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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)

Developer proposes 13-story building to replace Atlantic Ave. strip mall in eastern Crown Heights, well beyond Nostrand Ave. boundary of current rezoning study.

A proposed 13-story residential building would jump-start the transformation of a border zone in Eastern Crown Heights known for auto-related businesses and lower-cost retail, adjacent to the elevated Long Island Rail Road tracks. 

And that proposal suggests that developers are, perhaps unsurprisingly, ahead of city planners, just as the rezonings around Atlantic Avenue east of Vanderbilt Avenue and the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park site outpaced city policy.

Last year, only after several one-off rezonings in the so-called M-CROWN district, which enabled larger buildings with affordable housing but no overall city investment to accommodate growth, did the city finally agree to an area-wide rezoning, the Atlantic Avenue Mixed-Use Plan.

But now an ambitious project has surfaced well beyond the Nostrand Avenue eastern boundary of that plan, opposite the elevated Long Island Rail Road tracks, which rise from underground shortly before the LIRR's Nostrand Avenue stop.

Community Board 8’s Land Use committee on March 2 heard a proposal (video, slideshow) from Bawabeh Realty to rezone 1720 Atlantic Avenue, a strip mall-plus-parking-lot at the southwest corner of Schenectady Avenue, six blocks east of Nostrand, an area similarly shackled by outdated manufacturing zoning (M1-1).

From slideshow

That could create a 13-story building with space for 278 apartments--a portion "affordable"--and two floors of commercial and community facility space, plus below-ground parking.

Across wide Atlantic Avenue in Bedford Stuyvesant, Interfaith Medical Center is one block northwest, while the Boys and Girls High School campus is essentially catercorner to the northeast, with a parking lot and sports field flanking Atlantic and the school one block north.

The building’s south side, with nine stories proposed, would extend to Pacific Street, opposite the low-rise Weeksville Gardens public housing complex. (That portion of Pacific has been co-named Michael Griffith Street, honoring a resident of the block killed in a notorious 1986 racist attack in Howard Beach.)

Lucrative change means civic commitments?

The upzoning of the parcel, now known as Atlantic Plaza, could be worth tens of millions of dollars in additional floor area for the developer. That gives Community Board 8 and 36th District Council Member Chi Ossé leverage in requesting reciprocal commitments for increased affordable housing and job-creating space.

It also might prompt policymakers to consider new guidelines for similar proposals and, perhaps, a new or extended rezoning study east of Nostrand Avenue.

The proposal would replace small retail spaces--many aimed at lower-income residents, including Checks & More, Dollar Tree, Gem Pawnbrokers, and Aaron’s (a rent-to-own furniture and electronics store)—for a more upscale building.

The replacement project might incorporate current retail tenants--which also include Dunkin Donuts, a Food Universe supermarket, and the Jamaican food chain Golden Krust--though presumably a market-rate building, albeit in an area previously ungentrified, would seek increased rents.

Atlantic Plaza/1720 Atlantic Avenue, screenshot from Google Maps

Atlantic Avenue: study area and beyond

The Department of City Planning (DCP) has been encouraging private rezonings proposed along Atlantic Avenue between Vanderbilt and Nostrand avenues, an area that a DCP staffer, in a September 2021 presentation to the City Planning Commission, called one of Brooklyn's "opportunity corridors," a wide street able to absorb increased residential density.

That area was announced in April 2022 to be the subject of the Atlantic Avenue Mixed-Use Plan, currently under study, outlined below. (As I've written, the enterprise is flawed by the failure to assess and analyze the series of one-off rezonings already approved.)

The site, from Vanderbilt to Nostrand avenues, for the Atlantic Avenue Mixed-Use Plan

There's been less discussion about the Atlantic Avenue district east of Nostrand Avenue, though the half-mile study area extends east to Kingston Avenue, three blocks from Schenectady.
The primary AAMUP study area, with a quarter-mile and half-mile buffers.

The same zoning continues east to Saratoga Avenue. In the screenshot below, the 1720 Atlantic Avenue site is marked in blue.
M1-1 zoning district, in pink, extends to Saratoga Ave. 1720 Atlantic site in blue. Screenshot: ZoLa.

Proposal surfaces after lobbying

At the meeting, applicant Soly Bawabeh addressed the Land Use Committee cordially: “We would like to present a brief outline of the proposed project and see comments and feedback from the community board to develop a property so it will benefit the neighborhood.”

His company’s contract with the lobbying firm Capalino, which began last July, positions their effort differently: “seeking to uncover any potential opposition to the proposed project, understand the positions of the pertinent elected officials, city agencies, and community stakeholders in relation” to the future rezoning application.

Last year, Capalino reps met with representatives of the City Council, and 36th District Council Member Ossé. Also, at At City Planning, Capalino met with Chief of Staff Genevieve Michel, who was formerly Chief of Staff to Council Member Dan Garodnick, who now heads City Planning.

Capalino Managing Director Ashley Thompson DiNardo was present at the CB 8 meeting.

