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

Is proposed below-ground "recreational" space really a swap for parking? No way.

OK, let's get this straight. Empire State Development, which oversees/shepherds (and promotes) the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park development, considers the proposed "clarification" on recreational use at the project, allowing 96,000 below-ground space for a fitness center and field house, just a simple swap.

In a statement, ESD spokesperson Jack Sterne told Bklyner and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “In recent years, we have decreased the amount of required underground garage space at Pacific Park, and this action will merely clarify that space planned to be a garage for building residents can instead be used for a gym that anyone in the community can join."

That led Bklnyer's Sam Raskin to tweet that "ESD wants to replace some of the parking spaces in Pacific Park with a gym/ field house":
He later on Twitter called it a "gym-in-lieu-of-parking move":
Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon responded that "Parking on block 1129 is being reduced from 1,200 spaces to 1,000 based on lack of demand, not the proposed fieldhouse."

That did not stop some bike advocates from accepting the ESD/Raskin frame, and piling on. Doug Gordon wrote, "This abuse we're seeing now is climate arson and something must be done."

But Simon's right.

Putting aside the evidence that ESD has significantly undercounted traffic for the new facilities, never in the past has below-grade parking been treated as fungible space, exchangeable for other delineated (and approved) uses, such as residential, commercial, or retail.

To increase the latter--and a privately-operated fitness center and field house is a variation on retail, rather than a new category of "recreational"--the guiding Modified General Project Plan (MGPP) would have had to be amended, via a public proposal and vote by the ESD board, at minimum, and possibly a broader public process.

The MGPP limits commercial space to 336,000 square feet and retail space to 247,000 square feet. So the new square footage adds significantly to the retail component, and overall square footage, of the two new towers, B12 and B13. (Here are the maximum square footages per building.)

The history of the parking cut

Nor have amendments to the MGPP addressed such a swap. The original 3,670 spaces were cut in 2014 to 1,200, after first considering a cut to 2,896 spaces. Nor is the currently proposed parking modification, reducing parking from 1,200 spaces to 1,000 spaces, said to encompass the swap for recreational space.

That's because the latest proposed parking cut, rather than a prospective action, would in many ways ratify a previous decision to eliminate parking at the B11 site, the condo building 550 Vanderbilt, and save developer Greenland Forest City Partners (GFCP) significant money.

As I wrote last month, the current proposal (below) indicates 693 parking spaces at the southeast block of the project: 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, and also aims to build the fitness center and field house.


However, the plan approved in June 2014 (below) was supposed to include parking under all four towers at the southeast block, including 550 Vanderbilt, which I annotated with an arrow but does not contain parking. Construction on that tower started in December 2014.
From 2014 Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement; added arrow points to 550 Vanderbilt
In other words, the decision to modify parking on that southeast block was made in 2014, and the new plan seems to relate significantly to that choice, rather than a post-hoc analysis of parking usage.

That said, there is now evidence that the parking at 535 Carlton is underused--and also that the operational complications deter use, slowing retrieval of parked cars, as stated at the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) meeting 8/12/19.

The official explanation

What about the rationale? At the AY CDC meeting, as I wrote, ESD Atlantic Yards Project Director (and AY CDC Executive Director) Tobi Jaiyesimi claimed the new below space “does not result in additional below-grade square footage not considered” in 2006, when the project was approved, given that the subsequent cuts ultimately would remove nearly 500,000 square feet of parking.

However, as AY CDC director (and BrooklynSpeaks organizer) Gib Veconi pointed out, the change shouldn’t be framed as a “clarification” but rather a new use, with new square footage.

The parking requirement, he noted, was established as a mitigation for the expected new population living at or visiting the site. “It's now been found, based on experience, that it's not economically effective, and not necessary," he said. “But you cannot exchange a mitigation for an impact, and claim they’re interchangeable.”

ESD executive Marion Phillips III, who serves as president of the AY CDC, gave a convoluted analysis, with a telling slip.

“Yes, it is a substitution of use,” he said of the new space, “I won’t deny that, but you're reducing the overall footprint of the project... If you want to become very technical and say this is going to increase the commercial component, OK, I will give you—"

Jaiyesimi, next to him, interrupted to say, “recreational,” which, of course, is the current explanation.

Phillips then said, "You're not increasing commercial, you're creating, and providing, recreational."

The creation of a new category of space certainly sounds like a new usage, rather than a clarification.

At a meeting last month, Jaiyesimi said, "The proposed use is more in line with that of the community facility designed for this parcel, which would be a use that would provide recreational services to a residential community."

That was confounding, because the document (right) setting maximum gross square footages already counts retail and community facility use. (Such "community facilities" include a health center and an expected intergenerational center.)

"This modification does not change any of the currently approved square footage," Jaiyesimi said.

"So this is 96,000 square feet of new development rights?" Veconi asked.

"It's not new development rights," Jaiyesimi said, indicating the decrease in space for parking.

"I don't believe any of this has ever been analyzed," Veconi said, referring to the past Final and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statements, from 2006 and 2014. Indeed, parking was never presented as square footage.

What about the Design Guidelines?

Veconi added that the proposed change to the project’s Design Guidelines “relates to a section of the Design Guidelines that does not talk about floor area,” but rather allowable uses at street level.

He's right.

The AY CDC Board Materials noted that a proposed addition to the Design Guidelines involved this text (as in screenshot at right):
Residential Blocks--General Guidelines Section a. ii. Insert "At parcels B12 and B13, 96,000 below grade square footage shall be permitted for the development of an indoor recreational facility with a field house and fitness center. The indoor recreational facility will occupy approximately 9,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, for a total of 105,000 square feet of recreational facility use."
The insert would go in the Design Guidelines, at the end of the excerpt below, regarding Building Uses at the ground floor:


That's no clarification.

What about below-ground use?

Note that gross square footage, as indicated in the chart above, typically includes underground space associated with a building. With city zoning, zoning square footage (or zoning floor area) does not count below-ground square footage.

If this were a city project, and Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park had been approved under those rules, it might have been possible for the developer to simply dig below. In this case, however, it's a state project.

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