Skip to main content

Featured Post

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park infographics: what's built/what's coming/what's missing, who's responsible, + project FAQ/timeline (pinned post)

In surprise, CB 8 board refuses to endorse Land Use Committee's compromise on 840 Atlantic; resolution next week at Council unclear

In a vote that surprised Community Board 8 leaders and developer Vanderbilt Atlantic Holdings, CB 8 last night refused (video) to endorse the last-minute negotiated compromise, approved overwhelmingly a week earlier by the board's Land Use Committee, regarding the proposed 840 Atlantic development at the corner of Vanderbilt Avenue.

My annotation of 
potential revisions; no
new rendering was shown
The vote came after pushback from State Sen. Jabari Brisport, who’d not previously weighed in. A socialist, he’s a political rival of current Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who had, according to Land Use Chair Ethel Tyus, endorsed last week’s compromise.

That left open whether, when the project reaches a vote Monday in City Council, Majority Leader Cumbo would back the board's posture toward the project, voted on in May, calling for significant cuts to the scale as proposed--which the applicant says would preclude any development.

Alternatively, it's unclear whether Cumbo would back some version of the compromise--about 10% smaller than the original proposal--with more modest cuts but commitments to low-income affordable housing and permanent, low-cost space for an arts center.

If the latter, it's unclear how those could be memorialized without an agreement—last night described as well on its way—with the Community Board. The original proposal would have had 307 apartments; the CB 8 resolution would allow 193; the compromise would allow 270. The site is directly east across Vanderbilt Avenue from the northeast parcel, yet unbuilt, of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park.

Board, committee diverge

The vote also surprised me, given the board's previous endorsement, without controversy, of Land Use Committee actions regarding this project, which is why I in my coverage (since revised) wrongly concluded that the vote last week essentially constituted CB 8 approval.

The vote was 14-8, with 8 abstentions, in favor of the committee's vote, but a majority of those voting must vote yes, so the measure failed. Given the absence of some 20 members--the board's website lists 50--a different configuration of attendance might have produced a different result. (Some members of the Land Use Committee are not voting members of the board.)

Committee discussion

Land Use Chair Ethel Tyus summarized the committee’s discussion and advisory vote last week, which was 17-3, with one abstention.

Committee member Gib Veconi, a key negotiator, said that “the opportunity to have 54 [20%] deeply affordable apartments… is very compelling,” noting that no previous private applicant had committed to that level of affordability: 40% of Area Median Income (AMI).

That translates to a one-bedroom renting for $756, at least at 2021 income levels. The building with 30% moderate-income units would have had one-bedrooms at $1,651. (It was not originally presented as deeply affordable, which is not a configuration developers prefer, but 20% would've meant 61 low-income units.)

Proposed zoning sectors for the parcel
Veconi described the original proposed zoning as allowing a 205-foot height limit, 19-20 stories—the developer had described its project as 18 stories—and said that, according to the compromise, that zoning would apply only to 150 feet along Atlantic Avenue and 100 feet along Vanderbilt Avenue. 

That would lead to step-downs to the east and south.

He shared a new image of the parcel's proposed zoning sectors. That went beyond the spreadsheet (below) distributed at the Land Use Committee meeting, but no new image of the building was shown.

The next 100 feet on Atlantic would step down to a 14-story height limit, thus setting a precedent for the zoning CB 8 has previously reqested.

At Vanderbilt Avenue and Pacific Street, the zoning would allow a 170-foot height limit or about 17 stories, but the building would have a setback from the street, with a base height of 100 feet, and a distance of 40 feet, then transitioning to a maximum height to the east of 90 feet.

“So this, this arrangement does address does address the community board's concerns about density and precedent,” he said, while delivering 8,000 square feet for permanent use as an arts center, 50,000 square feet of job-creating commercial use, and 20% deeply affordable apartments.

The Land Use Committee supported "VAH new 1"

Noting that the Land Use Committee resolution was contingent on the applicants making a binding commitment “for the community benefits,” Veconi said “we have come to terms on that agreement with the applicants” and the major property owner, “and we expect to be able to collect the remaining signatures from the other two smaller property owners” before the Council vote.

In response to a question, he noted that half the affordable units—27 of the 54 apartments—would be reserved in the city’s housing lottery for residents of Community District 8. He also noted that the seeming dramatic drop from 92 affordable units was because the original proposal had 30% affordable units—at a significantly higher rents—while the proposed compromise had 20% affordable.

