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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)

Council Members Hudson & Ossé, plus BP Reynoso, CB 8 leaders, and others, ask DCP for neighborhood plan that builds on M-CROWN. Impact on pending projects?

See collected coverage of M-CROWN rezonings: click here.

As rezonings to enable proposed 17-story (or maybe 15-story) buildings Atlantic Avenue in Prospect Heights/Crown Heights are pending before the City Council, and more spot rezonings are being proposed nearby, the two Council Members who represent the area, with a wide array of allies, are asking the city to take a broader look at ways to enable development  while improving the overall community.
Crystal Hudson

On March 11, three days after a City Council Subcommittee hearing regarding the proposed 870-888 Atlantic Ave. and 1034-1042 Atlantic Ave., 35th District Council Member Crystal Hudson, who represents Prospect Heights and Crown Heights, and 36th District Council Member Chi Ossé, who represents Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, along with others, sent a letter to the Department of City Planning (DCP).

The letter (bottom) called on the agency to prioritize a neighborhood-wide comprehensive plan that builds on the ‘M-CROWN’ framework for development as part of a community-led comprehensive approach to land use," according to Hudson's spokesman Alejandro Gonzalez.

The letter, also sent to the Department of Housing Preservation & Development and the Department of Transportation, asked for a plan to "bring desperately needed affordable housing, better protections for existing tenants and longtime homeowners, new employment opportunities, and a safer neighborhood for the thousands of New Yorkers who use these streets every day." It describes an area of "vacant lots, gas stations, and self-storage units."

 The letter was also signed by key Council Members Rafael Salamanca, who heads the Land Use Committee, and Kevin Riley, who heads the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises; Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso; Community Board 8 leaders/members.

It was also signed by leaders of community organizations such as Pratt Center for Community Development; IMPACCT Brooklyn; Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development; North Prospect Heights Association; Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council; and Crown Heights North Association.

A map of passed/pending projects

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;
the pending projects could be 206 (870-888 Atlantic) and 200 units (1034-1042 Atlantic)

Impact on pending rezonings

"While the City has failed to act," the letter states, "private developers repeatedly bring forward piecemeal proposals for large projects without regard for their cumulative impact on the community and neighborhood infrastructure, forcing the community to either say 'no' or scramble to try to address larger policy issues on individual sites when what is actually needed is neighborhoodwide planning."

It's unclear how and whether the city's response would affect Hudson's decision whether to green-light the two pending rezonings, which this month will face a City Council vote. A neighborhood plan could take several years, though components might be delivered sooner by specific agency actions.

Her posture has shifted from clear opposition to  "deep concern" to a statement that “I don’t know how I’m going to vote yet.” 

Community Board 8, in exchange for accepting additional density (and thus profitable residential space) beyond its M-CROWN guidelines--a 21% boost in Floor Area Ratio, or FAR, as shown in the screenshot at right--has gotten promises of the deep affordable housing option and a portion of job-creating M-CROWN space.

(The acronym, as the letter states, stands for “Manufacturing, Commercial, Residential Opportunity for a Working Neighborhood.” Community Board 8 initially set a maximum FAR of 7 for Atlantic Avenue, while the Department of City Planning has recommended 8.5. FAR is the ratio of bulk to the underlying lot.) 

But such spot rezonings, critics say, cannot build infrastructure, open space, or broadly safer streets.

It's also clear that the new buildable square footage is very profitable, even with the developers agreeing to meet Community Board 8's requests. So, whether with these projects and/or future ones, policymakers must grapple with whether they have asked for enough.

Note a split within Community Board 8 regarding the two pending projects. The signers of the Hudson letter include signatories of a new petition calling for a neighborhood plan (Jack Robinson, Kaja Kühl, etc.) along with the rejection of the two private applications. Other signers are CB 8 leaders who've said pending projects deserve support (though the series of votes was murky), because the developers met requested conditions.

No response yet

As of yesterday, no response from DCP had been received. "We look forward to working with all relevant city agencies and community members to deliver a comprehensive vision that sets a higher standard for a process that has notoriously been intentionally opaque and hostile to everyday New Yorkers," Hudson spokesman Gonzalez said.

Hudson's office confirmed the letter in response to my query, which came after a 3/31/22 meeting of Community Board 8's M-CROWN subcommittee, in which Gib Veconi, who chaired the meeting, noted that such a letter had been sent. I then got a copy of the letter separately.

More from the letter

The letter points out the long history of M-CROWN:
As you may know, in 2018, former Council Member Laurie Cumbo, then-Borough President Eric Adams, and the leadership of Brooklyn Community Board 8 endorsed a framework for the area developed by the Department of City Planning [see letter]. The one major disagreement with the plan DCP developed in response to Community Board 8’s vision was a lack of strong zoning incentives for non-residential uses and especially arts, light industrial, and community facility spaces to achieve a dynamic mixed-use area.

