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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)

As City Planning calls Atlantic Ave. an "Opportunity Corridor," a gold rush for spot rezonings & new density (+ affordability) in proposed M-CROWN district. A test for new CM Hudson.

First in a series. See collected coverage of M-CROWN rezonings: click here.

According to the New York City Department of City Planning, Atlantic Avenue and Fourth Avenue are Brooklyn's two "Opportunity Corridors," boulevards that, given access to transit and wide streets, can accommodate far more density in a growing borough.

Another way to look at it: the Atlantic Avenue corridor, plus adjacent blocks to the south, is the locus of a gold rush, as land owners and speculators envision large new residential buildings--17 stories on Atlantic Avenue, 9 to 11 stories on Pacific Street--on under-built and empty parcels shackled by out-of-date manufacturing zoning, presaging a transformation of a zone marked by low-rise buildings, storage warehouses, and parking lots.

For some eight years, the Department of City Planning (DCP) has been encouraging development around this major corridor in Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Clinton Hill, and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

To steer such development, Brooklyn Community Board 8 has proposed, with the participation of property owners envisioning the upside, an areawide rezoning it calls M-CROWN, aiming to ensure that new buildings up to 14 stories cross-subsidize affordable housing--with half the units in the housing lottery reserved for locals--and job-creating light industrial or community facility use. It sent its first rezoning request in 2015, aiming at the blocks between Grand and Franklin avenues.

(The acronym refers to "Manufacturing, Commercial, Residential Opportunity for a Working Neighborhood," but it is rarely explained in CB 8 presentations.)

That request came, as CB 8's Gib Veconi, the leader of the M-CROWN effort, told the City Planning Commission in February 2019, after DCP's Winston Von Engel told them "his office was prepared to work to commit resources on the effort." 

But the effort stalled, not just because of disagreements about the viability of requiring job-creating uses, but also--as some CB 8 members have suggested--because of significant costs to the city for both staff and for environmental review. 

So DCP has focused elsewhere in the city, including the Gowanus rezoning that includes 17-story buildings on Fourth Avenue and a broader set of neighborhood improvements.

Meanwhile, private applicants, encouraged by DCP, have pursued a stream of spot rezonings, mainly in Community District 8, but also in Community Districts 2 and 3, on the north side of Atlantic Avenue, and well beyond the initial M-CROWN boundaries. Six new buildings have been approved, promising more than 1,500 apartments. Three are under construction, none yet open.

Map by Kaja Kühl; rezonings in light blue are pending; apartment counts, from Environmental Assessment Statement filings, include full areas rezoned, not just promised projects

Many of the same players--architects, zoning counsel, environmental consultant--have been hired by developers. The first two projects to pass, 1010 Pacific and 1050 Pacific, have been flipped at huge profits, even as their promises of public benefits were not locked in--a cautionary tale for Community Board 8, which has sought to memorialize benefits in subsequent projects.

Two more rezoning proposals, enabling some 540 potential units, await City Council vote next month, and the remaining parcels (including the pending ones) could yield another 2,000 apartments, plus more than 1.5 million square feet of commercial and light industrial space. 

Even the above map is incomplete. Recently proposed, for example, is 962 Pacific Street, a 150-unit building filling in the gap west of the 1010 Pacific Street parcel. It has yet to enter through the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which includes advisory votes from CB 8 and the Borough President before votes by the City Planning Commission and the City Council. 

From the petition
Also, the 1050 Pacific project has morphed, as I'll explain, into 953 Dean, with more than twice the number of apartments, once the original applicant sold the property.

A test for CM Hudson

So the pressure is on 35th District Council Member Crystal Hudson, who faces a split among her constituents.

Community Board 8 leaders like Veconi, while still supporting a neighborhood rezoning, also pragmatically aim to negotiate deals, such as regarding the proposed 870-888 Atlantic Ave. and 1034-1042 Atlantic Ave., whose developers are willing to commit to deeply affordable housing. 

Given DCP's non-responsiveness, said Ethel Tyus, a former CB 8 Chair and Land Use Chair, at a meeting in November, "in the meantime we can get a few affordable apartments out of these two applications, so I urge you to vote for them." 

Others, proponents of a new petition urging a comprehensive plan, say Hudson should hit pause, getting the city to address issues like open space and street safety.

In January, just after taking office, Hudson told the City Planning Commission, “I cannot in good conscience vote to approve either of these projects." Given the practice known as member deference, local Council Members typically—but not always—determine a rezoning’s future. 

So, are the projects dead? (The industry-friendly publication The Real Deal, in scornful 1/11/22 coverage, declared Council member spikes two projects in first week.)

