ESD leaves door open to new environmental review of Pier 6 development
Questions raised about Brooklyn Bridge Park's Technical Memo
Directors of the Empire State Development Corp. (ESD) left the door open to consideration of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Pier 6 development planned in Brooklyn Bridge Park, at an ESD directors meeting in Manhattan on Thursday.
Their probing questions and discussion of a new, updated environmental study gave heart to representatives of community groups, officials and local residents who testified for more than an hour that an SEIS should be required in light of the exploding development, overcrowded schools and changed conditions in Brooklyn since the original EIS was issued 10 years ago.
ESD directors discussed the procedure involved in preparing an SEIS, and made it clear that community comments regarding the topic could be raised at an upcoming hearing designed to elicit comment about a different issue: whether or not the park can change its General Park Plan (GPP) to allow affordable housing to be built into the controversial two-tower Pier 6 project.
Thursday’s meeting was part of the public process to change the GPP. Besides the park’s wish to allow affordable housing, park directors also want to shift the number of residential units to allow more units in the shorter tower, and to allow closure of a “loop road” running past the site.
A new environmental study would delay, at the least, the project.
ESD directors questioned Rachel Shatz, who was the ESD’s director of Planning and Environmental Review when the EIS was put together in 2005.
Shatz, currently ESD’s VP of Planning and Environmental Review, oversaw the November 2014 Technical Memo, commissioned by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (BBPC) and put together by AKRF. The memo concluded that the Pier 6 project would not have any additional significant adverse impacts, and therefore an SEIS was not warranted. (See below for a statement from Brooklyn Bridge Park.)
“It seems from the testimony we’ve heard today that there are significant questions about the Tech Memo and the EIS, and I would assume that at the public hearing, that’s going to be further amplified,” said ESD director Joyce Miller.
“If after the public hearings . . . it appears to the board members that a Supplementary EIS would be required, what would then be the process?” Miller asked.
“If that’s what the board determined, an SEIS would need to be prepared and action would need to be deferred until that process is complete,” said ESD General Counsel Liz Fine. “It’s a whole new process. At that point it would result in significant delays in the project.”
Questions about the Technical Memo
Miller asked the park staff “to respond to some questions that have been raised regarding the EIS, particularly the issue of school overcrowding, because even in reading the Technical Memo it doesn’t really specifically address what happens to those schools that are located near the proposed project.”
“I would assume the parents want their children to attend the closest school, not just any school in the district,” Miller said. “Therefore that would be significant to current residents and future residents.”
She also expressed concern about transportation issues and the financial analysis of the need for the Pier 6 development, given the dramatic changes in the real estate market.
Regarding the issue immediately before the ESD board, Miller raised questions about including affordable housing in the project.
“I happen to be a major supporter of affordable housing. But this does raise the question of whether this is an appropriate venue for affordable housing. It seems to have been grafted on after the original GPP. It was not part of it, and I do have questions about whether in fact it impacts the ability of the project to support the park, what the impact would be, and whether the project could be made smaller and still be financially viable.”
Shatz told the board the Technical Memo closely followed the city and state’s methodology for environmental assessment.
“Following that methodology for schools, we worked with the SCA and the Department of Education in identifying where, according to whatever capital plan is applicable, they are allotting resources or constructing new schools, using their projections,” she said.
She explained that the Pier 6 project would not, by itself, result in a more than five percent increase in the usage of the subdistrict’s collective elementary and intermediate schools.
A P.S. 8 parent noted that every new project in the subdistrict could raise the number of students by four percent across the subdistrict and still be under the threshold – but school usage would go up 30 percent overall.
District 13 consists of two subdistricts; subdistrict 2 extends from Brooklyn Heights into Clinton Hill. DOE projects that subdistrict 2 will be at 140 percent capacity in three years, according to Downtown Brooklyn School Solutions, an advocacy group formed to deal with the area’s overcrowded schools.
