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

What's next for Atlantic Yards? Several changes, including (likely) larger buildings, design modifications, less parking for cars/bikes, smaller open space walkway

Here's a link to coverage of issues raised at the meeting, including 100,000 square feet of new, below-ground space, a cut in vehicle parking, and a change/cut in bike parking.

What's next for Atlantic Yards? Those of us making presentations at a recent public meeting didn't have solid predictions, only the inkling that something was happening. After all, as I said, it's a never-say-never project--and the devil's in the details.

Yesterday, a message of Empire State Development (ESD), which oversees/shepherds the project, hinted at some significant changes--and some smaller ones.

My best guess, as described below, is a significant boost in square footage to at least one building, thus facilitating more units and thus more affordable housing. (Update: It might be a change in square footage of usable space, though not the actual building.)

(Still, there's no announced plan to meet the May 2025 deadline for affordable housing, though surely strategies have been set, according to documents I've acquired.)

And, interestingly enough, a previous significant cut in proposed parking--from 3,670 spaces to 1,200 spaces--will apparently be followed by an additional cut, of unknown scope.

It's not a shock that the project might change over time. Some changes might be routine, or reasonable. But the manner in which they're being presented--especially with short notice during summer--does not bolster trust.

Vague reminder, vague agenda

We don't know whether the changes are technical or substantial because the reminder for the July 16 Quality of Life Meeting--6 pm at 55 Hanson Place in Fort Greene--was quite vague, as was the agenda. The reminder for the bimonthly meeting stated:
At this meeting ESD staff will discuss amendments to the Modified General Project Plan (MGPP) to be brought before the Atlantic Yards Community Development [Corporation] Board of Directors for recommendation, and then presented to the Empire State Development Board of Directors for approval. A list of the proposed changes is provided in the attached agenda.
That sounds like the fix is in. In the past couple of years, changes have been brought to gubernatorially-controlled AY CDC, which is supposed to advise on the project but is mostly a rubber-stamp, and with that body's blessing the ESD board can then approve the changes. (No AY CDC meeting has yet been scheduled.)

But what are the changes? The list is vague, and in no explicable order:
  • B5 Design Guidelines Drawings Modification
  • Clarification on Commercial Use on Residential Blocks
  • Project Parking Requirement Reduction (Block 1129)
  • Arena Block Bicycle Parking Reduction
  • Change to Square Footage at Parcels B12 and B15
  • Reduction of the Open Space North-South Walkway Width
  • Ventilation Structures in Open Space
  • Change to Distinctive Architectural Design Element Requirement for B9, B12, and B13
Let me address them in what I speculate might be in the order of importance. (I'm sure my ranking is at best imprecise, at worst way off.)

Note: I'm not clear on the threshold between amendments to the MGPP, which can simply be voted on by the ESD board, or changes that require a new MGPP, and thus a more involved process, including public hearings. A planned--but not yet advanced--large new project at Site 5, now home to Modell's and P.C. Richard, would require a new MGPP.

Change to Square Footage at Parcels B12 and B15

This, I suspect, is the big one, with larger buildings on plots in the southern part of the site: B12 is on the southeast block, between Dean and Pacific streets next to 550 Vanderbilt, and B15 is just opposite the arena block, between Dean and Pacific streets, and will contain a school.

As I wrote 6/21/19, the announced boost in unit count for the B12 and B13 sites, from a previous 542 apartments to an announced 800 apartments, could not be simply explained by a switch from larger condominiums to smaller rental units. It had to mean smaller units in general--more studios?--and/or more bulk.

The numbers just didn't work. In fact, I'm surprised that B13 is not included in this plan to increase bulk. Maybe they'll try again another time. The towers, which will be built by TF Cornerstone (which leased the sites from Greenland Forest City Partners), are not expected to start until next year.

B12, once introduced as 615 Dean Street, is supposed to have a maximum of 317,185 gross square feet, as noted in the document here.

March 2019 presentation
B15, once introduced as 664 Pacific Street, is supposed to have a maximum of 341,910 square feet. As of 2014, it was supposed to contain 336 rental units, but, in a presentation to the AY CDC this past March (above), it was said to contain 312 units.

