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Showing posts from July, 2006

Push poll (likely from FCR) boosts Boyland against Montgomery in Senate race

Sometimes the news just falls into your lap. When I got a call yesterday from a pollster from Pacific Crest Research, the name rang a bell. The same company conducted a push poll last year to gauge and change attitudes regarding Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards (AY) project, almost certainly on behalf of the developer.

I was asked numerous questions, some quite general, but most focused on the race between last-minute challenger Tracy Boyland and longstanding State Senator Velmanette Montgomery for the 18th Senatorial District.

The point of the push poll apparently was to see if the information provided--including leading statements, with incorrect information--would nudge listeners into supporting Boyland, who backs the AY project, against the incumbent, who opposes the AY project.

In the end, Montgomery was portrayed as an ally of those "who have million-dollar brownstones and want to preserve their exclusive neighborhood."

A member of a Brooklyn political dynasty, Boylan…

A not-quite-correction in the Times

A Times editorial in the Westchester weekly July 16:
At another huge development in Brooklyn that Mr. Ratner proposes to build, an amazing 50 percent of housing units will be sold to low- and middle-income residents.

The correction published July 23:
An editorial last week about the Ridge Hill Village project in Yonkers mischaracterized the units earmarked for low and middle-income residents at another project, the proposed Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn. These units will be rented, not sold.

While that correction is technically correct--yes, the affordable units would be rented, not sold--it still leaves the impression that 50 percent of the total number of units would be rented to low- and middle-income residents.

Rather, 50 percent of the 4500 rental units would be affordable, while the project would include another 2360 market-rate condos. The affordable housing percentage, announced and pledged at 50 percent, applies only to the rentals.

How big would "Miss Brooklyn" be? Look across the river

So how big would "Miss Brooklyn," Frank Gehry's flagship tower for the Atlantic Yards project, actually be? At 620 feet tall (actually, 650 feet with mechanicals) and 1.1 million square feet, it would loom over its neighbor, the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, which is 512 feet tall but less than one-third the bulk.

Look across the river

So it's hard to get a sense of scale in the immediate neighborhood. But head for the the South Street Seaport and you might see a substantial glass-clad office building, 180 Maiden Lane, which stands between Front Street and the FDR Drive.

Could this building serve as a cue?

Indeed, the building includes 1.08 million square feet and stands 554 feet tall over 41 stories. So it's not quite as tall as Miss Brooklyn would be, but it's nearly as bulky.

So if you're crossing the Brooklyn or Manhattan bridges, or just looking over from the Brooklyn shoreline, a view of this building gives a whiff of the future--at least as currently pla…

Each AY tower would dwarf (in sf) that 31-story public housing tower

I've already pointed out that, even though Frank Gehry's proposed "Miss Brooklyn" tower would be only 20 percent taller than the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, it would be three times as bulky.

But what about the tallest established residential building nearby, Atlantic Terminal Site 4B, the city's tallest public housing tower, at 31 stories and 310 feet. It's located across Atlantic Avenue at Carlton Avenue, opposite the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard, the site for several proposed towers.

Atlantic Terminal Site 4B covers 252,500 square feet, which makes it smaller than any of the proposed 16 towers in the Atlantic Yards project, including the six that are shorter. That's a testament to the density proposed in the Atlantic Yards plan and a reminder that height provides only a partial sense of a building's impact.

On the Brian Lehrer Show in June, Daily News columnist Errol Louis, a stalwart supporter of the Atlantic Yards plan,…

Shadowy AY open space OK, says DEIS, because it's better than nothing

Yesterday I walked through Peter Cooper Village (PCV) in Manhattan in late afternoon, mindful of the warning by the Municipal Art Society that the open space at PCV's similar and co-managed neighbor, Stuyvesant Town, was more building backyard than true public park.

I was struck by how so much of the green space was in shadow--and from buildings only about 15 stories in height, less than half the height of most buildings proposed for the Atlantic Yards project. (And some AY buildings would be three times taller, at least.)

Would the seven acres of publicly-accessible open space proposed for Atlantic Yards be in late-afternoon shadow, when students return from school and adults from work?

Yes.

