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

As plan for giant Site 5 project looms, BrooklynSpeaks launches engagement process, seeks deep affordability (+more) in exchange for bulk transfer. I note caveats.

The first 2022 surprise is upon us: Brooklyn Crossroads, a substantial new effort, by the periodically active BrooklynSpeaks coalition, for "community engagement" toward a new plan for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, with a list of "asks" that, presumably, the engagement process will ratify or refine. 

Bottom line (very distilled): more, and deeper, affordable housing, as well as precise commitments regarding the extant affordable housing obligations, in exchange for a proposed bigger building. There's more, some discussed below (and some I'll address in the future).

A four-week series of online meetings starts next Wednesday at 7 pm. (Short notice!) The topics: Introduction and Urban Design; Transportation and Streets; Housing; and Accountability.

The linchpin is developer Greenland Forest City Partners' (GFCP) percolating plan to shift the bulk of the unbuilt "Miss Brooklyn" (B1) tower, once destined to loom over the arena, across Flatbush Avenue to Site 5, longtime home of Modell's and P.C. Richard, enabling some configuration of office, residential, and retail space. 

Previously proposed bulk shift
That could increase the value of Site 5 enormously, creating--as of 2016 projections--a two-tower project rising 785 feet containing more than 1.1 million square feet, rather than the approved 250-foot, 439,050 square-foot single tower. 

No affordable housing is required, as of now, but housing at Site 5 would add to the total Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park housing, including affordable units.

Deal coming?

That could lead to a deal--as I've speculated--concerning the remaining 876 affordable apartments of the 2,250 total required by May 2025. That deadline, which imposes fines of $2,000/month for each missing unit, might be negotiable as long as the developer agrees to increase the total affordable units, using Site 5, with deeper affordability.

Greenland Forest City needs state permission to transfer the bulk and, while approval by the gubernatorially controlled Empire State Development (ESD) is virtually assured, the changes may be subject to political or legal pressure before ESD modifies the guiding General Project Plan. 

That public process should take at least a year. Four years ago, a departing member of the advisory Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), suggested that the body hire third-party planning, design and construction consultants to review the Site 5 proposal to inform the board and the public. 

That process, which got a partial rhetorical endorsement from ESD, would be separate from the announced BrooklynSpeaks process, which also will allow people "to participate by sharing thoughts on their own schedules through an interactive web site." 

Emerging asks, and trade-offs

BrooklynSpeaks involves neighborhood, civic, and policy groups mostly within range of the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park footprint, including the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, Fifth Avenue Committee, North Flatbush BID, and Boerum Hill Association.

It does not (yet) question the appropriateness of that proposed bulk transfer, just the contours of the plan, calling for deeper affordability at Site 5--low-income, rather than the middle-income units, at 130% of Area Median Income (AMI)--delivered in recent towers, skewing totals, plus "space for large community gatherings" and new subway entrances. 

My chart shows how middle-income units have been prioritized

In a nod to the seeming incongrousness of a large building near low-rise buildings--as even the City Planning Commission noted, regarding a previous proposal--BrooklynSpeaks asks that "Buildings developed at Site 5... be set back from Pacific Street, with a building or building section contextual to the row houses on the south side of the street buffering towers from the residential context."

Also requested: 25% of space, respectively, for seniors and homeless people. Note that 10% of the the project's affordable units, or 225 apartments, were originally promised to seniors, so 25% of the remaining 876 units would be 219, though Site 5 could add more.

Also requested: retroactive preference for people displaced from community districts 2, 3, 6, and 8 after 2006 to receive community preference in affordable housing lotteries. (This was previously requested, but rejected by the city.)

Though BrooklynSpeaks points out that the developer is unlikely to build those 876 units by May 31, 2025, it does not (yet) stress the fines required by the 2014 settlement that the coalition, after threatening a lawsuit. From the coalition's revised principles (who developed them?):

New Yorkers deserve a real plan that is fair, achievable, and that ensures billions of dollars of public investment will not be wasted. Such a plan must be agreed upon before developers are given more rights under the existing project agreement, and before the project’s existing deadlines are extended.
That suggests a belief/expectation that Greenland Forest City will seek to avoid fines and deadlines, with a deal regarding Site 5. Those $2,000/month fines would go to affordable housing. (Note: "billions" is  not in direct subsidies, but easily more than $1 billion in tax breaks and other benefits.) 

Benefits from not building
The only elected official quoted in the press release is Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, long involved in BrooklynSpeaks. We'll see how much other electeds endorse or at least engage in the process, thus adding potential leverage.

The plans do not (yet) question the benefit to the arena operators, now Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai, from having the B1 tower not built there, allowing a plaza for ticketholders to gather and new canvas for promotional and advertising signage, including over the arena doors and at the transit entrance.

Affordable housing advocacy, success and flaws

Once project opponents Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn essentially dissolved a few years after the arena opened, BrooklynSpeaks--which I summarized as "mend it, don't end it"--has been the most viable platform for critique of the project.