A conclusory architect
From IMC Architecture

IMC Architecture, which has prepared renderings of the building, somehow claims on its website that the project has passed:
The IMC team successfully rezoned a M1-1 district to a C4-4D, R7A/C2-4 site. This increased the allowable square footage from 48,300 sq ft to 196,400 sq ft, for a total of 278 dwelling units and 75,000 sq ft of commercial space.
CB 8 sees precedent

CB 8 members were guarded toward the project. This application would set a precedent for projects along Atlantic Avenue well east of the AAMUP rezoning, said Gib Veconi, who since 2013 spearheaded the sub-committee proposing a rezoning of what CB 8 called the M-CROWN district. The pending city plan builds on the board's work.

Veconi told Bawabeh and land use attorney Jay Goldstein that CB 8 had asked developers to pursue deep affordability—Option 4 of the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, not Option 1, as Bawabeh’s team proffered—and to consider providing space for manufacturing jobs for locals.

The applicants said they were open to feedback and to revising their plans.

Option 1 requires 25% of the housing (69-70 units) to be affordable, on average, to households making 60% of Area Median Income (AMI), while Option 4 requires 20% affordability (54-55 units), at 40% of AMI.

At current rent levels, 1-bedrooms could cost $1,501 for Option 1 and $1,001 for Option 4, though AMI, which incorporates higher-income suburban counties, likely will have risen if and when the building opens.

As shown in the spot rezonings negotiated last year by Council Member Crystal Hudson, which involved 35% affordable housing, it's possible to get more than currently required under city guidelines. (A key factor is the initial cost of the land; it's unclear how much Bawabeh paid for the site, but a long-term holder presumably has lower costs.)

Longstanding presence

Bawabeh said his father and uncle founded Bawabeh Holdings in 1985, developing small mixed-use properties along Flatbush Avenue--here's one in the Flatbush neighborhood--and Fulton Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

"Over the years, our focus has shifted to building retail and educational buildings in neighborhoods such as East Flatbush, Brownsville, Bed-Stuy, and East New York,” he said. “ We pride ourselves on building long term relationships with our tenants and community partners.”

They helped get the Bed-Stuy Gateway Business Improvement District (BID) approved in 2009, he said.

Regarding 1720 Atlantic, Bawabeh said, “Our goal is to develop the site in a manner that prioritizes ground floor retail, community facility as well as residential space… [to] create a development that will benefit everyone.”

Project details

The project site has 48,000 square feet of lot area. The proposed zoning would allow a Floor Area Ratio (FAR)--the multiple of the underlying lot–of 7.2 along Atlantic Avenue and 4.6 on Pacific Street, with an overall FAR of 5.45. The proposed multiple zoning districts would allow a transition in scale with setbacks, said attorney Goldstein.

The developer seeks 263,276 square feet of floor area; the first two floors would incorporate 50,427 square feet of commercial space and 17,421 square feet for a community facility. The latter could involve an urgent care facility or a school, said Goldstein, noting they are open to CB 8's guidance.

The commercial space could include a supermarket. The slideshow cites a potential use of 30,000 square feet for a supermarket under the city's Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) program, which "provides zoning and financial incentives for the establishment and retention of grocery stores in underserved communities."
From slideshow

About the housing

Above that, a proposed 195,429 square feet would be housing. “The number of units will change,” lawyer Goldstein said, depending on the unit makeup. (With 278 apartments, units would average 703 square feet.)

The unit mix wasn't specified. A percentage of the units would be studio and one bedrooms to serve elderly individuals or young couples, said Goldstein, with two- and three-bedroom units for families.

On the first floor and cellar, the building could include up to 112 parking spaces. (Parking is required for half the market-rate units, but not for the affordable ones.) The site is near the A/C stop at Utica Avenue, and within walking distance of the 3/4 train at Utica and even the Nostrand Avenue LIRR. Bus routes run north-south on Schenectady, as well as other parallel avenues.

Warned by committee member Fior Ortiz-Joyner that smaller units create a transient community, Goldstein said, “We’re trying to create a building that will be of benefit to this community, the community that Mr. Bawabeh has been in for a very long time.” (Presumably that referred to his role as a landlord and developer, since Bawabeh’s office is in Flatbush and his home is further away.)

Green space opening up?

The frontage along both Schenectady and Atlantic Avenue would have widened sidewalks.

Committee member Cathy Iselin asked about providing open space to neighbors and about commitments to current retail tenants. Goldstein said they were thinking about the former, and hoped to relocate current tenants to another location during construction—”construction is probably five or six years out”—and allow them to return.

Veconi noted that CB 8's Land Use Committee had not yet adopted resolutions regarding open space, though the issue has been raised regarding previous spot rezonings, as new density has been added along Atlantic Avenue without reciprocal green space.

“These are not settled questions,” he said, noting that, in the case of 1720 Atlantic, parks and a community garden are nearby. Iselin agreed it was something the committee should discuss, leading to a potential policy recommendation.