1034-1042 Atlantic Ave./Archimaera
At a March 8 hearing of the Council's Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, Hudson left the door open slightly, stating, “I want to voice my deep concern over these two projects and reiterate my support for a community-led comprehensive neighborhood plan for Atlantic Avenue.” 

Without such a plan, and new city investments, she said, “private developers repeatedly bring forward piecemeal proposals for large projects without regard for their cumulative impact on the community and neighborhood infrastructure like public transit, sewer capacity, pedestrian safety, vehicle traffic, carbon emissions or school capacity.” 

She said she’d work with the City Council, Borough President Antonio Reynoso, local community boards, and community organizations to seek input “from the entire community, not just individuals who attend community board meetings, to determine what they want to see in their neighborhoods.”

Hudson, pressed by Streetsblog last week in a developer-friendly article, said, “I don’t know how I’m going to vote yet.” (The article about 1034-1042 Atlantic Ave., headlined Builder Wants Atlantic Ave. Tower to be a Model for Pedestrian-Friendly Development on Deadly Corridor, ignored the enormous value of an upzoning.)

The bigger picture

As urban planner Kaja Kühl, a petition organizer who lives behind a parcel proposed for rezoning, told the City Planning Commission in January, they were reviewing a fourth proposal in four months "along a very small stretch--three blocks of Atlantic Avenue."

The required Environmental Assessment Statements (EAS) did not find any significant impacts, she said, "yet you are adding over 2,000 units, as per the various EASs, with these rezonings, to the stretch of Atlantic Avenue where open space per resident is already one-tenth of what PlaNYC considers adequate."

Similarly, Peter Krashes of the North Prospect Heights Association said "the absence of a transparently developed comprehensive plan lets city agencies and our elected officials off the hook," and that, with individual applications, "any benefits must be delivered within the property lines that are controlled by the developer. " Moreover, the city has been approving rezoned districts larger than the properties at issue--extending to the next corner, for example.

From DCP's 5/31/19 update

A neighborhood split

While the petition describes "two individual 17-story luxury buildings on Atlantic Avenue," by the standards of the past spot rezonings around M-CROWN, these pending projects do offer more immediate public benefit--albeit thanks to new bulk--than what a neighborhood rezoning would deliver.

That not only shows CB 8's effort to drive a harder bargain (while allowing more bulk than in previous guidelines), it likely also signals the developers' recognition that their costs are low enough--and the value of new buildable square feet high enough--that their bottom lines will still thrive. (As I'll describe, evidence suggests a huge upside for developers.)

Community Board 8, after a series of contentious meetings and divided votes, agreed to recommend that the application be withdrawn in favor of a neighborhood-wide rezoning, but if that's not possible, it recommended various scenarios to guide future decision-makers, notably that the applicants make a binding commitment to limit building height to 15 stories (without cutting bulk), to include deeply affordable housing, and to devote space for M-CROWN uses.

That's been presented at City Council and the City Planning Commission as a de facto endorsement, since the applicants are willing to comply, causing other residents to react with frustration. (I'll discuss CB 8's vote in a separate article.)
870-888 Atlantic Ave./Archimaera

Those two positions are not the only ones. 

A vocal YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) contingent, both residents of Community District 8 and elsewhere in the city, regularly urges for more building, arguing that only additional supply--both market-rate and "affordable"--will relieve the housing crisis. They savaged Hudson for her initial opposing stance.

By contrast, members of the Crown Heights Tenant Union contend that, without efforts to stem indirect displacement, such mostly market-rate development would, as they can attest, spur landlords to eject rent-stabilized tenants or warehouse empty units.

At City Planning, a voice of concern

At a 2/16/22 meeting of the City Planning Commission, Anna Hayes Levin--the Commissioner most cognizant of the M-CROWN dilemma--noted that she had voted yes on the nearby 840 Atlantic Avenue rezoning, on the site of what is mostly a drive-through McDonald's and no on the rezoning for at 1045 Atlantic Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant. (Both were approved.)

"On these sites in between," Levin said of  870-888 Atlantic Ave. and 1034-1042 Atlantic Ave.,  "I find myself also in between. These sites should both be rezoned for significant growth, and especially with housing. The community and City Planning did reach agreement on the basic contours of the M-CROWN land use framework"--arguably, not quite--"but much work remains to be done."

Part of the 870-888 Atlantic site, from EAS
"In the meantime, we've seen private applications for a total of more than 1,500 units," she said. "That amounts to de facto planning by the private development community, without the nuance and city commitments that would accompany a neighborhood rezoning." 

(Previous NYC rezonings come with a Commitments Tracker for "Housing, Community Resources, Economic and Workforce Development, and Transportation and Infrastructure.")

Levin noted that both CB 8 and then-Borough President Eric Adams both disapproved the projects, with conditions. 