The limits of the law

But that's not a problem, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Empire State Development Corporation, which measures environmental impact within some very specific legal boundaries.

The reason: this would be new open space, and something is b…

Was ATURA planning for (part of) the AY site--or just a framework?

It's already been established that the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area (ATURA) would incorporate less than two-thirds of the proposed Atlantic Yards site, and an even smaller proportion of the properties subject to eminent domain.

So the incomplete coverage is an argument against ATURA being cited under the standard set in the Supreme Court's Kelo decision, which said that a community planning process was a prerequisite for the use of eminent domain.

(The project site is in blue, and ATURA in red, including the dark red, so the overlap is striped.)

But was ATURA actually a planning process? While it incorporated a broad area into a framework for urban renewal, the disposition of individual parcels was subject to specific planning decisions.

No look at the Vanderbilt Yard

And the main component of the Atlantic Yards plan that sits within ATURA, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard, has been a functioning railyard. There had been proposals for deckin…

Spitzer, local officials tell ESDC: Give community more time to study DEIS

Eliot Spitzer, state Attorney General and frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for governor, has joined local elected officials and a community coalition who say that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) should offer more time for review of the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). In other words, the scheduled August 23 hearing is too soon.

Not only does Spitzer's statement reflect the concerns of numerous Brooklynites--not just opponents, but also members of community boards and civic groups--but it also has a practical implication. A delay makes it even less likely that, in a best-case scenario, departing Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, will preside over a groundbreaking.

Spitzer, who generally supports the project, sent a letter--[Update: note that it was on his campaign letterhead, not his official letterhead] today to Charles Gargano, chairman of the ESDC.

The letter was hailed by a coalition of local elected officials who represent cons…

AY plans revealed: temporary parking + staging slowly eclipsed

Now we know what the Atlantic Yards site might look like--at least in part--thanks to graphics released with Draft Design Guidelines that are part of the General Project Plan.

Five buildings and the arena would be built in the first major stage, leaving the entire eastern segment of the site for temporary surface parking and staging. Then, according to the draft plans, buildings would be constructed one by one in 11 phases, moving east and then clockwise, each time reducing the amount of space for parking and staging.

Curiously enough, the last building to be built would be east of Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets. That space--just across from the arena block--also would provide persistent temporary parking. Permanent parking would be built under that building as well, as shown in the final graphic below.

11 phases, one missing

The Draft Design Guidelines illustrate 11 phases of construction, all after the first major stage (five buildings + arena). Scroll down for each phase…

"Miss Brooklyn" would be 3X the Williamsburgh bank (in sf)

"Miss Brooklyn" would be huge. While it would be the only building in the Atlantic Yards project taller (by about 20 percent) than the Williamsburgh Savings Bank nearby, architect Frank Gehry's flagship tower would be three times larger than the iconic bank, in square footage.

In fact, ten of the 16 buildings planned, including each of the five slated for the first phase, would be bigger than the bank, in bulk.

Developer Forest City Ratner has regularly cited the bank as a cue for the size of the Atlantic Yards project. It even released a rendering (below right) from a perspective that shows the bank looming over "Miss Brooklyn" in the background.

In an FAQ on the project web site, the developer states:
Miss Brooklyn," the building proposed to be located at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, will be the tallest, at 620 feet. As a comparison, buildings located nearby include the Williamsburgh Savings Bank which stands at 512 feet.

But height is only…

“Friendly condemnations” (but not for renters): ESDC plans eminent domain for most of AY

So now we know what Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) Chairman Charles Gargano meant when he used the term “friendly condemnations” two months ago regarding the Atlantic Yards project.

As explained in a public hearing notice released yesterday, the ESDC will acquire nearly all the property in the Atlantic Yards site via eminent domain, including the 90 percent owned by Forest City Ratner. That includes city streets but not a few properties needed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

ESDC spokeswoman Jessica Copen explained: "When a development site is assembled by eminent domain, it is typical for the condemning authority to run any properties already owned by the developer through a 'friendly' condemnation, so as to clear any title defects that may have accumulated over the years."

Getting rid of renters?

