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

The looming question: how big should Site 5 be? Approved FAR ≈9. Developers previously sought FAR ≈23.5. That's 50% larger than 80 Flatbush.

After the BrooklynSpeaks Crossroads session on affordable housing last Wednesday--about which I'll write more shortly--I realized an essential question was missing from the discussion, and my preview: how big should the proposed tower(s) at Site 5 be?

The BrooklynSpeaks coalition of neighborhood and advocacy groups has set up the four-part series to argue for changes in Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park. 

The leverage is the expected effort by the developer and state to move the bulk from the unbuilt "Miss Brooklyn" tower (aka B1), once slated to loom over the arena, across Flatbush Avenue to Site 5, long home to Modell's (now closed) and P.C. Richard--plus the Pacific Street Brooklyn Bear’s Community Garden. That would enable a giant two-tower project, far larger than the already approved, smaller but not unsubstantial, tower at the site.

That requires a public process to revise the guiding General Project Plan, and though the gubernatorially controlled Empire State Development generally follows the developer's wishes, there may be a pressure point.

What hasn't been discussed is that the developers, at least as of 2016, proposed a two-tower project about 50% bulkier than the two-tower 80 Flatbush nearby, another notably large project that also borders a row-house block, that got a special approval in 2018. That project has since been renamed The Alloy Block.

The 2016 proposal

So a key question was barely touched on at last Wednesday's session: should, as long as it delivers deeply affordable housing--which has been scanted so far in the project buildout--groups and elected officials associated with BrooklynSpeaks support the developer's expected proposal, as seen below in a 2016 iteration? 

From 2016 presentation to the Department of City Planning

After all, the larger the building(s), the more affordable units as a percentage of the total.

As of 2016, developer Greenland Forest City Partners had floated the notion of a two-tower project, with potential mixtures of office space, housing, hotel, and retail space. The latter at one point was likened to the Time Warner Center.

Instead of a 250-foot tower with 439,050 square feet, as approved in 2006--after being cut from 350 feet-- that could mean a two-tower project with 1,142,042 square feet, rising 785 feet, or perhaps 80 stories.

We haven't seen new plans for Site 5, but the market for office space--the site was once promoted for Amazon's HQ2--has declined. So there's probably more of a market for housing. That could mean space for 1,000 units, 250 of them affordable.

It also could mean development rights--at least before the subtraction for below-market housing--worth perhaps $300 million, a valuable site the developers could sell.

Site 5 scenarios as of 2016
Even under the developers' most optimistic scenario, that would mean not all of the bulk from "Miss Brooklyn" would be moved across the street, instead--perhaps?--planned for a transfer to the six towers planned over the railyard. 

No developer wants to give up buildable square footage. On the other hand, the risk of not being able to build that tower was surely priced into what Greenland USA paid Forest City, in two transactions, for its majority share in the project.

A Floor Area Ratio of 23.5?

A common way to assess density is Floor Area Ratio, or FAR, the multiple of bulk to the underlying lot. Downtown Brooklyn in 2004 was rezoned to an FAR of 10, with an opportunity for bonuses to reach an FAR of 12.

In New York City, residential but not commercial floor area is currently capped at 12. Gov. Kathy Hochul has proposed removing that cap.

The lot at Site 5, as noted in a presentation prepared by developer Greenland Forest City Partners in January 2016, is 48,655 square feet. With the proposal of 1,142,042 square feet, that works out to an FAR of 23.5.

The 80 Flatbush project a few blocks northwest gained a spot rezoning from the City Council to an FAR of 15.75, after requesting an FAR of 18, which the Municipal Art Society called unprecedented. That bulk was said to be justified because of the promises of affordable housing and two schools. The taller tower will be 840 feet. The 80 Flatbush site is 61,400 square feet, so Site 5 is 79.2% of it.
80 Flatbush rendering as of 2018

(The Municipal Art Society, a citywide planning and preservation organization, was the original progenitor of BrooklynSpeaks, but later withdrew after the coalition pursued litigation.)

With an FAR of 15.75, commensurate to 80 Flatbush/The Alloy Block, Site 5 would be 766,316 square feet, far smaller than proposed in 2016.

Atlantic Yards bulk

Atlantic Yards was approved with a larger amount of bulk at the western end of the site, west of Sixth Avenue, with an overall FAR of 10.3. The Final Environmental Impact Statement stated:
The project’s overall density would be more concentrated on the western end of the project site (the arena block and Site 5), where the overall density would equate to a floor area ratio (FAR) of 8.6 (10.3 FAR not including the area of the streetbeds incorporated into the project site); the FAR on the project site east of 6th Avenue and would be 7.4 (8.2 without the streetbeds incorporated into the project site). The total FAR of the proposed project would be 7.8 (9.0 without the streetbeds incorporated into the project site).
Note that the lower calculation is a bit deceptive. The calculations producing the lower FARs incorporate the demapped streets, while typically such calculations assume that buildings are next to streets. The overall FAR also includes the lower-rise arena, plus open space.

A notably bulky individual building is not unprecedented for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park. After all, B4 (18 Sixth Ave., aka Brooklyn Crossing) is said, according to a document filed with the Department of Buildings, is said to have an FAR of 31.8, given a total of 808,695 square feet.

(Note that that does not completely make sense, since 781,052 residential square feet and 51,396 commercial square feet total 832,448 square feet. The building was approved to have 824,629 square feet.)

Then again, the context for that building is different, since it flanks the arena and wide Atlantic Avenue, as well as the Sixth Avenue bridge, across which a large Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park building, B5, is planned, plus open space.

Question raised, questions pending

At BrooklynSpeaks first session, as I reported, I asked in the chat if the group was preparing to endorse the planned bulk transfer, “as long as various improvements arrive, like ‘slow streets’ and more affordable housing (with deeper affordability)?”

“We have not made such a commitment,” responded Gib Veconi of BrooklynSpeaks.
Indeed, and it wouldn't make sense to show their hand before any negotiations. But the tradeoff deserves discussion, as well as perspective on the size of Site 5. 

Should the developers get what they want? Do they deserve to be able to use the square footage they potentially sacrificed when they bought into the project?

(Does the arena operator, which gains enormous benefit from not having the "Miss Brooklyn" tower built, since it helps attendee flow and also opens up new opportunities for signage revenue, owe anything in return?)

Should the original height and bulk limit, recommended by the City Planning Commission 15 years ago, stay? Should the 80 Flatbush example be a ceiling? If so, are the public benefits--and neighborhood precautions--commensurate?