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Building #2 announcement raises questions about construction plans, parking and open space

The New York Times has unveiled pictures of what may be the first residential building to be built at Atlantic Yards.  If this design is used for what is called Building #2, the 350-unit building will be the tallest using modular construction in the world.  

At the last several District Service Cabinet meetings FCRC Vice Presidents Jane Marshall and Bob Sanna have stated alternate plans using modular and conventional construction are being prepared by FCRC.  The Times notes that "the developer ultimately may instead decide to build the first tower conventionally."  

According to the Wall Street Journal, FCRC will build using modular techniques if an agreement can be reached with the construction unions.  The Journal cites Bruce Ratner that existing incentives for developments where half the units are priced for middle and low income tenants "don't work for a high-rise building that is union-built." Norman Oder in Atlantic Yards Report calls this a "stunning contention" and "astounding admission" because in both 2006 and 2009 the State found plausible the developer's argument it could build the residential development with existing incentives within ten years.  Evidence to the contrary was ignored when those findings were made. 

The Times states FCRC hopes to begin construction early next year.  This information is consistent with statements made by FCRC at the November 3 District Service Cabinet meeting.  The start date for construction has been delayed several times by FCRC.  When the 2009 Modified General Project Plan was approved, Building #2 was expected to start in the fall of 2010. In the fall of 2010, FCRC stated they hoped to start construction in early 2011.  

A lot may have to be accomplished to start construction in the spring of 2012.  The Wall Street Journal states that FCRC does not yet have construction financing in place.  The developer is negotiating with union leaders who had anticipated members would receive higher hourly rates associated with on-site construction.  In order to build using modular techniques, FCRC apparently intends to build a factory to manufacture components, but a location for that factory has not been chosen yet. And other questions with implications for the existing community and the future residents of Building #2 remain unanswered.

Uncertain construction plans

According to the Daily News, Ratner claims the use of modular building techniques will be greener and less disruptive to the neighborhood: "less dust, less gasoline, less trucks."  But no construction plans have been provided for the public to review, and the use of modular techniques at the height proposed is untested, meaning judgments about the degree of impact of the use of modular building techniques on the adjacent neighborhood are speculative.  

This is especially true given changes to the phasing of the construction of the different components of the project in 2009.  The excavation of the foundation of Building #2 was anticipated in the 2006 iteration of the project to be executed at the same time as the excavation of the arena.  With the change of the project plans in 2009, the foundations of Buildings #1, #2, #3 and #4 were separated from the arena and much of the excavation was postponed.  

Now the excavation and the construction of the building will have to occur next door to an operating arena. Originally, Building #2 was anticipated to be constructed in two years (excluding excavation) and completed two months after the arena opened.  Curbed reports it will now be built in 18 months, apparently including the excavation of the foundation.  This means in a best-case scenario the construction of the building will overlap with an operating arena for at least a year.  The other non-arena buildings will follow on an as-yet-uncertain schedule.

The staging for the non-arena buildings in the arena block was originally located on block 1129.  No significant amount of staging can be located on block 1129 in the future when the arena parking is located there.  This appears to increase the likelihood staging will be located on sidewalks and in travel lanes in the vicinity of the arena, which involves impacts that haven't been analyzed yet.

Missing parking

Because Atlantic Yards was approved under New York State law, buildings in the footprint are able to override most New York City zoning regulations.  The developer of any other building the size of Building #2 would be required to provide parking for 40% of the building's units, which for a 350 unit building is 140 spaces.  In the original plans, the arena block's 350 space underground parking garage was located under Building #2.  In the amendments to the environmental analysis that followed in 2009 and 2010, the number of spaces was reduced to 250 and the garage was moved under Buildings #3 and #4.  As a result, the location of parking for the residents of Building #2 is unknown.

Because FCRC has delayed taking control of a large portion of the project footprint originally anticipated to host surface parking at the time of the arena opening, and because of delays in building the permanent parking on the arena block and on Site 5,  there is a shortfall in the provision of parking on site.  With the exception of a roughly 13 space lot on block 1128, the only area now described as hosting parking at this time in the project is on block 1129.  But the 2009 Technical Analysis capped the number of cars that can park on block 1129 at 1,100, and FCRC is "required" by the master development agreement to provide 1,100 on-site parking spaces for arena patrons.  This appears to mean there is no space in the project for residents of Building #2 to park.

At a June 28 meeting of the Dean Street and Carlton Avenue Block Associations, FCRC's Jane Marshall acknowledged there is a problem.  She described the options she sees: "Temporary facilities, license agreements with operators that are existing, or spaces that can be shared because there isn’t a conflict in timing.  I am going to figure that out.  I am going to present a plan to ESDC."  

No open space (for now)

As with parking, zoning regulations in NYC require developers to create open space in tandem with residential buildings like Building #2. But with Atlantic Yards city zoning was replaced by a project plan in which the only permanent outdoor open space is in the second phase of the project. Building #2 is therefore being constructed without the developer creating any open space for the residents who will live there. At the joint meeting of the Dean Street and Carlton Avenue Associations in June, Marshall acknowledged that the arena block does not have open space, only "plaza areas."  The plazas are primarily located in the footprint of future buildings.  

Most of Atlantic Yard's open space is located in the eastern part of the project, several blocks from the location of Building #2.  The development of that area may be delayed for 25 years or longer.  And for the open space to be complete, the developer has to proceed with the purchase of the air rights over the remainder of the LIRR railyard.  Any development over the railyard requires the additional cost of building a platform.

In the space of time before the second phase open space is constructed, the residents of Building #2 will rely on the open space that already exists in the area.  The three closest public open spaces are Dean Playground, Bear's Garden and South Oxford Playground, all three of which were found to be adversely impacted in Atlantic Yards' 2006 environmental analysis. There is no additional mitigation being provided nearby open spaces at this time for the increased use the development of Building #2 is likely to cause. 

With the 2009 change to the project's build-out from 10 to 25 years, Atlantic Yards' delivery of public open space was pushed far into the future.  This differs from projects like Battery Park City where permanent open space was provided as part of the initial development.