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

Community Board 2 gets update on construction and affordability, but big questions (affordability, timeline) about project's future avoided

Current percentage,
four towers complete
Members of Brooklyn Community Board 2 last night got--and seemed to be satisfied with--a rather circumscribed update on Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, learning about the lay of the project, buildings under construction, and general affordable housing statistics.

A few tidbits of information, plus some new graphics, emerged during the brief presentation by Tobi Jaiyesimi; Director, Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation and Scott Solish, Director of Development, Greenland USA, the site's master developer.

Percentages after
eight towers complete
(does not refer to the four
towers being built)
Currently 61% of the units built--in three of four extant towers--are designated "affordable"--income-restricted, rent-stabilized, though, as described below, a majority are for middle-income households.

Once four under-construction towers, each with 30% affordability, are completed, a total of 43% of the project's units will be "affordable," though likely with even more of a middle-income tilt. 

The project is supposed to deliver 35% overall affordability, with 2,250 below-market units. There would be 877 more apartments required by May 31, 2025. (Here's my project schematic and FAQ.)

Solish said the first apartments in the 859-unit, 50-story B4 (18 Sixth Ave.) should be ready about one year from now, "maybe a little sooner." That's a slightly accelerated pace than that Solish described as of November 2019, which was first half of 2022. Apparently those after-hours shifts are paying off.

Similarly, the first apartments in the 312-unit, 26-story B15 (662 Pacific St.) are "also expected to open some time next year," though the middle-school in the tower, which will be built out by the School Construction Authority, isn't due until 2023. 

(The February 2020 edition of the SCA Capital Plan says I.S. 653 is due by June 2023, which means a Fall opening; construction should start in January 2021. A November 2020 update of that Capital Plan should be posted relatively soon and may have updated estimates.)

Note that buildings--especially large ones--often open in stages, with Temporary Certificates of Occupancy for the lower floors. So it's a good bet that B4, at least, won't be finished until 2022.

Pending questions

None of the hard questions were raised, much less answered:
  • what's the plan, and timetable, for development at Site 5, home to P.C. Richard and Modell's?
  • what's the affordability level, and unit configuration of the affordable housing in the four towers under construction, including B12 and B13?
  • what's the timetable to build a platform over the Vanderbilt Yard, and the initial three towers (B5/B6/B7) over the first of the two blocks?
  • how will the developer meet the obligation to deliver 2,250 affordable housing units by May 2025 or will they seek an extension or exemption?
But there were some hints.

Solish said that Greenland is in the "design and approval process" with the New York City Department of Buildings for the B5 tower and with the Long Island Rail Road for the platform, presumably that first block, between Sixth and Carlton Avenues.

They're also in the"pre-planning phases" for B6 and B7, towers, he said. All three towers are crucial to delivering the affordable housing.

Solish did not mention the final three towers (B8/B/9/B10), which would require a more extensive platform. Only the completion of those three towers would deliver the largest share of the eight acres of planned open space. So that's a big question mark hanging over the project, and could push completion to 2035 (or they might never be finished).

Some obfuscation

Asked for an update on Site 5, Jaiyesimi--who also serves as Empire State Development's Atlantic Yards project manager, thus essentially advising herself--was circumspect.
 
She noted that ESD last year filed papers to pursue condemnation of the P.C. Richard site, but that has been stayed because separate litigation regarding an "unrelated" matter between the retailer and original developer Forest City Ratner (now owned by Brookfield).

Well, the matter may be legally unrelated but it certainly relates to the overall project: P.C. Richard won a lower court ruling, under appeal by Forest City, to require the developer to deliver replacement space in a future tower.

Jaiyesimi did not mention Greenland's plans to transfer the bulk of the unbuilt Miss Brooklyn tower (aka B1), once slated for the tip of the arena block, to Site 5, creating a potential two-tower project rising nearly 800 feet, rather than the previously approved 250 feet. 
From 2016 presentation to Department of City Planning

Nor did she mention ESD's moves to being the public process that would allow for such a project change.

Regarding the site once destined for B1, Jaiyesimi said, "there's an ability to build a building there, but the plaza has come to take on a life of its own." 

That seemingly referred the recent appropriation of the plaza since late May for protests and gatherings. I wouldn't be surprised if "preserve the plaza" will be invoked by Greenland  in its push to transfer the bulk, even though the plaza is privately operated space previously unwelcoming to gatherings.

Regarding the railyard

Solish noted that the revamped Vanderbilt Yard, used to store and service Long Island Rail Road trains, includes new infrastructure, offices, lighting, servicing equipment, and more.

