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

At bi-monthly meeting, developer/ESD avoid big questions about project (affordable housing deadline); fencing around platform work to last three years

This is the first of two articles about last night's Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life meeting. (Updated 4/13/22 with slides, at bottom.) The second concerned Barclays Center issues, including truncated access to the plaza.

Sometimes the bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life meetings elicit some candor about the future of the project. But often, like last night, they don't.

At last night's virtual meeting, which lasted barely 35 minutes and attracted just 15 attendees, representatives of developer Greenland USA and Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority that oversee/shepherds the project, focused mainly on plans to erect fencing around the first of two railyard blocks for the platform needed for vertical development. 

None of the project's big questions, such as the 2025 affordable housing deadline, were addressed.

Much of that information had been disclosed at a meeting the night before (my coverage) of the North Prospect Heights Association. To me, it was more more clear that, yes, the fencing around the block, which will constrict vehicular and pedestrian traffic, will last for an estimated three years, for the completion of the platform, which will support three towers.

That three years, until 2025, should coincide with the completion of the first railyard tower, B5, just east of Atlantic Avenue. Work on the platform will start in the B5 area at the western protion of the block, and move east.

Unmentioned: assuming the other two adjacent towers start at some point later, at least part of a construction fence likely will persist.

As previously described, sidewalks around the immediate perimeter of the block will be taken out of service, and the traffic lanes narrowed, with trucks entering the work site mainly at Atlantic Avenue but sometimes at Pacific Street. 

A "bump" on Pacific Street closer to Sixth Avenue will accommodate a crane. A ramp off Atlantic, just east of the midsection of hte block, will serve as the main entrance. Long Island Rail Road vehicles will still enter from a ramp on Sixth Avenue midblock between Atlantic and Pacific.

One resident commented in the chat that the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Sixth Avenue/South Portland Avenue has been very dangerous with the loss of the pedestrian refuge.

Greenland USA's Scott Solish noted that the median, which had been taken away, will be restored, and should enhance safety.

Big questions bypassed

The meeting didn't address, much less answer, the project's big questions:
  • how will 877 more affordable housing units be built by the May 2025 deadline to complete 2250 total units?
  • will developer Greenland Forest City Partners aim to extend or revise the deadline?
  • what level of affordability is being planned?
  • what about the long simmering plan to transfer bulk from the unbuilt B1 tower, approved to loom over the arena at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, to Site 5 across Flatbush, longtime home to Modell's and P.C. Richard, enabling a far larger tower (or towers) than the 250-foot, 440,000 square foot approved building?

In face, we got more candor at the previous night's meeting, where Solish acknowledged that the state legislature's non-renewal of the 421-a tax break jeopardized the start of towers like B6 and B7. That meeting drew about 25 people.

Tobi Jaiyesimi, who serves as ESD'S Atlantic Yards Project Director, responded bureaucratically to a question about the possible impacts of changes in affordable housing policy: "At this time there are no updates or information available with regards to that question. Once we have information that's pertinent in response to that question, we'll be sure to share accordingly."

B5 center-left, across from B4/Dattner Architects
Though B5 is not supposed to go vertical until next year, they need foundations started by June 15 to qualify for current 421-a benefits. (Permits have already been approved, as far as I can tell.) So I asked if foundations would be installed by June 15.

"Norman, you were at the meeting last night," Solish responded somewhat sharply. "We went through the schedule for B5, so I'm not sure why things would have changed between last night and tonight."

Except he chose not to answer that same question at the previous meeting. There's a huge incentive to qualify for the current 421-a benefits, which require, at minimum, 30% affordable housing at 130% of Area Median Income (AMI), meaning units that could rent for $3,000 or more. 

That's far more generous than the increased affordability required in Gov. Kathy Hochul's proposed replacement, which hasn't passed.

Building updates

Solish said that there are residents at 18 Sixth Ave. (B4, aka Brooklyn Crossing), but work continues on the interior fit-out of upper floor residential spaces and the units adjacent to the previous hoist location along the northwest corner, plus some sidewalk work on Atlantic Avenue.

Work on the B12 and B13 sites (615 Dean and 595 Dean) continues, he said, with the project on schedule for Spring 2023. 