“We do take into consideration the background condition as well,” Shatz said. “We looked at what other projects would be online in 2018 in the prescribed study area. This is how every EIS is done in New York City.”
LICH impact a concern
Director Kenneth Adams, acting commissioner of the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance, noted that the Technical Memo “is the basis for the staff recommendation whether an SEIS is required.
“I do have a couple of questions about it,” he said.
“I have a particular concern about the degree to which potential impacts from the re-development of the LICH site were considered in the formulation of the Technical Memo last year, largely because that’s a state action,” Adams said. “The land ended up being owned by SUNY and was sold by the state, presumably to Fortis.”
In the Technical Memo, the Long Island College Hospital (LICH) site “is listed as potentially 800,000 square feet of residential use and 130,000 square feet of health care use. This is a very big project,” Adams said. “To what degree are those impacts well considered in the Tech Memo?”
“That specific project, I don’t believe it had been publically announced,” Shatz said, explaining that the project was not considered in the Tech Memo. “We did look at development in the area. When the EIS was done in 2005, there was quite a robust background build projection,” including the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning projects, she said.
Another director noted that the LICH site, in order to move forward, must go through the city’s ULURP process with its own environmental study.
“The fact that’s it’s going through the ULURP process means that you can’t predict the outcome,” said Adams. “How does the Tech Memo reflect a project whose fate has not been fully determined?”
“The limitations are we can only include those projects that have plans,” Shatz said.
The big picture
“Due to my experience development in the city and affordable housing development in the city, there is sometimes – and I’m not criticizing any particular administration – there is a tendency to look at projects one by one, rather than the totality — particularly when dealing with projects of this size,” Miller said.
She added that while the Pier 6 project is not huge, it “is a significant size and will have a significant impact on the park. The totality of the projected development needs to be taken into account when investigating and evaluating the environmental impact.”
Park officials maintain that the Pier 6 development is necessary to fund the park. At a meeting earlier this month, the Board of Trustees of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (BBPC) presented updated financial figures to bolster this contention.
The financial figures are based on a 50-year model to make sure the park was self-sustaining, especially given the long-term need to maintain the piers, said Brooklyn Bridge Park President Regina Myer. She said the park commissioned an independent financial analysis, which she would forward to the ESD directors.
“We’re very proud that this project can now include affordable housing, given the strength of the market,” she said.
Opponents of the plan say the booming Brooklyn real estate market has eliminated the need for more development in the park, and that that the park board had committed to building “only the amount of housing absolutely necessary to support the park.”
The ESD board voted to move the GPP modification process forward and will schedule a hearing for some time in July, with 30 days’ notice. This will be followed by a 30-day written comment period.
Public comments will not be limited to the park’s proposed modifications, however. “If members of the public want to comment on the Technical Memo, they are free to do so,” Miller said.
Update: Brooklyn Bridge Park issued the following statement late Thursday:
We welcome this robust and open discussion about the Pier 6 development — from its importance to the park’s long-term financial stability to the inclusion of affordable housing in the project.
While opponents of affordable housing at Pier 6 often refer to the Final Environmental Impact Statement of 2005 as the most recent study, this is not the case. In response to community concerns, a Technical Memorandum was conducted with Empire State Development acting as lead agency in late 2014. After evaluating potential impacts in all the environmental categories and incorporating any relevant updated changes to the project and the surrounding area, the Technical Memorandum concluded that the Pier 6 project would not have any additional significant adverse impacts, and therefore a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement was not warranted.
The public hearing and comment period will provide further opportunity for discussion of these issues, and we look forward to a continuation of this open dialogue.
The full ESD meeting, including public testimony, can be seen at www.esd.ny.gov/webcasts/
Article updated on 6/26 to reflect that Rachel Shatz, currently ESD’s VP of Planning and Environmental Review, oversaw but did not author the November 2014 Technical Memo, commissioned by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (BBPC). The Technical Memo was authored by AKRF. According to the park, Shatz oversaw the Tech Memo on behalf of ESDC/BBPDC.
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