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

At BrooklynSpeaks meeting Thursday (with electeds), a chance to discuss a "new plan" for affordable housing, traffic, and more. But what's the leverage?

The sponsors of the BrooklynSpeaks coalition--neighborhood and housing groups--and some allied elected officials are holding a forum tomorrow night at the Montauk Club (25 8th Avenue) in Park Slope at 7 pm.

"Sixteen years of promises, but we still have a hole in the ground. It's time for a new plan," the announcement says:
  • Fix the traffic problems. Improve transit.
  • Design spaces that work in Brooklyn.
  • Create real affordable housing.
Assemblymembers Walter Mosley and Jo Anne Simon are expected.

Developer pre-empts the meeting?

Surely in anticipation of the meeting, developer Greenland Forest City Partners this week floated an article in the New York Post regarding new plans to start the first half of the Vanderbilt Yard platform next year, dutifully regurgitated as Brooklyn’s Pacific Park moves to fast track.

Three towers over railyard,
but no timetable
The developer also released a glossy image (left) of those three towers over the railyard, plus the B4 tower flanking the Barclays Center.

As I wrote, it's surely progress, but it's not quite the fast track, because the developer provided no specific timetable for completion of the platform, or the start of future towers.

Still, the three towers over the railyard (B5/B6/B7) might plausibly start in a year or two, as suggested on the tentative project schematic below, given the projected time for the platform, as I write today. Then again, is there a market for all that?

Either way, there still will be a large "hole in the ground" over the eastern block of the railyard, slated for the final three towers, which could take until 2035 and must be built before the lion's share of the much-touted open space can be completed.

See photo below right.

What's on the agenda?

What might the "asks" be?

Eastern block of railyard
As Gib Veconi, a BrooklynSpeaks leader, wrote to me, "In the past, the BrooklynSpeaks sponsors have called for traffic mitigations like residential permit parking, and affordability levels that better reflect the needs of the most rent-burdened members of the community."

Whether it be permit parking and/or other reforms, expect new concerns from neighbors about parking and street safety and new buildings and a school open near congested Sixth Avenue, close to fire and police stations.

Affordability, as of now, relies significantly on the revised Affordable New York program, as I wrote Monday. There's a tension between an increased number of units and more affordability: buildings with 30% affordable units have more middle-income units, while those with 25% affordable units have more low-income ones. That said, an additional commitment by government entities could enhance affordability.

BrooklynSpeaks also once warned that open space behind buildings "is likely to feel more like a private backyard than a public park." In 2015, when the most recent open space design was unveiled, I suggested that Veconi was generous in not repeating that critique.

Let's see if BrooklynSpeaks takes a harsher stance, especially since the open space so far is fractional and there's no timetable for the full open space.

No voluntary changes

It's unlikely that Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority that oversees/shepherds Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, is looking to adopt a new plan.

After all, a recent effort to allow nearly 100,000 square feet in below-grade space for a fitness center and fieldhouse under the B12 and B13 sites was approved by ESD despite criticism from BrooklynSpeaks, Simon, and Veconi. He also sits on the advisory Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), which, at his instigation, reached a first-ever split vote, unable to endorse (or oppose) that below-ground space.

Nor was any public benefit--such as increased affordability, or public space--provided as reciprocation for what many saw as a gift to developer TF Cornerstone, which leased the sites from master developer Greenland Forest City Partners.

What's the leverage?

There may be points for future leverage. The most dramatic would be a lawsuit, such as a challenge to the fitness center and field house approval process. But there's been little talk of such an effort.

Another would be an oversight hearing, conducted by the state Assembly.

Another option would be pressure during the expected (but not yet launched) effort to change the project plan to approve a much larger, two-tower project at Site 5, currently home to P.C. Richard and Modell's.

Veconi suggested another pathway:
The main leverage at this point may be the unstable state of the project. It’s not easy to see how Atlantic Yards’ affordable housing deadline will be met without building over the railyard, and the recent announcement about construction of the platform above block 1120 doesn’t speak to when the buildings above it will be built or by whom. China’s monetary policy no longer favors foreign investment in real estate, as evidenced by the recent pattern of sales of development leases. And the project’s financing strategy was conceived at a time when City and State subsidy policies for affordable housing was very different that they are now (to say nothing of what may change in 2022 when Affordable New York expires).
He's right that, as project uncertainty rises, the chance for leverage increases, but I still think it's possible--as suggested yesterday--to meet the affordability deadline by building just two towers over the railyard.

I also spoke with Mosley, who said he'd stress the affordable housing component, while Simon, in whose district Site 5 sits, may focus on that issue.

"My issue is the deliverability of the affordable housing within the time frame that was renegotiated," said Mosley, who noted that legislators' query to ESD about a timetable has not drawn a response.

"I've had preliminary conversation about possibility of having oversight hearings," he said. Like Veconi (and speaking before the latest announcement), he expressed skepticism about Greenland USA's commitment, "in terms of the market, the geopolitical landscape."

Mosley said he hoped the meeting would provide "a clearer directive from our constituents as to how we could proceed."

The housing conundrum and the larger transparency issue

The difficulty in requesting more affordability, for example, is that that likely would require an extra subsidy from government or, perhaps, an extra benefit to the developer.

(The Site 5 negotiation could offer leverage on that, but it's also possible that Site 5 would deliver additional affordable units beyond the 2,250 required--seemingly a boon--but would skew toward middle-income households.)

That's because there's no way to hold Greenland Forest City to the once-pledged housing configuration, in which 40% of the affordable units would be low-income. The definition of affordable housing in the guiding Development Agreement is far more broad, encompassing units in various subsidy/assistance programs.

The overarching Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park issue is transparency: the timing of towers, the plan to meet affordability, the progress of the railyard, the likelihood the eastern section will actually be built.

Despite Greenland Forest City's latest strategic announcement, starting a platform does not translate into a project timetable.