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

Obscured in illustration but revealed after FOIL request: "low scale" Vent Structure in open space would be 12 feet tall (and was not identified in 2015 revisions)

Hey, remember the images below? They were misleading, I've concluded, failing to explain that one of the structures--not that we could really tell--would be 12 feet tall, have a 240-square-foot footprint, and be nearly 3,000 square feet in bulk.

At a Quality of Life Meeting 7/16/19, neighborhood attendees were shown these soft-focus images, "for illustrative purposes only," of two new "Ventilation Structures in Open Space." Located far from the street, they would vent exhaust from the below-grade parking garage and fitness center/field house between the two upcoming towers on the project's southeast block, B12 and B13.

These new buildings would both be built by TF Cornerstone, which has leased land from master developer Greenland Forest City Partners. Though a second image (see further below) suggested the structures would be located toward the backs of the towers, the location and dimensions of the structures were hardly clear from the image above.

Was the Eastern Ventilation Structure, at left, the fountain or the steps? Was the Western Ventilation Structure the thingy in the right foreground, an elevated dog park, or was it somewhere else? It wasn't easy to tell.

A more robust public process--the environmental review some neighbors, elected officials, and Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) directors requested but did not get--might have aired this out.

Looking more closely

Let's try a version of the illustration I annotated, thanks to a later meeting of the AY CDC plus, crucially, a Technical Memorandum that was cited (but not released) at that meeting and later meetings of the AY CDC and the parent Empire State Development (ESD) board.

That document (bottom) was not made public until I got it last week, after a Freedom of Information Law request.

Annotated version. Western structure (right) between B14 and B13; eastern structure between B12 and B11

In the background, 470 Vanderbilt, though that
building surely will be obscured by future towers
Oh, there they are.

The Eastern structure, above left and indicated in green, is behind the steps, as was later explained.

And the Western structure, above right (as indicated in red) and in the close-up at right, is in the back.

Crucially, it's 12 feet tall, as the Tech Memo reveals:
The ventilation structure east of Building 14 would be approximately 12 feet tall with an approximately 10 foot by 24 foot footprint and would be integrated into the open space. The ventilation structure adjacent to the plaza west of Building 11 would be shorter, at approximately 3 feet tall, with an approximately 25 foot by 5 foot footprint, and would be integrated into the open space’s amphitheater-style seating area.
The close-up was not created by me, but rather was part of a brief explanation at the AY CDC meeting about a week later, where the size was hinted at but not described.

A full disclosure, plus an honest perspective, would've showed what a 12-foot-high structure looks like closer up. Instead, we got those soft-focus images, plus the schematic perspective below.
From Quality of Life Meeting presentation; taller structure at left
At the Quality of Life meeting

In a hurried presentation at the end of the Quality of Life Meeting 7/16/19, we were told the structures would have a seated area and an interactive feature. They don't diminish the open space or total square footage, we were told, but apparently the permitted obstruction required a change in the design guidelines.
Were these vent structures in any way connected to the proposed new commercial use below grade, 100,000 square feet for a fitness center and field house?

"A small percentage," said Tobi Jaiyesimi of Empire State Development.

"The vast majority, over 90%, of any continuous exhaust is solely due to parking," said TF Cornerstone's Amir Stein. "The reason for the massive size of these things… in the event of a fire, it’s to purge smoke from anything below grade… would have to evacuate the building, and open space... it's really just a safety issue."

Stein said the fitness center's exhaust would be "louvered out through different means" through the building.

From the Tech Memo
We should've asked more about the "massive size." Afterward, as I reported, he said the dimensions would be 186 square feet and 300 square feet.

Those dimensions, it turns out, were misleading regarding the footprint, according to the Tech Memo (right). Nor did they address the overall volume.

The larger structure, "12 feet tall with an approximately 10 foot by 24 foot footprint," would have a footprint of 240 square feet, and a volume of 2,880 square feet, according to the Tech Memo.

The smaller structure, "approximately 3 feet tall, with an approximately 25 foot by 5 foot footprint," would have a footprint of 125 square feet, and a volume of 375 square feet.

Somehow the Tech Memo describes these structures as at "low scales." How exactly is a 12-foot structure low-scale?

At the first AY CDC meeting

Less than a week later, at the 7/22/19 meeting of the AY CDC, Jaiyesimi gave a similar presentation, noting the vent structures would mostly serve the buildings' garages, but only 10% to 15% of the exhaust would be from recreational use. In the event of an emergency, garage vents would be used to purge smoke.

Neither her presentation nor the board materials noted the dimensions.

"The analysis"--from the Tech Memo--"found that exhaust from the garage" meets Environmental Protection Agency regulations and would not result in any significant adverse air quality," she said.

Director Cy Richardson asked for a more detailed rendering of the vent structure in the playground.

Then they got a brief look at a close-up of the rendering, which Jaiyesimi footnoted by stating, sotto voce, "again for illustrative purposes."

She turned it over to a representative --I think--of TF Cornerstone, who then narrated.

(I didn't look at this closely enough when originally covering it; the big focus was on plans for the fitness center and field house under those towers.)

The screenshots are from the images as magnified briefly during the meeting, and captured in the video.

The steps on a seating area at left represent a separation barrier, keeping individuals from climbing over, with a top step about four-and-a-half feet high.

That meant that the actual vent structure was behind the seating, with the vents thus obscured in the image.

Even more confusing was the image of the structure at the playground, in close-up at right.