No representative of TF Cornerstone, which is developing those sites after leasing them from Greenland Forest City Partners, was present. So we don't know yet whether the associated underground Chelsea Piers fitness center/fieldhouse would open at the same time.

Future ESD and AY CDC meetings

Jaiyesimi said that the format for the upcoming Quality of Life meetings, with the next one scheduled for July 12, has not been resolved: IRL, virtual, or hybrid.

A meeting of the purportedly advisory Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) should be held in the coming weeks, she said; directors are being polled for their availability. 

The AY CDC is supposed to meet quarterly, though it has long lagged that schedule. (Jaiyesimi started as the AY CDC Executive Director and now wears two hats, essentially helping advise herself.)

That said, the most recent AY CDC meeting was less than two months ago. Could the accelerated timing be simply to inform the directors of plans for the platform? 

Or is their blessing being sought, as in some suspiciously timed meetings in the past, for any upcoming vote of the ESD directors to help ease the project?

ESD: meeting notes delayed

Jaiyesimi, in response to my question about why the official meeting notes for the January and March meetings had not yet appeared, offered an apology, saying they were "currently under review by the project team to ensure the accuracy of the information that we presented and what was summarized from the previous meetings." 

(It's unclear why that review now takes so much longer than previously. It also hampers the ability of meeting attendees to see a quick official summation of the previous meeting.)

She said the meeting notes should be on the ESD's project website within the next week.

Going forward, "turnaround time for the meeting notes will depend on staff availability," but they'll aim to have them posted within two or three weeks of the meeting. The slideshow presentation, she said, should be posted within 24 to 48 hours of the meeting.

In response to a suggestion, she said they'd also post the Quality of Life meeting agendas on the ESD web site. Those agendas are typically anodyne, just a list of the entities making presentations.

ESD: no executive team updates

Jaiyesimi said there are no updates regarding the ESD's executive team, which needs to replace Marion Phillips III, former Senior VP of Community Relations, and Holly Leicht, former Executive VP for Real Estate.

Phillips, who also served as President of the AY CDC, strongly defended project opacity. At a March 2019 meeting of the AY CDC, Phillips's argument seemingly helped sway the board from requiring more details about how the affordable housing obligation would be met.

Flashback: not holding developer accountable

At that meeting, director Gib Veconi proposed a motion requiring how the 2,250 units would be built by the May 2025 deadline.

"Greenland's not required to give us a projection, and I'm not trying to put them in a position so that we can play gotcha," Phillips said. "They have a responsibility, and we plan to hold them to a responsibility, for 2,250 units. Y'know, your request for them making a projection I think is helpful and useful, but at the end of the day, the commitment of meeting the goal that we set is nonnegotiable on our end."

Is housing deadline negotiable?

"Can you say that [housing total and deadline] will never be negotiable?" director Cy Richardson asked Phillips.

Phillips' response began with a few weasel words. "At this point, I'm very clear, [ESD head] Howard's [Zemsky] very clear, we're not negotiating that number down, at all. I have been given very clear instructions that we're not negotiating that number."

After the first motion failed, Phillips later said that it required a re-vote, because it should have requested that ESD, not the developer, provide the projections. The motion failed again.

Director Daniel Kummer offered a comment: "I want to be clear that in voting no against that motion, I in no way intend to send any message that I view the responsibility of this board to hold the--to assist ESD in holding the developer to the commitments that have been made--is in any way diminished."

"Y'know, I think it's a situation, and I'm satisfied with Marion's explanation," Kummer continued, "that I think at this point--at this point in time, we can essentially trust all these professionals to do the simple arithmetic that you alluded to, which obviously is a valid point, and to take that arithmetic into account as they plan the future parts of the development project."

Richardson was less sanguine. "I just want to make a point to explain my position... I've grown into a cynical individual, particularly as it relates to public-private partnerships. So my point is: I would like every opportunity to remind the broader community, defined as you would like, of this master commitment... Because I don't want it to be too late when these things have to be renegotiated."

"That's fair," Phillips said.

Time for potential renegotiation is approaching. Yesterday, Veconi addressed the issue on Twitter, in response to my earlier coverage.
Stay tuned. 

Surely something is brewing. I've speculated that it may not be a legislative fix to extend 421-a but a renegotiation that could come as part of a plan to add more housing, and affordable housing, to the project with the pending Site 5 project.