The 2014 settlement was significant, setting that new 2025 timeline, with fines, for affordable housing. Though the housing was long promised to be delivered in ten years (after project approvals in 2006 and 2009), the deadline had been extended until 2035, thanks to generous ESD terms disclosed in 2010.

The proposed lawsuit--which could have delayed Greenland USA's expected purchase of 70% of the project going forward from original developer Forest City Ratner--argued that delays meant that Black residents in the surrounding community districts would be pushed out before they had a chance to access the 50% community preference then expected with the affordable units.

But that settlement, revealed in an overblown New York Times exclusive, deserved skepticism, since it ignored affordability, and BrooklynSpeaks was less than candid.

Announcing the settlement 6/27/14, BrooklynSpeaks' Michelle de la Uz, Executive Director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, said, "We’re pleased that our tireless efforts to ensure public accountability have paid off, and that we were able to come to an agreement with Forest City and the State to ensure the community finally gets the affordable housing it was promised 10 years ago."

But it wasn't the promised mix of 40% low-income, 20% moderate-income, and 40% middle-income units promised in the 2005 Memorandum of Understanding signed by Forest City and advocacy group ACORN. 

As we soon learned, the two "100% affordable" towers would have 65% middle-income units, with 50% in an upper middle-income "band" and 15% in a lower band, rather than 20% in each, as long promised. Those middle-income units--two-bedrooms for $3,223--have been so hard to fill the developers have had to market them outside the housing lottery and offer free rent as incentives.

In that 2014 press release, Veconi said, "Today’s agreement shows that communities can work with the State to hold developers accountable for their commitments." 

I wrote in October 2014 that, while Veconi had a significant record of advocacy and often insightful commentary, that was too generous, especially since Veconi had recently written that "the degree of affordability must also be specified, and schedule on which apartments will be made available must be spelled out." 

Today, those are among BrooklynSpeaks' asks: "The remaining project affordable housing to be constructed must be leased to tenants earning no more than an average of 60% AMI." Also, from the press release:

“It would be unconscionable for the State to allow a tower the size of the Chrysler Building on that site when the developers have refused to explain how they plan to meet their existing commitments to complete the rail yard platforms necessary for the remainder of Atlantic Yards’ affordable housing,” said Howard Kolins, President of the Boerum Hill Association.

Upon the groundbreaking for the first "100% affordable" tower, de la Uz 12/15/14 called it "a meaningful step forward in fulfilling that need" for affordable housing. 

It wasn't. Today BrooklynSpeaks notes that "Most of the 'affordable' housing that has been built–and all of the new units that are about to become available–are intended for households earning more than $100,000 per year... This is not what Brooklyn was promised..."

From the press release yesterday:
“Seven years ago, our organizations won a settlement that committed the State of New York to delivering thousands of units of much-needed affordable housing for Brooklynites facing intense displacement pressure,” said Gib Veconi, Chair of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council. “We must now acknowledge that the State and the developers have failed to take the actions necessary to keep that promise, and the viability of the project is again in question."
Again, that settlement did not commit the state to deliver "much-needed affordable housing for Brooklynites facing intense displacement pressure,” because the settlement said nothing about levels of affordability--an issue that had been resolved earlier but papered-over in the 2014 press release and New York Times exclusive.

Accountability advocacy, success and flaws

Did BrooklynSpeaks "tireless efforts to ensure public accountability" pay off? Only partly, though apparently they had less leverage on that front.

From the 2014 announcement:
Further, the settlement requires a subsidiary of ESDC, the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AYCDC), be created to oversee compliance with project commitments. AYCDC will be governed by a board composed of 14 directors, of which five will be appointed by local elected officials including the Mayor, the Brooklyn Borough President, the Speaker of the New York City Council, and the leadership of New York State Assembly and State Senate. The board will meet at least quarterly in meetings open to the public.
That differed from BrooklynSpeaks' earlier call for not just "oversight by a dedicated LDC... that includes board members appointed in consultation with local legislators" but also a "formal advisory board made up of representatives from civic associations, community-based organizations and Community Boards from affected neighborhoods."

There's no such advisory board, and the AY CDC is essentially toothless, meeting sporadically and with most of its members, based on their limited public statements, showing relatively little understanding of--or curiosity in--the project.

Nonetheless, upon the first meeting of the AY CDC in February 2015, BrooklynSpeaks offered an enthusiastic take, despite reasons for skepticism, notably the appointment of board members with seeming conflicts of interest, given their role as signatories of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), and an executive director with no experience overseeing real estate projects.

Those CBA signatories soon left. Veconi was appointed to the AY CDC in 2019; while he's the most informed person on the board, the situation, to my mind, poses tensions if not conflicts: as an AY CDC director, he can access information about the project before the general public, giving BrooklynSpeaks a leg up shaping its strategies.

BrooklynSpeaks' updated page on accountability ignores the flawed AY CDC, but calls for, among other things, a system for "collecting reports from community members of environmental impacts from construction" and a city-funded "Special Enforcement District... to manage the disruptions from ongoing construction development and arena event activity." 

Unmentioned: tickets for illegal parking/idling might even fund that district, but it's not in the arena's interest, and thus not in the mayor's interest.

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