We continue to value this goal of diverse and equitable economic development within a truly mixed-use neighborhood and note that since that 2018 letter, such zoning incentives have been implemented less than a mile away as part of the Special Gowanus Mixed-Use District. To move forward we need to see an integrated plan to address these goals.
Indeed, Veconi has told CB 8 that the Department of City Planning has resisted the requirement for job-creating ground-floor uses. 

Setting the framework

The M-CROWN area has been under study since 2014. How was the maximum FAR of 7 set, as well as the initial 14-story height? (CB 8 has recently asked for a reduction of height to 15 stories, but without a reduction in bulk.)

Veconi, in response to my query, noted that signers of the 2018 letter "recommended a base density of 6 FAR with additional incentive of 1 FAR for non-residential uses. The intent was to have a significant step down in height and density from Atlantic Yards to the west, while maintaining economic viability for two floors of non-residential use." (CB 8 has been more flexible about the latter goal.)
From 11/4/21 CB 8 presentation
The new letter from Hudson notes that "the build out of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park to the west is increasing developer interest in this area and makes the lack of coordinated planning here even starker. There have also been discussions around nearby HPD development sites and rumors around 'Site 5' which, if real, point further to the need to consider more of the broader context area in aggregate."

Site 5, of course, is the parcel across Flatbush Avenue from the Barclays Center long occupied by Modell's and P.C. Richard, with the adjacent Bear's Community Garden. 

Though a significant building, 250 feet tall and 439,050 square feet, has been approved there, developer Greenland Forest City Partners is expected to seek a much larger, two-tower project, getting the state to approve the transfer of bulk from (much of) the unbuilt "Miss Brooklyn" tower, once slated to loom over the arena. That could enable a project--as of 2016, so it likely has changed--1.1 million square feet and 785 feet tall.

Is non-residential use viable?

In 2019, Veconi told the City Planning Commission that CB 8 had a financial analysis that indicated the feasibility of developing currently vacant lots on side streets in the M-CROWN district for mixed residential use at 3.6 FAR and non-residential use at 1.4 FAR.

Before CB 8's 2015 resolution on M-CROWN, "we modeled mixed use development on a large lot in the M1-1 district," Veconi said. That model--led by Jay Marcus of Fifth Avenue Committee--suggested that R7D zoning (FAR: 5.6) produced an internal rate of return (IRR) of 10% over 15 years, and R7A zoning (FAR: 4.6) produced a 9.3% IRR. Both suggest viability.

"The assumptions are now dated given changes in land cost, cost of construction, and underwriting, so they would have to be updated to be relevant for discussion at this point," Veconi said. " The exercise was necessary then because no such development had been proposed yet. Today, one can refer to specific developments that have been proposed (and in some cases, undertaken)."

DCP has been skeptical, though.

In 2019 City Council testimony, Veconi noted that a November 2018 DCP report ("CAN INDUSTRIAL MIXED-USE BUILDINGS WORK IN NYC?") was unnecessarily pessimistic about the M-CROWN area: it "was based on more than three times the square footage for light manufacturing area that the Community Board is asking for, it was based on a land cost more than twice what is being paid for the more expensive of these two applications, 1010 Pacific, and it’s based on a 15 percent return for the developer."

That report did not mention the land cost or the return assumption, which Veconi later learned in a discussion with DCP staff.

In that report, DCP described Crown Heights as a "moderate market," stating "residential and retail rents, as well as land costs, were lower than in East Williamsburg and Gowanus, but higher than in Port

"I don’t know how they qualify it," Veconi said. "but point-in-time assessments may not be very useful in a market like Crown Heights where the environment for development evolves rapidly. My experience is that it has been clear to CB8 for more than a decade that the M1-1 district in western Crown Heights has tremendous development potential and opportunity for the community."

More from the letter

The signatories wrote:
No one believes the existing zoning and built environment in this area makes sense. We write this letter to express our support for the neighborhood-wide “M-CROWN” framework for development as part of a community-led comprehensive approach that will bring much needed city investments in new affordable housing, preservation of existing affordable housing, protection for longtime homeowners from predatory speculation, street safety, open space, and economic development. Atlantic Avenue in its current condition is no longer acceptable, and we need to find a better balance between the needs of the private automobiles and pedestrians, public transit, and bicyclists.

(Emphasis in original)

Moreover, with a planned stream of new housing unit completions coming through ESD’s Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park development, residents need assurances that City infrastructure (e.g., schools, sewers, streets) will keep up with the near-term population growth and a full understanding of how any identified needs would be funded to meet any additional growth.

We hope the Departments of City Planning, Housing Preservation and Development, and Transportation along with their sister agencies will commit to working with us to implement the “M-CROWN” neighborhood land use framework alongside an integrated plan for the wider area to pursue more deeply affordable housing, diverse economic development, and a reimagined Atlantic Avenue and public realm in this long-neglected part of Brooklyn.