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

Revisiting the 2006 Response to Comments: project concept, evolution, and process to evaluate changes (yes, it was wise to propose more oversight)

Over several posts, I'll revisit various Response to Comments documents in separate environmental review or project approval processes, pointing out, with the asset of hindsight, unwise or unfounded assessments by either commenters or the Empire State Development Corporation (now called Empire State Development), the state authority overseeing and shepherding the project.

These comments are from the first round of project approvals, in the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement, bottom. Emphases are added.

An "organic" development process?
If the land were developed in a more organic way, meaning individual developers bid on parcels and build when the market supports it, it would happen in a more natural and tolerable way. Through public subsidies and single source development, an artificial economic environment is being created, which contradicts reason and economic sense. (119, Society For Clinton Hill)
MTA should platform over the rail yard, subdivide it into many lots, and sell them off to the highest bidder. That would allow small developers or individual investors to buy single lots while larger developers could buy up multiple lots if they so chose. (415, Bryce Taylor)
The response:
The overarching goal of the proposed project is to transform a blighted area into a vibrant mixed-use community. Notwithstanding City policies to encourage redevelopment in this area for the past twenty years, the project site remains underutilized. As indicated in Chapter 3, “Land Use, Zoning and Public Policy,” the lack of development on the project site is due in part to infrastructure costs associated with platforming over the rail yard. The presence of a single developer willing to locate a mixed-use development on the project site presents an opportunity to develop this long underutilized site.
My comment: ESD wasn't wrong in saying lack of development was due in part to infrastructure costs associated with platforming the railyard. Then again, neither the city nor the state had tried to market development rights over the railyard, as I wrote in 2006.

And, as it turned out, the single developer was not willing to locate a mixed-use development on the project site that it had outlined. Forest City Ratner ran out of money and corporate patience. Now Greenland USA is in charge, but has recently involved other developers to raise funds and share costs. Who knows what development teams may materialize in the future.

A mechanism to help manage the project
There is concern about how the proposed “Design Guidelines” will be implemented, and, as we believe is likely, modified over the life-cycle of the project. It might be less important to set down in stone how the project should be built—particularly in Phase II—than it is to ensure a mechanism to guarantee good design occurs on the site. A subsidiary of ESDC should be created to manage the project going forward. The subsidiary could:
• Include local representation;
• Supervise any redesign of the project based on public input, notably Phase II of the project on which construction will not begin until 2010 at the earliest;
• Supervise the implementation of the design guidelines through both design and construction, as the Battery Park City Authority has done with notable success at Battery Park City;
• Act as an interface between the developer and the public during the decade long construction period; and
• Ensure that public benefits promised by the project, including publicly accessible open space, affordable housing, and other benefits, are delivered. (87, Municipal Art Society)
The response:
Comment noted.
My comment: Maybe, in retrospect, that comment should have been taken more seriously. The Municipal Art Society's proposal for an oversight entity ultimately was modified and neutered into the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), which was established in 2014 and first met in 2015, well after the project was under way, but still in the earlier stages of construction.

The AY CDC has mostly been a rubber-stamp but just recently expressed significant qualms--albeit with no practical impact--about proposed new underground space.

And the issue is not merely design, but rather the modification of the project, but also--as the comment points out--the delivery of public benefits.

How to negotiate project changes
There should be a public process for the development of the eastern end/second phase of this project. In the rush to create a signature arena building, the planning and construction of this end of the project could end up leaving us with nothing more than a terrible wasteland. (37, Boerum Hill Association; 572, John Weidenbusch)
It is extremely doubtful that both the architecture and open space will ever be implemented without substantial revisions. Many unforeseen events could make the current plan unworkable. The GPP [General Project Plan] currently fails to provide sufficient guarantees to the public that the project will live up to its promises. (111, Regional Plan Association)
The option of putting in a huge surface parking lot on the eastern end of the project site is something that should have its own EIS. This parking lot could last for decades and would no doubt become a magnet for drivers from all over the larger area to come and park there and use local public transportation which is already stressed beyond its capacity. (119, Society for Clinton Hill)
The response:
The GPP governs development on the entire project site, which does not envision having large permanent surface parking lot on the project site. Should the project program change in a magnitude necessary to warrant a modification of the GPP, the proposed project would require additional environmental review to reassess the impacts on environmental conditions. During construction, the surface parking on the eastern end of the project site would be for construction workers, in order to minimize the potential for construction worker parking impacts on the surrounding area. Following the opening of the arena, the interim parking facility would be accessory to the project uses.
My comment: Well, many people (including me) expressed concerns about the surface parking lot on the southeast block of the project. It turned out to be underutilized--arena visitors would prefer free parking--and did not last as long as feared.

As to the "terrible wasteland" of the second phase, well, it depends where you look. The southeast block has undergone development, after delays, with two towers built and the remaining two expected to start next year.

That said, the significant expense of platforming over the railyard, and state's long leash after project revisions, allowing 25 years (until 2035) for project completion, portend a far longer construction process than acknowledged at the time.

The Regional Plan Association was more than prescient in observing that substantial revisions would be required. We can quibble as to whether the approved revisions in the designs of certain buildings (B4, B5) are substantial, or whether some new elements in the open space would qualify. However, it's clear that the proposed--but not yet implemented--shift of bulk from the unbuilt "Miss Brooklyn" tower to Site 5 would be very substantial.

What about program changes that would warrant a modification of the General Project Plan? Well, as we know, the 2006 approval of Atlantic Yards was followed by a 2009 revision. Only after lawsuits were filed (and combined) did a state judge order a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate the impacts of a buildout lasting 25 years, rather than 15 years (as previously studied).

More recently, the plan for new underground space for a field house and fitness center was criticized by the BrooklynSpeaks coalition (and others) for representing an unapproved project use as well as requiring a new environmental review. Empire State Development disagreed. The Site 5 changes are expected to generate a substantial new review.


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