Could it be that B15 will shrink, and some of that square footage would move down the block? Maybe.

Or might the unit count now increase, with square footage added? I'd lean toward that, though I wouldn't bet a lot. After all, it would be in the interest of The Brodsky Organization, which leased the site from Greenland Forest City Partners, to gain more square footage.

Remember, Greenland Forest City has a lot of unused bulk from B1, aka "Miss Brooklyn," planned but never built for the site that is now the arena plaza. They intend to transfer much but not all of that square footage to create the giant two-tower project at Site 5. That process has not yet moved ahead.

But no developer wants to discard developable square footage. So it's reasonable to think that some of that B1 square footage might go to other buildings, both in the short term and the longer term. (Don't forget about B13, or other buildings planned over the railyard.)

Update: We should also consider the possibility that a "Change to Square Footage at Parcels B12 and B15" might mean a change in square footage of the parcels at ground level but not the buildings themselves. Combined with less parking, that might allow more space for apartments.

Project Parking Requirement Reduction (Block 1129)

A June 2014 Amendment to the 2009 Modified General Project Plan (MGPP) already cut parking, as noted in the screenshot at right, from "approximately 3,670 below-grade parking spaces" to "approximately 1,200 below-grade parking spaces.

That was a pretty significant cut. It actually was the alternate version of a plan floated that year to cut parking, initially to 2,896 spaces.

As I wrote, that's likely welcome news to the sensible, progressive sorts who embrace the livable streets movement, but there's a huge caveat: the continued, and aggressive, competition with arena-goers for free, on-street parking, at least without residential permit parking (which is still not being considered).

With parking cut to 1,200 spaces, there were to be spaces under all four towers on
the SE block. Now, there will be fewer spaces, with the distribution unclear.
It also ignores the spotty enforcement of illegal parking and idling by black cars and limos on residential streets.

So now there would be an additional cut: 10 spaces? 100? more? It would certainly save the developer money. 

I'd add that the new-look Brooklyn Nets are likely to attract much larger crowds, with Kyrie Irving and later Kevin Durant. And while Nets fans tend to take public transit more than to those going to family shows or to some concerts, larger crowds offer less margin for error.

Moreover, parking was already cut from B15, aka 664 Pacific, which will have a school. Surely many teachers and administrators will want to drive to work. Their parking options have already declined, and they will be competing with cops and firefighters from the nearby precinct and station.

Reduction of the Open Space North-South Walkway Width

This could be a small change to the project's open space, where the walkways at issue are supposed to be 16 feet wide, or something more significant. (Also see more on this issue here.)

Note that the Walkways are within what are called Walkway zones.  According to p. 42 of the project Design Guidelines (bottom), "The width of the Major North-South Walkway zones as shown in Figure 2.1 shall be unobstructed by any building or other structure not part of the open space for a minimum width of sixty feet throughout."

But those are Walkway zones, as outlined in blue in screenshot below, from the Design Guidelines. The Walkways would be narrower--and, apparently, even more narrow.

As of now, "Each Major North-South Walkway shall include a clear unobstructed pedestrian walkway with a minimum width of 16 feet, which path can split into two or more pathways at any point along its length provided that the resulting pathways each provide a clear unobstructed width of not less that 12 feet."

So, will those 16-foot widths be reduced slightly, or significantly? And what might this have to do with the enlargement of at least one building? 

Clarification on Commercial Use on Residential Blocks

According to p. 9 of the project Design Guidelines, "Commercial, community facility uses, and residential uses, including accessory uses, shall be permitted on the ground floor beyond a depth of 30 feet from the Atlantic Avenue street wall and 20 feet from the Vanderbilt Avenue street wall and shall be permitted anywhere on the ground floor of the buildings fronting on Dean Street."

OK, does that mean that the distances might change? Or, perhaps, might the "clarification" involve the definition of a "bank, loan office, business or professional office," which is not allowed to occupy more than 50 feet of linear street frontage. Who knows, really?

Arena Block Bicycle Parking Reduction

Hey, remember when, as part of transportation demand management, a "bicycle station with secure indoor parking for 400 bicycles would also be provided on the arena block," as stated in the Final Environmental Impact Statement and later in the Second Amendment of Environmental Commitments?

