According to an article in today's New York Times, Forest City Ratner Companies has chosen to build the first residential building at Atlantic Yards using modular construction. At 32 stories, B2 will be the tallest modular building in the world. Groundbreaking for B2 has been scheduled for December 18.
The use of modular construction has been chosen as a means to reduce costs not only on B2, but throughout the remaining Atlantic Yards buildings. The project's approval in 2006, as well as its revised plan of 2009, anticipated conventional construction techniques would be used when considering Atlantic Yards' use of public subsidies and overall feasibility. In the Times article Thomas Hanrahan, dean of Pratt Institute's architecture school states, "The question is: Will the savings be passed on to the public in some form?"
With a presentation on the design of B2 scheduled for Thursday of this week, other outstanding questions about the building may finally be answered a short three weeks before the building's groundbreaking.
What are the construction plans for B2?
The 2009 Modified General Project Plan (MGPP) left B2 without publicly-disclosed construction plans. The original arena block plans anticipated office and residential towers integrated with the arena and built in quick succession. B2 was to be complete one month after the arena, with the entire block complete about a year after the arena opening. Now to construct B2 FCRC must contend with traffic and pedestrian demands generated by an operating arena next door. And because of the use of much of the remaining area FCRC controls for arena patron and broadcast uplink surface parking, there are fewer locations available for construction staging than anticipated when the plans for construction were originally approved in 2006. This may mean sidewalk and lane closures are more likely at the same time that demands on local streets and sidewalks have increased.
With the use of modular construction, the method and timing for getting modular components to the site is not known. If the modular units are large, will delivery have to take place at night? Numerous complaints have been filed at this website because of the regular use of extended hours construction work during the last construction phase.
How will sidewalk use be affected by B2 construction?
The two stretches of sidewalk where B2 is located have appeared stretched beyond capacity after events at the arena. Below is a video of the area near B2 following a sold out Nets/Celtics game November 15th. The blue construction fencing follows the property line and apparently also the future building wall of B2. The sidewalks are full and some pedestrians move into the street.
AYW reported previously the permanent sidewalk along B2 on Dean Street will have a 3.5 foot effective width if B2 is built to the property line, instead of the 11.5 foot effective width anticipated by the 2006 FEIS. The narrow width may not be sufficient for a location adjacent to a 32-story residential tower with retail on the ground floor squeezed in between two arena entrances/exits. One of those exits was not anticipated in any public project documents.
There are questions related to temporary construction closures for sidewalks as well—temporary closures that may last as long as twelve years on the arena block. Originally all of the construction on the block would have been completed within a year of the arena opening. Adding to the challenge, the construction of 215 Flatbush directly across Dean Street from B2 may be underway at the same time. That developer is likely to ask for sidewalk closures as well, raising the possibility both sidewalks will be closed at the same time.
Where will B2 residents park?
On-street parking is scarce for residents near the project site. Not only do local car owners compete with arena patrons, they now compete with arena employees, an increased number of city employees, and visitors to the Atlantic Center mall. When the HRA facility at 470 Vanderbilt is opened next spring it will have 1,800 staff and 1,500 visitors daily, generating additional parking demand.
If City zoning had not been overridden by Atlantic Yards, FCRC would have had to provide parking spaces equivalent to 40% of the number of residential units in B2. Assuming there are 350 units in B2, that would mean FCRC would have to supply 140 parking spaces. In the 2006 plans 350 permanent were included below grade in B2. In 2009 that permanent parking was moved to later in the development of the arena block, and 100 of those spaces were "moved" to block 1129. The 1,100 parking space on block 1129 described in the 2009 MGPP were later reduced to 541 after difficulties in managing the larger number of spaces using stackers became apparent; the change was presented as a traffic management measure in the Barclays Center Transportation Demand Management Plan.
At a meeting in the summer of 2011, FCRC's Executive Vice President Jane Marshall acknowledged the shortfall in parking spaces for B2 residents. She described the solutions available as "temporary facilities, license agreements with operators that are existing, or spaces that can be shared because there isn’t a conflict in timing." Ms. Marshall stated a parking plan would be presented to ESDC in the future. The only parking area designated in project documents not currently used for something else is the surface lot in block 1129, and that lot has been nearly full several times during arena events, leaving few existing spaces for future B2 residents.
How will problems with noise escaping from the arena be addressed?
At the time of Jay-Z's third concert reports of concert noise entering into homes as far as two city blocks from the arena were filed on AYW. So far the bass heavy performances of Jay-Z and Sensation have generated the most complaints.
NYCDEP and FCRC's consultants are apparently determining the scope of the problem. Regardless of their conclusions, many residents nearby are certain bass is entering their homes. It isn't known how FCRC plans to address this issue. Presumably, hearing sound from arena events would affect the desirability of apartments in B2.
Where will B2 residents find open space?
Most of the public outdoor open space promised for the Atlantic Yards project is in the second phase, destined to be developed years if not decades after B2 is complete. Originally, the arena was to have a green roof available for private use. Now that green roof has been replaced by a Barclays logo.
Currently arena-related storage, generators, buses and VIP parking are located near B2 along Dean Street. B2 itself has arena storage located in it. No use of the at-grade areas of the arena block in the temporary or permanent condition has ever been included in public project documents and they are undesirable to live near. Karrie Jacobs in Metropolis writes about the general project plan of Atlantic Yards that "the publicly available site plan indicates nothing about the quality of the space between the buildings. It is little more than a napkin sketch." If the spaces in the arena block are filled by generators, buses and cars rather than plazas for the public, it will be less desirable to live nearby.
What are the plans for affordable housing in B2?
The Empire State Development Corporation and FCRC promised to deliver 2,250 units of affordable housing as part of the Atlantic Yards project. The vast majority of those units are in the project's second phase, which ESDC in 2009 agreed to extend for up to 25 years.
FCRC has has long claimed that its first residential tower would be built with 50% affordable apartments, or 182 units. However, documents submitted to the NYC Housing Development Corporation as part of FCRC's application for affordable housing bond financing in the summer of 2012 show only 35 two-bedroom apartments suitable for families included in B2's affordable component. Of those apartments, only 9 are intended for families making at or below the median income for Brooklyn. More than half of the "affordable" two-bedroom apartments are intended for families earning more than $100,000 per year.
The Times' Charles Bagli writes today that, "Half of the 363 apartments in the first building will be for poor and working-class families (emphasis added)." That seems impossible unless the plans have changed in the last few months.
Will Brooklyn residents finally be able to get construction work at Atlantic Yards?
The Atlantic Yards project claimed it would create thousands of construction jobs for Brooklynites, but local residents seeking jobs building the arena were largely disappointed. The 2005 Community Benefits Agreement required FCRC to hire an independent compliance monitor to oversee the agreement's benefits, including job training and placement. The compliance monitor has never been hired. FCRC's most recent commitment was to hire a monitor for the residential development now beginning with B2.
However, the group responsible for job training under the CBA, BUILD, closed its doors a few weeks ago. Perhaps of greater importance, the decision to use modular construction means fewer construction jobs. And under a deal negotiated with the city's construction unions, workers in the modular factories will make 25% less than members who work on-site. The reduced number of jobs for less pay may make it more difficult to launch the type of apprenticeship program described in the CBA.