Calls to withhold extra development rights at Atlantic Yards
by Benjamin Fang
Aug 14, 2019 | 137 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Advocates critical of the massive Atlantic Yards project want a state board to turn down a request for an additional 105,000 square feet of development rights unless there’s more accountability.

On Monday, elected officials and members of the BrooklynSpeaks coalition called on the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to reject a developer’s request for increased space to add a fitness center and fieldhouse beneath the apartment towers planned for Dean Street between Vanderbilt and Carlton avenues.

The Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AYCDC), an advisory board to the ESDC, didn’t vote on the request. It did, however, vote in favor of vents from the underground facility.

As of press time, the final ESDC board was scheduled to vote on the proposal on August 15.

Critics from the coalition, made up of civic, nonprofit and religious groups, said they want to see an additional review of the environmental impact of the gym and fieldhouse on surrounding neighborhoods.

They also want to see how the change would offset or affect previously agreed-upon public benefits, as well as a presentation on how the developers intend to meet their obligation of completing 2,250 affordable housing units by 2025.

“How can we even be talking about granting any additional change or development rights to this project without a clear path,” said Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, “not only on existing public benefits that haven’t been delivered, but any potential new ones?”

The controversial Atlantic Yards project, approved by the state in 2006 and rebranded as Pacific Park in 2014, is being built by Greenland Forest City Partners, a joint venture between Greenland USA and Forest City Realty Trust.

Upon completion, the project will include 17 mixed-use buildings across 22 acres adjacent to the Barclays Center.

Greenland recently leased three of its sites to other developers, including the Brodsky Organization and TF Cornerstone, which made the request for additional development rights.

State lawmakers representing the area said on Monday that throughout the entire project, the public has received the short end of the stick from the public-private partnership.

“The state is doing all of the giving and the developers are doing all of the getting,” said Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon. “That is not fair.”

Simon asserted that the fitness center and gym constitute a 40 percent increase in the project’s retail space. That alone should trigger an environmental review, she said.

The legislator added that there are also questions about the cleanliness of the air that will come out of the garage and underground sports facility into the open space above.

“What we don’t know is the problem,” she said. “We don’t know enough about it to even assess how bad of a deal it might be.”

Assemblyman Walter Mosley, meanwhile, criticized the developers for only building roughly 780 of the promised 2,250 units of affordable housing. In 2014, after BrooklynSpeaks threatened a Fair Housing lawsuit, the developers agreed to deal with the state to create 2,250 units of affordable housing by 2025.

De la Uz went even further to say the developers have not publicly admitted that they’re not on track to meet that target date.

“How is it possible they will make up more than 1,500 units of affordable housing in less than six years?” she said. “That’s physically impossible at this point.”

Jack Sterne, ESDC’s press secretary, said that claims that the requests will increase the size of the project are false because the proposed gym and fieldhouse will take up below-grade space that would’ve been used for garages. In fact, the net decrease is about 400,000 square feet less than the original plan, he said.

Sterne also said claims that there have been no environmental review or public processes are also false.

“We have reduced the size of the project and have completed the required environmental assessments for this minor modification,” he said in a statement. “In recent years, we have decreased the amount of required underground garage space at Pacific Park, and this action will merely clarify that space planned to be a garage for building residents can instead be used for a gym that anyone in the community can join.”

As for the vents, Sterne said they are standard and will not introduce any adverse air quality impacts.

With regard to the affordable housing, ESDC does not anticipate a delay in the completion of the units, Sterne said. By 2022, the agency expects more than half of the required affordable units will be completed.

Two of the buildings currently under construction have 30 percent affordable units, while another two are expected to begin construction early next year. They will both have at least 25 percent affordable units.

“There is universal agreement that Brooklyn critical needs affordable housing, and any delay will ultimately hurt the residents who stand to benefit from these units,” Sterne said. “Pacific Park has already delivered over 740 affordable apartments, and we expect hundreds more to be completed this year.

“The project developer made a legally binding commitment to deliver 2,250 units of affordable housing by 2025,” he added, “and we will hold them and all of their partners accountable to that deadline.”
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