Copen's statement does reflect typical practice. However, George Locker, a lawyer who represents 15 of the remaining 55 tenants in the project f…

"Near the planned Atlantic Yards"? The Times resists another correction

The caption on the photo in yesterday's New York Times blight story read:
This portion of Dean Street, between Flatbush and Sixth Avenues near the planned Atlantic Yards, is in a part of Brooklyn that a state agency has defined as blighted.

But it's not "near" the project site. I e-mailed the Times:
The caption for the article incorrectly described the portion of Dean Street pictured as being "near the planned Atlantic Yards." Actually, the street would be included in the project, with towers of 322 feet and 428 feet replacing the current buildings.

The Times responds

I got a quick response from Senior Editor Greg Brock, who oversees corrections:
I think you misread the caption. It is talking about Dean Street in the present -- as it exists now. Not what it will be in the future as part of the Atlantic Yards. Here is the caption: "This portion of Dean Street, between Flatbush and Sixth Avenues near the planned Atlantic Yards, is in a part of Brooklyn that …

Tenants' rights activist disses AY affordable housing program

On the Housing Notebook show Monday night on radio station WBAI, host Scott Sommer, a tenants’ rights activist, offered forceful and sardonic criticism of the affordable housing component of the Atlantic Yards project.

Sommer's monologue began at about the 15:50 mark of the show, after he talked about the increasing pressure on rents and the prevalence of luxury housing among new construction. You have to listen to get the flavor of his sarcasm.

He began:
We are seeing the whole--the unraveling of the promise of the 50% of affordable housing at the Atlantic Yards Project, a project that should be condemned and destroyed. You know, the unraveling of that.
You know, it's now down closer to 30%. And some of the affordable units are going to be going for--affordable, affordable--the affordable units are going for over two thousand dollars a month. They just had a dog and pony show, sham information session, recently, about the affordable housing units, describing how that's going…

ATURA, crime, and the Times's blight story

In an article today headlined Blight, Like Beauty, Can Be in the Eye of the Beholder, the New York Times does a reasonable job surveying the issues regarding blight at the Atlantic Yards site, quoting a range of voices, even Assembly Member Roger Green, who supports the project but has said the site isn't blighted.

(The photo shows part of the block on Dean Street between Flatbush and Sixth avenues, probably the best-preserved part of the proposed footprint. The caption in the print edition, on the front page of the Metro section, incorrectly described the portion of Dean Street as "near the planned Atlantic Yards" rather than within the proposed project site.)

In two aspects, however, the coverage falls short. The first involves the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area (ATURA). The article states:
The study also dwells in some detail on the eight-acre railyards that make up about one-third of the site, and which also fall within an urban renewal zone the city established a…

Instant gentrification? DEIS says no, statistics say yes

Would the Atlantic Yards project cause gentrification, also known as "indirect residential displacement"? The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) issued last week by the Empire State Development Corporation says no, in part because of ongoing gentrification, because new housing units could relieve market pressure, and because most of the at-risk households would be more than a half-mile away.

Those arguments, however debatable, can't be dismissed. The fourth reason, however, doesn't pass the laugh test. The DEIS suggests that the new residents would be similar economically to current residents in the area. But it fails to point out that the cost of the new housing would ensure that most new households would have to earn above-average incomes.

So the numbers back up City Council Member Charles Barron, who has long criticized Atlantic Yards as "instant gentrification."

Looking at the document

Chapter 4 of the DEIS states:
Similarities between the proposed…

Real housing for the real Brooklyn? Half of the affordable units--or less

On July 17, in an editorial headlined Real housing for the real Brooklyn, a Daily News editorial recounted how more than 2,500 real New Yorkers packed a ballroom at the Brooklyn Marriott to hear a presentation on the estimated 2,250 units of low-cost housing that would be built as part of Atlantic Yards, benefitting families who languish for as long as eight years on waiting lists for public housing and Section 8 vouchers.

I already pointed out that most Daily News readers would hardly consider the subsidized housing uniformly "low-cost," since some 40 percent of the affordable units would rent for well over $2000 a month (for a four-person family.)

But the editorial deserves a closer look, especially since it suggests that the 2250 units would be benefitting families who languish for as long as eight years on waiting lists for public housing and Section 8 vouchers.

