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

At Community Board 8 meeting tonight, a crowded agenda includes the spot rezoning proposal for 962 Pacific Street, with many question marks

The agenda for tonight's Brooklyn Community Board 8 General Meeting, held at Chelsea Piers Field House at 601 Dean Street (within the two-tower complex known as 595 Dean, the most recent buildings to rise in Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park), is fairly extensive.

The board will hear an update from the Department of Sanitation on curbside composting, will hear reports from eight committees, and will welcome testimony, at two minutes maximum, regarding CB 8's recommendation to City Hall regarding the city's Capital and Expense Budget Fiscal Year 2025.

That's on top of the roll call (and acceptance of minutes), general public comments, as well as new business.

The board will address items from four subcommittees. Those include seven new liquor license applications and one renewal; two street co-namings; and one application for a cannabis retail dispensary from Two Oaks almost across the street, at 606 Dean Street.

That's a lot to cover in the scheduled 6:30 - 9 pm session. (Can they get permission to extend?) 

The spot rezoning

The board also--near the end? the start?--will address the Land Use Committee's request for additional (and more deeply) affordable housing at the proposed 962 Pacific Street spot rezoning, which would allow landowner HSN Realty to get a significant increase in the value of its land ahead of the pending Atlantic Avenue Mixed-Use Plan, a city rezoning of a broader area.

As I wrote Monday, applicant Nadine Oelsner seemed to accept the Committee's request for 30 deeply affordable units at 40% of Area Median Income (AMI), which would rent, at least according to 2023 guidelines, at $1,271 for a two-bedroom. The Committee and full Board votes are only advisory, but do influence the local Council Member, who typically has ultimate say, swaying the full Council.

Oelsner had previously promised 38 units averaging 60% of AMI. Beyond the 30 deeply affordable units, she said "we could come back and get a few more" below-market units at higher price points. 

That wasn't a pledge to meet the Committee's request for 53 total affordable units--35% of the proposed 150 units. However, as I speculated, it's possible that they could do so by adding units to the building, which could include, if studios were restored, 199 units. Also, the deeply affordable units are the priority.

Oelsner's team was expected to send a revised proposal to the Land Use Committee before or by the meeting today. (Such commitments, including a promise of job-creating manufacturing space, would have to be locked in via a side agreement with Friends of Community Board 8 and/or a housing nonprofit.)

As I wrote, it's hard to discern the best deal, as long as an applicant seeking an enormous increase in valuable bulk hasn't opened up their books to explain their cost basis, financing terms, and profit expectations. This all should've been discussed earlier.

The cost/value of waiting

How much does the pressure on Oelsner to get this resolved--because her company's loan is mounting? because they want to cash out?--trump the possible value of waiting?

After all, the Draft Guidelines for the Atlantic Avenue Mixed-Use Plan, released a day before last Thursday's committee meeting, would allow a somewhat larger buidling in terms of above-ground bulk, while not requiring any deeply affordable units.

But those are Draft Guidelines and, as Council Member Crystal Hudson said last week, in a more bureaucratic than enthusiastic tone introducing the online session, they "will most likely be further modified as we move through the process."

If the Community Board doesn't think that public pressure and Hudson can get deeper affordability out of the AAMUP, that bolsters the argument for getting to a deal sooner.

What about Hudson?

The Draft Guidelines did not reflect or even reference the two spot rezoning deals Hudson last year negotiated for two parcels on Atlantic Avenue, with 35% affordability, at an average of 54% AMI.

“I want to make it clear these two applications represent a paradigm shift,” Hudson stated at the time. “Today we have shown that developers can do more than MIH,” or the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, which sets several options, but with a maximum of 30% of units affordable, at higher income levels.

“This agreement shows that our city can raise the floor for affordability,” she said. “Our new floor is 35%. We can ask all developers at a minimum to do the same thing moving forward.”

Oelsner's lawyer, Richard Lobel, told the Land Use Committee last week there was more room for affordability in the Atlantic Avenue spot rezonings, given a greater increase in bulk sought compared to the 962 Pacific project.

At a Land Use Committee meeting last October, Hudson's aide Andrew Wright reiterated the Council Member's pledge not to approve any spot rezonings ahead of the neighborhood-wide rezoning.

One reason, he said, was that the Department of City Planning "has limited resources, and we need to make sure that all of those resources are fully focused on this rezoning process, and even one private applicate who will pull from that will take away from our ability to fully realize the vision this Community Board and many folks on this call have fought for for years."

"We will be building hundreds if not thousands of units," Wright added, "many of which will be deeply affordable."

That now remains in question. The city's press release estimated some 4,000 new apartments, including 1,150 to 1,550 below-market ones, at least if the total includes buildings on city property outside the rezoning area, such as 542 Dean, slated to contain 154 senior apartments.

But the only deeply affordable ones, for now, would come from such buildings outside the rezoning process.

Timing and contingencies

The Land Use Committee's resolution requested $100,000 from the applicant in anti-displacement funds, mirroring the Atlantic Avenue rezoning deals last year, assisting vulnerable renters.

Earlier in the meeting last week, Lobel said it was $50,000: $25,000 upon upon approval of the rezoning and $25,000 upon issuance of a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (TCO), so "that the building doesn't have this huge debt on it before they even know if they can build."

So the total is in question. Either way, as I noted, the timing would improve over last year's deals, which stated such funding would start a year after the TCO. In other words, the pressure on nearby rent-stabilized buildings, whose landlords would like to move units toward the market, starts with the announcement of new buildings, as tenant advocates from the Crown Heights Tenant Union have stressed.

Oelsner has said that 962 Pacific is "shovel ready," given that they've relocated the tenant and otherwise prepared the site.

It's unclear, however, if construction would proceed in the absence of the 421-a tax break or any subsititute. 

So, I speculate, it wouldn't be surprising if the response to the Land Use Committee includes contingencies based on the availability of 421-a or an equivalent, which lowers the cost to build.

The longer the building takes to complete, the rents for below-market units go up, given the inexorable rise in Area Median Income, which includes prosperous suburban counts. 

So contingencies might go both ways. If the Community Board recommends approval of the proposal based on the applicant's promise that the site is shovel-ready, shouldn't there be a way to guarantee affordability levels based on the current expectation of a prompt buildout?