Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Net gain in open space: only four acres, much less than the population requires

Forest City Ratner has been hyping the parklike open space at Atlantic Yards since the beginning--initially six acres of publicly accessible open space, including the top of the arena roof. Note this mailing from the spring of 2004. When earlier this year the developer acknowledged that the roof would no longer be public, the defense was that an additional acre of public space had been added.

But, it turns out, Forest City Ratner isn't being so generous. As architect Jonathan Cohn points out on his Brooklyn Views blog, the developer would be taking more than three acres of public streets. Moreover, given that the city aims for 2.5 acres of open space per 1,000 residents, and that Atlantic Yards would house perhaps 14,600 residents, the amount of open space would fall woefully short:
But rather than the required 36.5 acres of open space, not even counting the requirements for the arena or the office space, the developer is proposing to add 4 acres, not counting our currently open streets.

A skeptical reader commented, "City streets count as 'open space'? In that case, New York has a hell of a lot more open space than anyone thought." I don't think that's the point. The city could establish more parklike open space itself by closing streets, but creating superblocks is a controversial tactic. And, by closing streets, as Cohn points out, the developer can increase its FAR (Floor Area Ratio) and thus build bigger:
The intention of an FAR calculation is to limit density on private property relative to the site, with the circulation in public rights of way already factored in.

And how much will Forest City Ratner pay for those city streets? It's unclear. The MOU states, on p. 4:
The City will convey the City Properties and the City Streets underlying the Arena (but not including the commercial office building sites [note: now mostly housing] adjacent to the arena) to ESDC for $1 and the remaining portions of the City Properties and City Streets to ESDC for fair market value (paid for by FCRC) based on an independent appraisal that determines value based on the contemplated Development Plan and the development rights associated with such property, taking into account the amount of the [sic] any capital contribution or other financial contribution by the Public Parties to the Project (exclusive of the contributions for the Arena Site as specified in Section 10 below) and any extraordinary cost to FCRC of relocating public utilities and installing new public utility infrastructure...

We know what can happen to appraisals. But if Forest City Ratner can charge the cost of public utilities against the value of the site, we could use some public discussion of what those costs and the value would be. After all, an acre of land is quite valuable, as Prospect Heights is booming outside the proposed Atlantic Yards footprint.

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