That never happened--instead, there was only a fractional effort, with a temporary outdoor bike parking lot on the B3 site (now a building has risen, but without bike parking, as once promised) and a couple of high-profile episodes in which valeted bike parking was offered.

Perhaps the low demand--who bikes to evening events in winter?--lowers the rationale for bike parking. (Other transportation demand management efforts, like shuttle buses to remote parking, were abandoned after a season, given low uptake.) But it's not like they gave it a chance. It will be interesting to see how significant the cut will be.

Today, the Barclays Center, in advice on "Getting Here," says nothing about bike parking. (That said, there's apparently a plan for bike parking nearby at Atlantic Terminal Mall, from Oonee Pod, though I'm not sure it's launched.)

That Final EIS elaborated on the plan:
With development of Phase I of the proposed project, a bicycle station would be provided on the arena block in ground floor space along the 6th Avenue corridor. This bicycle station would be a secured, staffed facility providing storage for 400 bicycles. At this location, it would be conveniently situated next to the arena and easily accessible from the bicycle lanes on Dean and Bergen Streets. As currently contemplated, this facility would occupy approximately 4,000 square feet of space including 3,000 square feet of storage space for bicycles and 300 square feet for amenities such as lockers, restrooms and a security desk. In addition, an approximately 700-square-foot bicycle repair and accessory retail shop would be incorporated into the facility to provide services to both users of the bicycle station and the surrounding community 
...With development of Phase I of the proposed project by 2010, the project’s commercial components would be fully built-out and would likely generate some new commuter trips by bicycle, primarily during the weekday 8-9 AM and 5-6 PM peak periods. The project’s residential components (most of which would not be implemented until Phase II of the proposed project in 2016) would likely generate some new commuter trips by bicycle in the weekday peak commuter periods, as well as recreational and discretionary trips during other weekday periods and on weekends. Events at the arena would also likely generate some new bicycle trips, especially for afternoon events on weekends during warm weather months. However, an event such as a Nets basketball game on a weekday evening would likely generate fewer numbers of new bicycle trips as it would typically end after dark (between 10 PM and 11 PM). It should also be noted that the basketball season begins in November and continues through the winter months when inclement weather would make the bicycle mode a less attractive travel option. 
B5 Design Guidelines Drawings Modification

B5, to be built east of Sixth Avenue between Pacific Street and Atlantic Avenue, would be a very big deal: the first tower to be built over the (future) platform, which is a significant infrastructure investment.

It is under design, Greenland USA's Scott Solish has said. Documents I acquired suggested it would start in 2021.

But what would the modifications be? Below is the design envelope, which shows relatively modest setbacks. Could they be made even more modest, as was done with B4? (That was another fait accompli, delivered by the ESD board in 2013.)

For example, the Design Guidelines say the building will have "a setback with a minimum depth of 50 feet along Atlantic Avenue; and (ii) a horizontal architectural break along 6th Avenue at a height between the minimum and maximum building base height."

The building shoulder shall have a side setback in the eastern side wall of the Atlantic Avenue frontage with a minimum depth of 15 feet, plus a "a horizontal architectural break along 6th Avenue at a height no higher than the maximum building shoulder height."

Change to Distinctive Architectural Design Element Requirement for B9, B12, and B13

Apparently B12 and B13, which are supposed to start next year, are to share an "architectural vocabulary" with B9, the large tower opposite them across Pacific Street.

Perhaps the new architect(s) working on B12 or B13 no longer approve of that element or, perhaps, the increased scale of B12 changes the equation.

Each of the buildings, according to the Design Guidelines, was to "incorporate a visually distinctive architectural element in the rear fa├žade of the Building," not less than 40 feet wide, and no less than 80% of the building's overall height.

"Such element may include without limitation curvilinear, fragmented or multiplanar forms"--a rather broad ambit.

Does this mean they're actively planning B9, which would be one of the last three towers built? I doubt it, but changes in B12/B13 regarding the design element also affect B9.

Ventilation Structures in Open Space

Is this a big deal, or not? (See more on this issue here.)

Where were the ventilation structures supposed to be before then? I guess we'll learn more.