The seven tracks were turned over to the LIRR in 2019, and Greenland is "going through all the ongoing punch list work," he said. That suggests that the Final Certificate of Occupancy hasn't been delivered yet.

Only a few people might remember that the new railyard was once supposed to contain nine tracks with capacity for 76 cars, not seven tracks with capacity for 56 cars, but was value-engineered to save money, as renegotiated by original developer Forest City Ratner in 2009. 

Affordable housing statistics

Solish shared some graphics on affordable housing--including the ones at top--that were new to me.

As the graphic at right indicates, 32% (27% + 5%) of the affordable units are low income, with 10% moderate income and 58% (42% + 16%) middle-income.

The original promise, in the Housing Memorandum of Understanding Forest City signed with advocacy group New York ACORN, was for 40% of the 2,250 affordable units to be low-income, 20% moderate-income, and 20% each in two middle-income "bands." Instead, there are more than twice as many households in the upper middle-income band.

(Note that the document linked above refers to a percentage of total units, not total affordable units, so 10% of total rentals, for example, were supposed to be moderate income. At that time, Atlantic Yards was to consist of 4,500 total units, all rentals, but shortly after, office space was swapped for 2,800 condos, later cut to 1,930 condos.)

Unit size

Solish also distributed a graphic regarding unit sizes and income targets. It shows that, while the two "100% affordable" buildings, 535 Carlton Ave. and 38 Sixth Ave., have a mix of unit sizes, 461 Dean, a 50% affordable building, has no three-bedroom units. 
Middle-income units can have an income
ceiling of 145% of AMI, not 130%

Unmentioned: the graphic shows that the two-bedroom apartments at 461 Dean are skewed to the upper middle-income cohort--the product of some intense negotiation, as I reported.

One board member asked how they could advocate for more three-bedroom units.

Jaiyesimi said the process goes through the relevant public entitites that fund the affordable housing.

"We've heard the comment, and the need," Solish said, in his agreeable but noncommittal style. "We always try to accommodate it... We're always looking to figure out ways to deliver larger units, in the confines of the project." In other words, if the numbers work.

The AY CDC

We got a more informative graphic about the advisory Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation than appears on the entity's own web site, since the new graphic states not only the names of the directors but who appointed them.

Note that, while the governor has nine appointees, there are three vacancies. Also: obscured in the screenshot is the name of the mayoral appointee: Lee Warshavsky.

Other questions

One board members asked about how the developer was preparing for climate change, such as using renewable or soloar energy.

Solish said that they aim to achieve a LEED Silver rating for environmental sustainability, and are "always trying to find what's energy efficient."

Asked if the students at the middle school will have any open outdoor space to play or have recess, Solish said a private play yard reserved for the students is on the fourth floor,  protected on all sides and open to light and air.

Asked about affordable housing occupancy, Solish said the affordable units "are fully occupied," and occupancy "has remained extremely stable" despite the coronavirus pandemic. Fifty percent of the affordable units are set aside for residents from Community Boards 2, 3. 6. and 8.

Asked about whether the apartments could be made more affordable, with lower percentage of Area Median Income (AMI), Solish said, "We're always in conversations with city and state agencies to try to get the right mix of AMIs, to get units to places where they're needed most." 

That bypassed the question of whether the upcoming towers will contain all middle-income affordable units or a mix, skewed to middle-income units, that also includes low-income apartments.

Asked about local hiring, he said all the builidngs are staffed by members of the SEIU 32BJ union, "so we rely on them and their hiring outreach."

Asked if any condos at 550 Vanderbilt were sold on an all-cash basis, without a mortgage, if there's any way to identify the buyer and their source of funds

Solish said he didn't all the info but was sure some were cash purchases. (That's true, based on my research.) If the buyer's qualified under state law, that buyer will pass muster at any condo development, he said. 

Unmentioned: a 2018 U.S. Treasury Department regulation, announced well after most 550 Vanderbilt transactions were complete, requires "U.S. title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind shell companies used in all-cash purchases of residential real estate" in twelve metropolitan areas, including New York City.

(Also, a New York State law passed last year requires disclosures of those behind limited liability companies, or LLCs, for certain residential purchases, but apparently exempts condos.)

Two ironies

One board member, in addressing Solish, mentioned that "one of your apartments was featured on one of those Million Dollar apartment shows, so that's a sign of success." Not really. Especially since some of the most expensive units haven't sold.

Solish at one point referred to the project as "Pacific Park Atlantic Yards." It was another accommodation to the awkward fact that many long-time Brooklynites have the name "Atlantic Yards"--the official name of the project with New York State, at least--on the brain, and that the open space that's purportedly the reason for the 2014 name change has yet to be delivered.

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