"Because no modifications are before us today, I can't vote yes, but with modifications and a commitment by the city to turn the M-CROWN framework into a neighborhood plan, these applications should be approved," she said. "So I can't vote no. I'm going to abstain, with the hope that these applications can be passed on to the City Council for modification and eventual approval."

That leads to the question of whether Hudson would approve these applications as long as the Mayor's Department of City Planning makes a greater commitment to the neighborhood.

DCP's push for growth

According to minutes from Community Board 8's February 2020 meeting--just before the COVID-19 crisis--Veconi suggested that, according to DCP, the promised multiagency study was on its way. "This means that while there is not an official timeline, DCP’s actions suggest that an M-CROWN rezoning is not years in the distance, but rather months," according to the minutes.

That was not to be. Meanwhile, developer Elie Pariente of EMP Capital--who successfully got one rezoning passed and is behind the 1034-1042 Atlantic project--told CB 8's Land Use Committee meeting 10/07/21 that developers take their cues from DCP.

"We don't basically come up with what we want to build, right?" he said. "We have many early meetings with City Planning... they give us their requirements, and after different iterations... end up approving what we're proposing." He cited, for example, a proposed a sidewalk widening. 

DCP's justification

Though it has gotten no press attention, at a 9/20/21 City Planning Commission session, DCP's Brooklyn staffers offered (video) the most comprehensive justification for its Atlantic Avenue recommendations, including the first iteration--as far as I know--of the phrase "Brooklyn's Opportunity Corridors."

The presentation was a post-hearing follow-up on the 1045 Atlantic Avenue application, offering more context 17-story buildings.

Urban Designer Jesse Hirakawa noted that Atlantic Avenue is near the A/C subway lines on Fulton Street, and the project area offers good access to the Downtown Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan central business districts, as well as the Atlantic Terminal transit hub.

"Atlantic Avenue is a major east and west thoroughfare and a truck route with multiple north-south neighborhood connectors," he said, "and we believe that outside of Downtown Brooklyn and major corridors such as Atlantic Avenue and Fourth Avenue, there are limited opportunities" to handle higher densities. 

(Fourth Avenue, unlike Atlantic, has a subway line directly below, and has been part of a rezoning.)

Hirakawa noted that the 1045 Atlantic project is within the M-CROWN study area, with zoning remained unchanged. That's sparked minimal development, leaving many lots vacant or used for parking or warehouses. 

Meanwhile, surrounding areas have been mostly built up and have been subject to contextual rezonings, "with the primary goal of maintaining their existing character" and thus limiting space for density.

At 120 feet wide, Atlantic Avenue is one of Brooklyn's widest streets, Hirakawa noted. "We see Atlantic Avenue as a corridor of opportunity in the study area for public realm enhancements, to improve safety, strengthen streetscape experiences and support neighborhood connections," he said, citing "active ground floor use requirements for Atlantic Avenue."

Does that mean that, even without a neighborhood rezoning, Atlantic Avenue would get some of a rezoning's benefits--or that the new developments along the avenue would  improve the streetscape, such as with newly mandated 20-foot sidewalks?

Questions of bulk
DCP: a 17-story building with a 125-foot base

Hirakawa, responding to concern about the height of buildings--Brooklyn CB 3 recommended against 17 stories for 1045 Atlantic, while endorsing the project otherwise--said that pedestrians typically perceive just the first 40 to 50 feet, regardless of the height.

So he showed a perspective with R9A zoning, with base height at 125 feet and total height 175 feet, noting that the base height matched the width of the street, which is a workable ratio. That would deliver 426 apartments, 126 of them affordable. See image above right.

He also showed R8A zoning, with base height at 105 feet and total height 145 feet. It would deliver 350 units, 106 of them affordable. See image below right.

DCP: A 14-story building with a 105-foot base
"The pedestrian experience along Atlantic Avenue relatively feels minimal" between the two versions of the building. "And so despite having a significant loss in units, in our opinion, the human experience remains relatively unchanged."

However that may be, I suspect it requires more of a dynamic view.

Commissioner Levin called it "the most persuasive presentation of this subject that we’ve had as long as we've been talking about the M-CROWN framework."

Will DCP be making the presentation to the Community Board? Hirakawa said "we do have kind of ongoing discussions about zoning, capital planning, urban design, affordable housing needs," with urban design scheduled 10/21/21 (video).

Levin returned to the dilemma: "I fear we're getting backed into a rezoning. We're going to have four applications along this corridor that are going to set the stage for what the future rezoning ought to be, and we should just acknowledge that's what's happening and lay out all your best thinking to the community."

Winston Von Engel, who heads DCP's Brooklyn Office, said "we continue to talk with the Community Board... even though we regret that we weren't able to complete this as a rezoning... we're hoping that we can bring this forward into the next administration."

What that means remains to be seen.