Controversial Pacific Park gym gets green light
Continuing opposition is expected from elected officials and community activists.
Empire State Development Corp.’s directors voted on Thursday to allow a 105,000-square-foot Chelsea Piers field house and fitness center to be built at Pacific Park — without a full-scale environmental review.
Their decision sets the stage for possible conflict with elected officials and members of community coalition BrooklynSpeaks — who demanded earlier this week that Gov. Andrew Cuomo halt the gym’s construction until a full-scale environmental review of the project is done.
Empire State Development has oversight of the 22-acre Prospect Heights mega-project, which is anchored by Barclays Center. The mammoth project was formerly called Atlantic Yards.
“I would say it’s continuing the conflict that began when Atlantic Yards was first proposed,” State Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon told the Brooklyn Eagle about the vote. “The denigration of the public role has been problematic from the beginning.
“The concern I have with the vote is that Empire State Development’s directors don’t see themselves as answerable to the public,” she said.
Simon said Pacific Park is “heavily subsidized” and it should yield public benefits — yet a for-profit field house and gym will benefit its developer.
“Empire State Development is supposed to be the watchdog for the people,” Simon said.
‘They’re failing to do their duty’
BrooklynSpeaks members were up in arms Thursday following the vote of approval.
“This is another example of how Empire State Development Corp. is not ensuring that any impacts and public benefits are thoroughly reviewed,” Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee and a BrooklynSpeaks member, told the Eagle.
“They’re failing to do their duty as far as we can tell,” she said.
In the past, BrooklynSpeaks used litigation to compel Empire State Development to do an environmental review at Pacific Park.
“BrooklynSpeaks isn’t going to comment on future litigation at this point,” de la Uz told the Eagle. “BrooklynSpeaks has been working to hold the project accountable for nearly 15 years and will continue to do so.”
After the vote, the Eagle asked Chelsea Piers New York’s founding partner David Tewksbury if he’s afraid the community coalition is going to sue Empire State Development to try to get an environmental review of the field house and gym project.
“I can’t control what the community is going to do,” Tewksbury told the Eagle. “I hope the community is going to embrace us.”
Following regulations ‘to the T’
Earlier this week, advisory group Atlantic Yards Community Development Corp. deadlocked in two 4-4 tie votes about the gym’s construction. Consequently, the group didn’t make any recommendation about the project to Empire State Development’s directors.
The measure the ESD board unanimously approved on Thursday is a change to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park’s Modified General Project Plan, which governs work at the site.
The change to the Modified General Project Plan will allow the Chelsea Piers field house and fitness center to be constructed in the basement of Sites B12 and B13. A parking garage had been planned for the basement space.
TF Cornerstone has development rights for these two Dean Street sites, where it’s going to construct apartment buildings.
In a discussion before the ESD directors’ vote, Empire State Development Commissioner Howard Zemsky asked about a technical memorandum the agency prepared about the athletic facility’s potential impact instead of doing a full-scale environmental review.
“How confident are you that we’re following the laws in SEQRA?” he asked Rachel Shatz, ESD’s vice president of planning and environmental review.
SEQRA is the State Environmental Quality Review Act, which spells out the rules about what triggers a full-scale environmental review at development projects.
“We are confident that this is following the SEQRA regulations to the T,” Shatz replied.
The ESD board’s vote also authorized several other changes to Pacific Park’s Modified General Project Plan.
The changes include the removal of a provision to provide free indoor valet parking for 400 bikes for ticket holders at Barclays Center arena events. Now Pacific Park will be obligated only to provide unattended outdoor parking spaces for 100 bikes.
Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.
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