Wednesday, October 12, 2011

470 Vanderbilt moves toward renovation; did the state really consider impact of workers and visitors to new offices?

A New York Times article today on 470 Vanderbilt, Unconventional Financing Helps Deal for Brooklyn Space, casts new attention on the former tire factory and telecom space--circled in the Empire State Development Corporation map at right; click to enlarge--that is being renovated across broad Atlantic Avenue from the northeast section of the Atlantic Yards site:
But late last month, the New York City Human Resources Administration signed a 20-year, 400,000- square-foot lease for six floors of the 10-story building — the largest deal in Brooklyn this year and the culmination of more than two years of negotiations. Along with a second, smaller deal, 470 Vanderbilt is now 85 percent leased. In conjunction with a residential tower that the developers hope to build on an adjacent parking lot, it could speed the transformation of the area, which lies between Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.
Any impact on AY traffic or pedestrians?

The Empire State Development Corporation has claimed  that the change in use would have no new significant adverse impact, in a document summarizing the 6/14/11 public meeting on traffic issues, posted and also embedded below. However, as I explain below, there are reasons for doubt.

(I've already highlighted several of the 68 questions and responses.)

The question:
45. Vanderbilt at Atlantic was originally anticipated to have the second most mitigations of any intersection near the project. Have these plans been affected by the introduction of the HRA offices (470 Vanderbilt) that will include 1,800 employees + 32,000 daily visitors?
[Note: that 32,000+ is surely an exaggeration. One number, as noted below, is 1500.]

The answer:
The proposed project at 470 Vanderbilt Avenue was accounted for in ESD’s 2009 Technical Memorandum, which determined that there would not be any new significant adverse impacts for either traffic or pedestrian conditions with the 470 Vanderbilt project factored into the No-build condition. There are no changes being proposed to the mitigation measures identified for the Vanderbilt/Atlantic intersection.
(Emphases added)

Reasons for doubt

The first question is whether the Technical Memorandum took into account the change in use planned for the once-moribund office building. The document states:
It should be noted, however, that one new development not previously analyzed in the FEIS—470 Vanderbilt Avenue—would add approximately 376 dwelling units, 1,091 square feet of office space, and 115,424 square feet of retail space in proximity to the intersection of Vanderbilt and Atlantic Avenues at the northeast corner of the project site. As all analyzed sidewalks, corner areas, and crosswalks at this intersection were predicted to continue to operate at high levels of service (LOS A or B) in all peak hours in the 2016 FEIS Build condition, the additional pedestrian demand from this one development, coupled with the additional background growth resulting from the schedule change to 2019, is not expected to result in any new significant adverse pedestrian impacts
While the new development at 470 Vanderbilt would add only 1,091 square feet of office space, it would add well more than 400,000 square feet of active office space.

The language of the ESDC document suggests--but does not confirm--that the 2009 analysis of traffic and pedestrian counts assumed the presence of  an office building with 650,000 square feet of space. But if no one was using that space, the impact of traffic and pedestrians was downplayed.

If so, the ESDC undercounted the actual impact of the space--and thus it's disingenuous to claim that it would add only 1,091 square feet of office space.

Also, and less ambiguously, the state ignored the fact that the building, unlike most offices, would have a significant amount of daily visitors--1500 in one report. The ESDC response made no mention of office visitors.

In other words, it's likely that, by visitor count alone, the state underestimated the impact of 470 Vanderbilt. If the state also underestimated the impact of active office space, that compounds the issue.

No new impacts, but several already established ones

I wrote 12/17/10 about the gap in state documents regarding 470 Vanderbilt, citing comments at a public meeting by Prospect Heights residents.

While the state asserts there would not be any "new significant adverse impacts" regarding traffic or pedestrians, already several such impacts have been assessed.

According to the Mitigation chapter of the FEIS, the intersection would already be burdened:
As shown in Table 12-16 in Chapter 12, the proposed project would result in significant adverse impacts at the intersection of Atlantic and Vanderbilt Avenues [last line of graphic, click to enlarge] in all but the weekday 10-11 PM peak hour in 2016. Eastbound and westbound Atlantic Avenue would experience significant adverse impacts in each of these periods... As shown in Table 19-4, with the proposed geometric and operational improvements at this intersection, unmitigated significant impacts would remain on the westbound approach in the AM peak hour, the eastbound approach in the PM and Saturday post-game peak hours, the southbound approach in the PM and the westbound left-turn movement in the weekday PM, pre-game and Saturday post-game peak hours. All other significant impacts would be fully mitigated.
(Emphasis added)

Adding parking or making it harder to stop?

Last year, the Department of Transportation presented a plan to increase parking in the vicinity of 470 Vanderbilt by elimination of a  4-7 p.m. parking restriction on south side of the street would create 40 spaces.

That contradicted the mitigation planned in the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement, Chapter 19, which included the implementation "of a no standing anytime regulation for 150 feet along the south curb on eastbound Atlantic Avenue approaching Vanderbilt Avenue (in place of the existing no standing 4-7 PM regulation) and re-striping the approach to accommodate an exclusive right- turn-only lane."

Which will prevail? Stay tuned.

Response to Questions ReTraffic from June14 Public Meeting

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