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

Upzoning for affordable housing at two Prospect Heights parcels reflects new city policy, raises debate on context; start of broader neighborhood rezoning?

I wrote yesterday about the unfulfilled plans for 225 senior units at Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park.

So let's look at the city's proposal for at least 80 units of affordable senior housing nearby on an underutilized city-owned site in Prospect Heights, 542 Dean Street, and unspecified plans for "another population in need" at a similar city-owned site, 516 Bergen Street. 

Both are between Sixth and Carlton avenues quite close to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park.

As I noted, such affordable housing is welcomed by neighbors, but not necessarily at that scale. The North Prospect Heights Association (NPHA) has called for development at existing zoning--rather than doubling the allowable square footage and enabling nine-story buildings instead of five-story ones--and warned that this sets a precedent for upzoning other parcels nearby.

The proposal at Dean Street, rather than offer required open space, "uses the site to bring additional density to an already overtaxed neighborhood," wrote the North Prospect Heights Association (NPHA), which has many members on Bergen and Dean streets.

That refers to the years of construction impacts from the very much unfinished Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project, which has failed to deliver promised affordable (and senior) housing and produced new demands on neighborhood open space. The project has also brought a flood of vehicles on event days at the Barclays Center. 

Meeting tonight

An online public meeting, according to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is scheduled tonight at 6:30 pm to kick off the plans for the sites, followed by an Urban Design Workshop Nov. 18 and a Report Back on feedback Dec. 10. 

It likely will be contentious, considering that yesterday YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) arguments galvanized project supporters deriding neighbors as NIMBY. "Consider logging on to tell the city that you support them going as dense as possible here," tweeted Stephen Smith (aka "Market Urbanism").

That reflects--see discussion below--the cues in the neighborhood for more density in a transit-rich neighborhood, and the city's push for more density to further equity. 

Just yesterday the Mayor's Office released a new report, Where We Live, that announces policy goals including promises to "[e]xpand housing options in low density zoning districts to encourage the development of low-cost housing options" and proposed zoning changes to increase density for affordable housing.

How long will it take?

While this initial process seems fairly brisk, announced public process, according to HPD, is a multi-year process (5-8 years), and this community engagement phase comes at the early stage. 

The projects involve M/WBE developers, part of "an initiative that seeks to address demonstrated disparities in minority and women-owned business’ participation in affordable housing development."

Half of the senior units would be designated for residents of Community Board 8, distributed via a lottery.

The project will have to go through environmental review and thus ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure), which typically gives large sway to the local Council Member, currently the term-limited Laurie Cumbo, though it's unclear the process would be resolved before she leaves office at the end of next year.

Looking at the HPD photo: context

"The rezoning and the building design of the future affordable housing would be contextually sensitive to the existing neighborhood," states HPD. 

Below, I've annotated the photo of the sites that HPD has provided, aiming to suggest context, contrasts, and commonalities. From a broader neighborhood perspective that includes the far larger Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park site--the beneficiary of a state override of zoning--such new buildings, eight to nine stories, don't seem out of scale.

From the perspective of the blocks themselves, such buildings would likely dwarf their immediate neighbors, most of which are four stories. Still, they'd approach the size--albeit with setbacks on the higher floors--of the nine-story warehouse, annotated with a red oval, on the north side of Bergen Street closer to Sixth Avenue, diagonally across the street from Site A. (That building is on a slightly smaller lot, about 15,000 square feet and may be 110 feet tall.)


Note that Flatbush Avenue, at the top right corner of the image below, is underbuilt, and could accommodate, under existing R7A zoning, buildings of the scale proposed for the new HPD sites.

According to HPD, Site A, 516 Bergen (mostly a low-slung commercial building) is about 17,051 square feet on the south side of Bergen. It's next to one-story commercial buildings and across the street from the Dean Street Playground.

One block north, Site B, 542 Dean (a parking lot) is about 17,145 square feet and located on the south side of Dean between Sixth and Carlton. It is "between the Dean Street Playground and four-story residential buildings and across the street from several four-story and a nine-story residential building," states HPD. (Not quite--see below.)

Current zoning, proposed zoning

Aiming to maximize the value of its sites, HPD has proposed buildings that would be 8-9 stories and 85 feet tall, under R7A zoning. Below right is an illustration of such zoning, from DCP's Zoning Handbook. Under R7A, with an inclusionary housing bonus, the maximum Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is 4.6 and maximum height 95 feet.
R7A zoning illustration

Site A is closer to, but not at, the intersection with Sixth Avenue, which leads north to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park. 

On the map above, to the north on Sixth Avenue, across Bergen Street, is the under-construction 37 Sixth Avenue (marked with a blue rectangle), a rental tower, with a school, rising 26 stories. Just across the street to the west is the arena block, with the rental tower 38 Sixth Avenue, rising 23 stories.

Is Site B "across the street" from a 9-story building? Not quite. 

The north side of Dean Street does offer the entrance corridor to 535 Dean, aka the Newswalk building, a former printing factory, which, while 9 stories, rises at least 130 feet by my estimate. But that building--see the red arrow--is located on the north half of the block, oriented toward Pacific Street, with green space in front.

To the east--and starting beyond the photo--I've pointed (with the blue rectangle plus arrow) to the eastern end of the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park site. At the northeast corner of Dean and Carlton is 18-story 535 Carlton, which is likely the smallest tower of the seven planned east of Carlton Avenue.

R6B zoning illustration
Current zoning is R6B, illustrated at right, though both sites are obviously underbuilt. Under R6B, with an inclusionary housing bonus, the maximum FAR is 2.2 and maximum height 55 feet.

Larger impacts, open space, outreach

"The rezoning area would likely cover a broader area," a Department of City Planning staffer wrote in an email read at the 10/19/20 meeting of the NPHA.

Hence the concern that the process implicates other parcels, perhaps connecting Bergen and Dean streets to Flatbush Avenue. 

Note that the eastern end of Dean and Bergen streets, approaching Carlton Avenue, are part of the Prospect Heights Historic District. Rezoning typically would be forestalled, in a historic district, though the city's new policy seems to leave open the possibility for increased density.

NPHA and and its predecessor Dean Street Block Association had previously proposed that the sites be developed under existing zoning, with affordable housing and also open space. 

The Dean Street site is adjacent to the heavily used Dean Playground, which has absorbed new use from residents of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park buildings still waiting for the lion's share of that project's open space.

Participants at the recent NPHA meeting expressed skepticism toward the statement, on the project website, that HPD has conducted outreach through "the Community Board, local elected officials and other community groups." Members of Community Board 8 said they had not been briefed.

So expect that issue to come up at the meeting tonight.

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