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Is process to transfer bulk to Site 5 getting closer? NYS told by BrooklynSpeaks that 3rd-party public engagement process is needed. (Recall 2018 proposal.)

The process to shift bulk from the unbuilt "Miss Brooklyn" (aka B1) tower, once slated to loom over the arena, across Flatbush Avenue to Site 5, long home to the box-box stores Modell's (now closed) and P.C. Richard, is likely getting closer, and there should be a new round of public engagement.


Since 2016, it's been proposed for a huge project, proposed that year as a two-tower project stretching nearly 800 feet and containing 1.1 million square feet. The current proposed program has not yet been made public, but it's a good bet that developer Greenland Forest City Partners foresees more residential space than, as previously suggested, a significant amount of office space.


That would be a major change from the 250-foot, 439,050-square foot project approved in 2006. That was more than the zoning allowed, as the state can override city zoning. That plan can again change. It's up to the gubernatorially-controlled Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing/shepherding the project.


That would require a public process: modification of the project's guiding General Project Plan, which involves public hearings and a vote by the ESD board, which typically follows the governor. 


So it's an open question whether the expected public engagement, however deeper than previous efforts, would result in changes to what the developer seeks.

From 2016 presentation to Department of City Planning; open space isn't green; Bear's Garden omitted

The bulk would preserve the arena plaza; after all, construction there would severely impact arena operations.


But if the bulk of Miss Brooklyn were moved there, the total could easily exceed 1.1 million square feet. That would mean a potential Floor Area Ratio of 23.5, nearly double that of the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning, and about 50% more than the unusually large 80 Flatbush project.

Public engagement coming?

At a 5/26/22 meeting of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC), Gib Veconi, a leader of PHNDC as well as the coalition BrooklynSpeaks, offered a short update.


"The members of the BrooklynSpeaks coalition have met with representatives of Empire State Development. Who've indicated a desire to do a public engagement process," he said. "And it's the desire of the community and... the state elected officials representing this project that that be a community-led process. We'll see kind of how that plays out. And hopefully, we'll have some more information to share in the near future on that."

I asked Veconi to elaboratee:

We met twice with ESD staff assigned to the Atlantic Yards project, as well as ESD senior management. The meeting included representatives of BrooklynSpeaks coalition members and State legislators who attended the Crossroads charettes earlier in the year.
That was the series of four online meetings regarding the project, covering Urban Design, Transportation, Affordable Housing, and Accountability. (My coverage is here.) 

Legislators who attended the Crossroads sessions included Assemblymembers Jo Anne Simon and Phara Souffrant Forrest, state Senator Jabari Brisport, and Council Member Crystal Hudson. 


Simon has long been involved in BrooklynSpeaks, a coalition of neighborhood association and housing and urban advocacy groups that was organized in 2006 as an alternative to project opponents Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, aiming instead to improve the project. (She's also now running for Congress.)


Public engagement and community stakeholders


Added Veconi:

Although the details of a public engagement process were not discussed, elected officials expressed a desire that engagement be led by a recognized third party planning organization impartial to the outcome and acceptable to community stakeholders. We did not propose BrooklynSpeaks lead that effort.
(That last sentence was a reponse to my query, mishearing his initial statement as "we've" rather than "who've.")

So, a "community-led process" would ideally be more of a third-party led process, aimed at incorporating, rather than downplaying, community voices. That said, the record for public engagement is not 

I'd note that, while BrooklynSpeaks is now the main advocacy platform regarding the project, and thus provides a forum to update elected officials--most of whom were not around during earlier battles and debates--on the project, it does not represent community consensus. (What could?)

After attending the Crossroads sessions, veteran advocacy planner Ron Shiffman was supportive of BrooklynSpeaks' efforts but also urged them to abandon a bargaining process for a planning process to revise the project, as well as do more extensive community outreach.

And, presumably, there are people/groups who will back the developer's proposals without hesitation.

A suggestion from 2018

Let's see if that public engagement process reflects what Jaime Stein, then a Director of the (purportedly) advisory Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) suggested in 2018.

As I wrote, Stein argued that  the "complexity and longevity" of the project required an additional process. Essentially, Stein wanted the AY CDC to serve more as an advocate for the public interest, a separate node beyond its ESD.

But then and now, the AY CDC, controlled by gubernatorial appointees and with most members under-informed, has been mostly ineffective. 

(Veconi, who has the potentially contradictory roles of being a community advocate via BrooklynSpeaks as well as member of the AY CDC board, is the most informed member. Perhaps the issue will come up at today's AY CDC meeting, though it's not on the agenda.)

Stein suggested that, when the Site 5 proposal is released, the AY CDC Board and ESD hire third-party planning, design and construction consultants to review the proposal to inform the board and the public.

Those consultants would convene and facilitate at least two preliminary public meetings and then share community priority issues with the board, which is supposed to advise ESD. 

Stein recommended that consultants be hired prior to the public release of the Site 5 proposal, with access and review of all relevant documents, and that there are at least eight weeks between the public release of the Site 5 proposal and the AY CDC Board vote.

The likely response--as we've heard already, when Stein raised the issue at an AY CDC--is that this duplicates the current environmental review process. But that assumes that AKRF, the state's ubiquitous environmental consultant, is hired by ESD to protect the public interest rather than to ensure a project passes legal muster.

Given an expected Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), Stein also recommended that the draft scope for that SEIS be reviewed broadly rather than narrowly: "within the context of the entire project going back to 2006."

The bottom line

As I wrote, it's clear that any developer--and its governmental allies--resists more process and oversight, since it can delay things and add costs. At the same time, I've seen steps toward more process and oversight taken in response to events, such as when the Ward Bakery's parapet fell back in 2007.

In the absence of a precipitating event, the counterpressure would have to come from civic groups and elected officials. If "process" causes delay, the argument might be that better process adds more legitimacy, and thus a smoother path in the long run.

The question now is what voices are heard.

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