Section 8 limits

For Section 8 assistance, $35,450 is the maximum income for a four-person family. That means that…

Daily News champions eminent domain, misreads ATURA

The Daily News editorial page seems committed to leading the charge on the Atlantic Yards project. Two editorials, plus a column by Errol Louis, have already been the subject of e-newsletters sent by developer Forest City Ratner within the last ten weeks.

Today's editorial, headlined Eminent sense in Brooklyn domain, likely will be no different. It states:
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that public agencies can invoke eminent domain to purchase land from holdouts and make it available to private developers, provided the project in question follows a preexisting governmental planning process and the public good is served. Atlantic Yards meets both criteria.
In 1968, most of the area was so blighted that city planners officially declared it an urban renewal zone, restating that designation as recently as 2004. The thousands of jobs and the subsidized housing the project would create represent a clear benefit to the public.

As Lumi Rolley pointed out first on NoLandGrab, key …

Batson, Jeffries say AY review deserves more time

They have different positions on the Atlantic Yards project, but Bill Batson and Hakeem Jeffries, candidates for the 57th Assembly District seat being vacated by Roger Green, at least agree that August 23 is too soon to hold a hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project.

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) “has insulted all of Brooklyn” by scheduling the hearing during the last week of the summer, when many families go away with children, said Batson (right) at a candidates’ forum Thursday night at the Duryea Presbyterian Church in Prospect Heights.

Jeffries said he though the process of public review should be extended for six months. (The DEIS was released last week, and comments will be accepted only through September 23.) “It is problematic that the two public hearings are scheduled at times that are inconvenient,” he said, noting that the follow-up community forum is on the day of the Democratic primary election.

Freddie Hamilton, the third candid…

No eminent domain for arena, says Jeffries, but for AY?

Hakeem Jeffries, a candidate for the open 57th Assembly District seat, is against the use of eminent domain to build a basketball arena, as he said in an advertisement in May and at a forum last Thursday.

But what exactly does that mean? I caught up with Jeffries after the forum to ask him to amplify his statement. That produced some musings, but no definitive statement.

“I’m opposed to using eminent domain as it relates to this project,” he said. “I don’t believe it should be used by a private developer to build a basketball arena.”

“I've encouraged, from the very beginning, the notion of looking at a project that focused exclusively on housing, or focused predominantly on housing," he continued. "I’ve yet to see the connection made with the necessity of the arena and tying it to making the development of affordable housing economically feasible. I'd be interested in seeing that argument made, but until it's made I can't really comment any further on the issue …

Is AY right for Brooklyn? In Daily News, Markowitz, Shiffman disagree

In the Daily News today, two brief but telling paired opinion pieces. Is Atlantic Yards right for Brooklyn? Yes, writes Borough President Marty Markowitz. A key line:
Without serious leadership in Washington or Albany, we must look to public-private collaborations such as Atlantic Yards to be part of the solution - that's reality, not theory.

Is Atlantic Yards right for Brooklyn? No, counters Ron Shiffman, professor of architecture and urban planning at Pratt Institute's School of Architecture (and also a Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn advisory board member). A key response:
After the West Side stadium debacle, the city now wants to buy rights to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Hudson Yards and then have developers make proposals for projects that would go through the city's planning process. In Brooklyn, the city has endorsed a single-source deal. It's bad planning and deceptive decision-making and unworthy of a world city.

The housing switch: more affordable units would go to the middle-class

There's been a small but significant switch within the allotment of affordable housing promised for the Atlantic Yards project. No longer would 900 of the 2250 affordable apartments be promised to moderate-income households earning 60%-100% of the Area Median Income, or AMI.

Rather, only 450 units would go to moderate-income people, and 900 would be aimed to the middle-class, earning above the AMI. Thus, some 40% of the units in the affordable allotment would have relatively high rent; a family of four would pay more than than $2000 a month.

The scenario currently proposed was, in fact, one of three anticipated in the Housing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that the advocacy group ACORN negotiated with developer Forest City Ratner in May 2005.

However, this scenario, which would reap the highest rent, was not the one the developer promoted on its web site for three months. No wonder some of the attendees at the affordable housing information session on 7/11/06 looked askance a…