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

Before ESD meeting, board materials obfuscate stance of Atlantic Yards advisory group, which did not endorse new below-ground use for fitness center/field house

They're not coming clean.

Board Materials for today's meeting of Empire State Development (ESD), which oversees and shepherds Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, obscure the stance of the advisory Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), which refused to endorse (or oppose) a proposed "clarification" to allow below-ground space to be used for a fitness center and field house, defined as recreational use.

That's neither commercial nor retail space, already for the project at specific limits, but rather a new category, though ESD--the governor's economic development entity--misleadingly pitches it as an exchange for parking.

Obscuring the non-recommendation

August 2015 Board Materials: AY CDC "voted to recommend"
Unlike August 2015 Board Materials, when ESD board members were told (right) that AY CDC directors voted to recommend approval of proposed modifications in Open Space Design Guidelines, today Board Materials (below) state merely that AY CDC directors "considered and voted on" proposed modifications to the Modified General Project Plan and Design Guidelines at two meetings.
August 2019 Board Materials: AY CDC "considered and voted"
That omits the results of the votes: support for six of seven proposed changes, but a deadlock on the new below-ground space.

A path to approval

The AY CDC board has typically been a rubber stamp for proposals pushed by the project developer and the parent ESD, but in this case was not.

The ESD board, controlled by the governor, need not follow the AY CDC non-recommendation, of course, and I wouldn't expect that deadlock to cause the board to pause. That said, I wouldn't have expected the public servants at ESD to mislead their parent board that blatantly.

Let's see if that deadlock will described during today's meeting, which begins at 9:30 am and will be webcast. The Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park changes are well down the agenda (page 5 of 6), but we don't know how fast they'll go through the previous items.

What the board was told

On p. 283 of the Board Materials:
Clarification on Indoor Recreational Facility Use on Residential Blocks
This modification amends the description of permitted uses in the Design Guidelines to allow for the development of a 105,000 square feet indoor recreational facility. With this amendment approximately 96,000 below grade square footage, can be leased for the operation of a physical culture establishment at parcels B12 and B13. Ground floor retail and below grade parking was always contemplated at these parcels, this modification specifically allows for a recreational facility below grade. The recreational facility will have a field house (60,000 square feet) and a fitness center (45,000 square feet). The lobbies and reception areas for the facility will occupy 9,000 square feet of ground-floor space.
This description obscures that the removal of parking was never proposed as as allowing new square footage, and that ESD has created a new use, "recreational," which was never previously approved, though it's essentially a variant of retail, which is already limited.

On p. 285 of the Board Materials:
In order to adequately assess whether any new or different potential significant adverse environmental impacts could result from the modifications proposed in these materials, ESD has had prepared a Technical Memorandum (the “Tech Memo”). The Tech Memo concludes that the proposed modifications would not result in any significant adverse environmental impacts not previously identified in the Project’s environmental review. Therefore, a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is not needed and no further environmental review is required in connection with these requested modifications to the GPP.
This makes no mention of the questions raised regarding the calculations in the Tech Memo, which fueled skepticism among some members of the AY CDC.

The August 2015 vote: obfuscation of a sort

As I reported in September 2015, at the ESD meeting the previous month, there was a lesser form of obfuscation.

AY CDC Executive Director Tobi Jaiyesimi, who also serves as ESD's Atlantic Yards Project Manager, described the proposed changes in Open Space Design Guidelines and noted that, after receiving public comment, the AY CDC board voted to recommend adoption of the guidelines.

Asked Derrick Cephas, who was chairing the meeting, "Can you kind of describe generally the level of public involvement, community involvement in the process that we went through to come up with these changes?"

"Sure," responded Jaiyesimi. "So there was a Community Update meeting [now called Quality of Life] held on June 24, 2015, when the developer made this presentation to members of the public. Comment and input was taken. I guess—if I should back up, the design guidelines, which kind of dictate and guide how the developer came to the plan that we’re discussing now, came with the idea of allowing more open interaction with the space that can be enjoyable to the community."

"So on June 24, there was a community meeting that was held," she continued. "Members of the public were allowed to review the materials, allowed to give input and ask questions. And then the developer took that and made the necessary considerations, in their presentation to the AY CDC, which then recommended to ESD directors to approve the proposed modifications."

Questions of public input

"So it was a collaborative, back and forth--?" asked Cephas.

"I wouldn’t say collaborative, in terms of putting together the actual design, but there was an opportunity for the public to comment and give input into the presentation that was given," Jaiyesimi responded. The measure passed with no further board discussion.

The ESD board could have been left with the impression that the need to amend the Open Space Design Guidelines was made clear at the Community Update meeting, where public input was invited. That issue was not raised until the subsequent AY CDC meeting.

So there was no community involvement in the process to develop changes in the Design Guidelines. There was community comment on the new designs, but not the measure before the AY CDC and later the ESD board.

In this case, the impact was likely not significant. As I wrote, "But what happens if and when more controversial changes emerge?"

Now we know.

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