Brisport weighs in

Brisport said he was frustrated that Vanderbilt Atlantic Holdings had not reached out to him or (he thought) Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest regarding their plans. He said he presumed the developer thought they didn’t need to do so, given that land use is a city issue, “but we are representatives of this community.”

“I'm mostly concerned with the number of unaffordable [units],” he said. “It seems like they've gone back up to basically where they were with the initial proposal. [215 market-rate units in original, 216 in compromise] Those market-rate, unaffordable units are the key drivers of gentrification. And just bleeding out black people from the community and people of color, so that concerns me.”

Brisport's comments referenced a fundamental debate: does new market-rate housing, even with the provision of some affordable units, relieve pressure on the housing stock more or less than it drives indirect displacement and thus gentrification?

“This does seem like something that's being railroaded through by the developer and the current Councilwoman,” Brisport added. “We do have a new council person coming in next, next year, I wonder if it's worth waiting a little bit longer.” (Crystal Hudson won the Democratic primary.)

The discussion

Veconi responded that under the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) “there is no opportunity to delay this ‘til the next Council Member’s term.”

“The reality is that right now, affordable housing is largely being built by private developers, and we try to do the very best we can in terms of meeting the needs of the community,” he said, noting that the board's proposed M-CROWN rezoning plan would “create a significant amount of market-rate housing as well,” aiming to subsidize the affordable units.

Veconi acknowledged that M-CROWN, aimed to create jobs as well as housing in a former low-density manufacturing zone and still not endorsed by the city administration, was prepared without recognition of the need for deep affordability, given that gentrification has driven the median income up. 

He noted that there was no mechanism to compel deep affordability under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) other than in an agreement like the one contemplated.

(While that was an achievement for CB 8, I judged the compromise a victory for the developer, given that it had already promised the below-market arts space and proposed a 7% cut in bulk, rather than 10%.)

Also backing Brisport’s take was Esteban Giron, a member of the Crown Heights Tenants Union and a member of the Community Board 9 ULURP Committee. “You don't have to vote today. You've already voted,” he said, referring to the board’s May resolution. “I think that you are being pressured, and I think it is unfortunate.”

He said the “developer themselves can withdraw the application, they can park the application.”

CB 8 Board member Greg Todd echoed support, suggesting that “new energy in the Council” could lead to other ways to finance affordable units.

The motion, and a prediction

Veconi, saying that “if the development of this project is delayed will only delay the provision of deeply affordable housing,” proposed that the board support the Land Use Committee's recommendation.

After the vote did not pass, Veconi suggested that, based on the board’s failure to endorse the compromise, the application would be approved at the zoning the board endorsed in May, and the project won’t be developed, leading to fewer apartments available to those in the district facing displacement. He suggested that some board members reconsider their vote.

Tyus commented that Veconi's “prognostications about what would happen at the Council are his personal and fairly individual opinions. We do have the support of the City Council Majority Leader on this.” (That seemingly referenced support for the compromise, though Cumbo had previously said she'd follow the board's guidance.) 

Tyus later said they had the support of Borough President Eric Adams as well, though his recommendation was for a smaller building. (Neither Cumbo nor Adams have commented in the last week.)

Tyus separately moved that the board request the applicant withdraw the application and return to the Land Use Committee with a revised proposal.

Developer "kind of shocked"

Before that vote, CB 8 asked Tom Li, representing Vanderbilt Atlantic Holdings, to speak. He pronounced himself “kind of shocked” at the board’s vote, notably that, even with more "yes" votes, the resolution didn't pass.

Li said that the “larger driver of gentrification” was demand for housing in the area and “it's very hard to displace families when the majority of the site is occupied by McDonald’s.”

“I don't think anybody has to love the proposal that we have here,” he said. “It's a reasonable proposal to maximize the utility of the site, with both commercial development and residential development, and yes we have market-rate housing.”

And while board members may not believe their projections, Li said, “there's a limit to how much deeply affordable units we could have.” Seemingly revising the proposal on the fly, he suggested that they could provide more affordable units at a higher density.

Further discussion

One board member said that, by rejecting the proposal, CB 8 could make a stand for a neighborhood rezoning, with standards across the board rather than a series of individual negotiations with developers.

Another said she didn’t like being “coerced” to change her vote. “People that are abstaining are saying that because... they're unsure and they don't want to make the wrong decision.”

Tyus’s motion for a revised proposal did pass, 16-13, though its import and timing is unclear.

There may be more lobbying and negotiating before the Council vote.


  1. I wonder if there b 1 bedroom units for individuals who earn 52,53,54,000 etc the missing income (low income)


Post a Comment