the nearby Special Downtown Brooklyn District reduced parking requirements, from 0.4 spaces per market-rate dwelling unit to 0.2 spaces, with no parking required for affordable housing units.

"Now we're looking at .16" spaces per market-rate dwelling, Jaiyesimi said. That number has not been promulgated as a city standard, she acknowledged, but was chosen as a reflection of lower-than-expected parking use by arena attendees and residents in the project, as well as in other new developments.

There are 4,180 market-rate units approved in the project. At .16 spaces per unit, translates to 669 spaces, leaving 331 spaces for the arena and other uses. (Other paid parking lots in the area appeal to arenagoers.)

Jaiyesimi's explanation provoked skepticism from those familiar with the large number of drivers seeking free parking, as well as ESD's unwillingness to push for a crackdown on illegal parking and standing. 

"Steve Ettlinger and I talk regularly about parking," Jaiyesimi said, referring to a Park Slope resident, not present at the meeting, who often catalogs illegal parking. (He has tried, unsuccessfully, to get Barclays Center officials to join him and for ESD to do more.)

More arenagoers might be pushed to paid parking only if the area around the Barclays Center saw residential parking permits imposed, a neighborhood goal that has been resisted by city and state officials but could be imposed someday.

Allocating the spaces

According to the 2014 plan, as described in the Final SEIS, the 1200 spaces would include:
  • 876 spaces of accessory parking for demand from the residential, commercial, retail, hotel and public school uses
  • 300 spaces to accommodate a portion of arena demand
  • 24 spaces allocated to the NYPD’s 78th Precinct station house
Now, if there are 200 fewer spaces, coming mainly from the non-arena portion, that also impacts the allotment of parking to the school personnel who may be driving in early.

Behind the policy

Where does the .16 multiplier come from, I asked at the meeting.

"It's just the the way the parking requirement is being analyzed," Jaiyesimi said.

Amir Stein of TF Cornerstone elaborated, saying that a consultant discovered a "significantly lower utilization rate with various buildings," below .2 and even .16. 

"What what was interesting," he said, "what they found was that the oversupply of parking attracted people to come to these parking garages in the morning, on weekdays, and then leave in the evening."

That suggests "this oversupply of parking is attracting folks from outside the neighborhood," he said.

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon disagreed, noting that the area is "right next door to third-largest business district in our city.... If they’re driving, and I want to discourage driving, I don't want them circling the streets and parking illegally. I want them paying to park someplace off street."

She said the supply of parking in Downtown Brooklyn has diminished.

Another resident said that advent of congestion pricing for vehicles traveling to Manhattan would further induce drivers from deeper in Brooklyn to park in the area and take the subway.

Another resident, who said she parked at 535 Carlton, said it was "so busy" and "is jammed all day, and all night... you really need more parking spaces, not less."

As I've written, the availability of public transportation does argue for less parking at developments like Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, but a major asterisk is the arena.

What next?

That disagreement about policy might, in an alternate universe, trigger a full review of proposed changes, rather than a fast-track to approval by ESD. Simon called the parking reduction a significant change. The advent of congestion pricing surely is a new condition, not studied during the 2014 environmental review.

Instead, to cover the ESD's decision, we likely will see a technical memorandum justifying this and other changes. One thing to look for: will it acknowledge the 2014 decision not to build parking at B11?


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