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July 28, 2009

Norman Oder, Force of Nature

Atlantic Yards Report runs down a whole host of issues hanging over this week's public hearing sessions on the Atlantic Yards Modified General Project Plan (MGPP).

Why the rush? Because Forest City Ratner needs to save money; also, MAS produces new rendering with tower, open space

Why, as I write today, is the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) preparing to approve the Atlantic Yards plan in early September without having renderings of the arena (but having Design Guidelines), without having the New York Police Department examine security, without having an updated fiscal impact analysis (not to mention a real cost-benefit anlaysis), and without even clearing up how high the buildings would be?

Well, the timing is all driven by the needs not of the public but of developer Forest City Ratner.

Meanwhile, in the absence of any official renderings, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) has produced a new rendering of the project, as shown in the New York Post, with no Building 1 office tower nor Urban Room but instead interim open space, plus one tower.

The ESDC last month acknowledged that “prolonged adverse economic conditions” could slow all buildings after the arena--scheduled for first quarter of 2012--and just one tower.

Would it cut corners for ESDC to approve AY plan before arena security is discussed with NYPD? Video offers some clues

It was another astonishing moment during the informational meeting last Wednesday. Moderator Craig Hammerman, District Manager of Community Board 6, asked, "Has the Police Department reviewed the arena plans with the same level of detail that they did initially, and have they offered you any comments that you can share with us?"

Forest City Ratner's MaryAnne Gilmartin responded, "As the design is not complete yet, that review will take place, obviously, before the closing. But we’re in constant contact with the city, and expect to see the police department about the changes to the design in the fall."

In the fall--meaning after the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) board in early September is expected to rubber-stamp the revised Modified General Project Plan (MGPP).

Can the Design Guidelines suffice in the absence of arena renderings? ESDC/FCR say yes, but look at the evidence

One of the major messages from last Wednesday's informational meeting on Atlantic Yards was this: It's OK to have a public hearing and approval process for the project without arena renderings because "rigorous Design Guidelines" are public.

In fact, ESDC Senior Counsel Steve Matlin pronounced the phrase "Design Guidelines" five times in a single paragraph and Forest City Ratner Executive VP MaryAnne Gilmartin also clung to the phrase.

The only problem: the Design Guidelines regarding the arena, as detailed below, are quite general, with the major distinctive factor a requirement that there be transparency from the street. In other words, as long as people along Flatbush Avenue can see into the arena bowl, the architects have a lot of leeway.

Would Building 1 still be 620 feet? ESDC documents: yes, Barclays Center site: no; also, Gilmartin whiffs on Building 3 height

Oder probes the mystery of Building 1's height, which was allegedly reduced from 620 feet to 511 feet in one of the more cynical episodes of the entirely cynical effort to build Atlantic Yards — when Borough President Marty Markowitz "asked" at the August 23rd, 2006 environmental review hearing that the building not be taller than the 512-foot-tall Williamsburg Bank tower, as Forest City executives sniggered in the back of the auditorium knowing full well that the deal had already been struck. Or had it?

I'm still trying to figure out the statement at last Wednesday's informational meeting by Forest City Ratner VP MaryAnne Gilmartin that the office tower known as Building 1 (B1) would be 620 feet tall. It just doesn't compute. Nor does her statement that one residential building would be 428 feet.

[Updated] And I wasn't able yesterday to get FCR or the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to clarify their expectations of the building heights--though this morning an ESDC spokesman says, "The GPP accurately states the maximum allowed height of each tower."

The ESDC's economic impact (not cost-benefit) analysis won't be subject to any public scrutiny because it doesn't yet exist

Just as information about the Atlantic Yards site plan and renderings of the arena won't emerge in time for the public hearing Wednesday and Thursday, nor will the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) economic impact analysis.

That number--not a real cost-benefit analysis, despite use of that term at the informational meeting last Wednesday--may emerge when the board of the ESDC votes to approve the plan in September. There just won't be an opportunity to comment on it or examine the methodology behind it.

NoLandGrab: In the bogus world of Atlantic Yards, few things are as bogus as the ESDC's alleged "cost-benefit analysis." In fact, ESDC Senior Counsel Steve Matlin broke out the eyeglasses during that part of last week's "informational meeting" in a ridiculous attempt to make his non-answers seem more legit.

Posted by eric at July 28, 2009 1:05 PM