At the playground, there'd be interactive feature on the bottom seven feet (in blue, it seems), before the louvers commence, so the air is dispensed above it, the representative said.

That implied it was a pretty big structure, but no one drilled down.

At the second AY CDC meeting

A second AY CDC was called so directors could examine the Tech Memo and, mostly, evaluate the plans for the fitness center and field house. That provoked a surprising 4-4 deadlock regarding recommending (or rejecting) that below-grade space.

The directors also asked for time to evaluate the plans for the Vent Structures. The latter got only a very short discussion.

In response to the previous request from the AY CDC directors, the program for playground was said to be changed, so it would have more distance from the vent structure.

That drew appreciation and unanimous support from the directors. No schematic was provided, nor were dimensions described.

At the ESD meeting

The Vent Structures got very brief discussion at the 8/15/19 meeting of the ESD Board, which focused on issues regarding the fitness center and field house--and, as expected, unanimously approved those and other, less controversial changes.

Notably, the various proposed modifications were summarized in the screenshot below, from the ESD staff presentation at the meeting, again "For Illustrative Purposes Only," and described by Jaiyesimi.

Can you see the Vent Structures outlined in tiny circles near B13 and B12 on the southeast block, the buildings outlined in a red box? It's hard to discern anything meaningful.

Also discussing the fitness center and field house was ESD Chief of Planning and Environmental Review Rachel Shatz, who made only brief mention of the Vent Structures.

She said the Tech Memo differed slightly than what had been previously distributed, given that "we've clarified some language and made revisions to reflect the request the proposed playground not be located near a ventilation structure." (I couldn't find such language; was I sent the version of the document before it was revised?)

The language from the Tech Memo

There's a confusing claim in the document, which I've highlighted in the screenshot above and underlined below:
The Proposed Modifications would locate two of the parking ventilation exhausts to certain locations within the Project’s publicly accessible open space. The locations of the structures would not interfere with open space activities. These structures would be integrated into the design of the Project’s publicly accessible open space and would be consistent with the urban lantern/vent “kiosks” or sculptural elements that were identified in the 2015 updated Open Space Design Guidelines for the Project. The ventilation structures are currently proposed to be located within the open space area east of Building 14 and adjacent to the plaza located west of Building 11. The ventilation structure east of Building 14 would be approximately 12 feet tall with an approximately 10 foot by 24 foot footprint and would be integrated into the open space. The ventilation structure adjacent to the plaza west of Building 11 would be shorter, at approximately 3 feet tall, with an approximately 25 foot by 5 foot footprint, and would be integrated into the open space’s amphitheater-style seating area. As with the previously approved project that contemplated the placement of urban lantern/vent structures, with the Proposed Modifications the integrated design of the ventilation structures within the Project open space would not adversely affect the pedestrian experience of urban design. At low scales and integrated into the open space design, these structures within the open spaces on the Project site would not result in any significant adverse impacts to views of visual resources or result in any new or different significant adverse impacts to visual resources compared to those identified in the 2006 FEIS and 2014 FSEIS.
(Emphasis added)

Well, I looked back at my 2015 coverage and the associated documents. Urban lanterns were discussed in the meeting introducing the 2015 update to the Open Space Design Guidelines. But I don't think they were identified in the document.

As I reported in July 2015, landscape architect Thomas Balsley said designers had "proposed a series of what we call urban lanterns," structures like shelters or gazebos that can be used as a kiosks or to house ventilation for the platform over the railyard below.

"Some can incorporate ventilation devices but look like these wonderful pieces of 'parkitecture,'" he said.

How many vent stacks would there be, and how large? Officials didn't know. "Everything is a placeholder until we actually get real information from the Long Island Rail Road," Forest City executive Jane Marshall said.

That said, the portrayal of such structures dwarfing people should've put us on notice that they would be fairly large.

The proposed 2015 modifications

However, contra the citation in the Tech Memo, those structures were not identified in the guidelines. Indeed, the proposed modifications, excerpted at right, concerned other issues, including:
  • water feature
  • water feature boardwalk
  • seating
  • walkways
  • planted areas
  • planted areas, canopy trees  
Later that month, Balsley made a similar presentation to the AY CDC and a few weeks later, the ESD board approved the changes.

Were the structures identified?

Prompted by the mention in the Tech Memo, I re-checked the AY CDC Board Materials and then the similar ESD Board Materials. Neither identified lanterns, kiosks, or Ventilation Structures.

So, there was nothing new regarding them in the text of the 2015 Design Guidelines.

Curiously, the only section that could be remotely relevant was in the original text of the 2006 Design Guidelines, excerpted at right and below:
Features typically allowed in plazas and park areas shall be permitted [at] developer's discretion, subject to the other requirements of these Open Space Design Guidelines, including without limitation: outdoor furniture, artwork and statuary, water fountains, arbors, trellises, and pavilions.
But it's hardly clear that Vent Structures are typically allowed in plazas and park areas.

Interestingly enough, the two designated structures specified in the Design Guidelines' second paragraph were each supposed to be not larger than 150 square feet, presumably in terms of footprint:
Developer shall be entitled to locate a maintenance enclosure of not more than 150 square feet within the publicly accessible open space to accommodate equipment and materials required for or used in maintaining the publicly accessible open space and shall be entitled to locate one food concession of not more than 150 square feet within the publicly accessible open space.
Remember, one of the Ventilation Structures would have a footprint of 125 square feet, while the other would be 240 square feet. The latter would be far larger than either the maintenance enclosure or the food concession previously allowed.