The latest version of a mega-development planned for a vacant piece of property abutting Eighth Avenue between 61st and 63rd Streets is smaller than what had originally been proposed, but still may be too large to fit comfortably in an area already burgeoning, both in terms of population and in terms of new construction, according to community watchdogs who are already gearing up to review the proposal.
The project, in its most recent configuration, combines a two-story retail complex, which functions as the base for a total 12-story residential tower with 250 apartments fronting on Seventh Avenue, a 12-story commercial tower fronting on Eighth Avenue and an 11-story hotel tower planned for mid-block.
Over, 2,500 parking spots are currently proposed for a subterranean garage for the complex which would house, among other things, doctor’s offices, a 498-seat pre-K, a private day care facility and a “bookless” digital library, as well as a rooftop garden and terrace that would be open to the general public, and a 10,000-square-foot sculpture garden where local artists can display their work.
The architect behind the project is Flushing-based Raymond Chan; the developer is 62-08 Realty LLC.
Given the scope of the project, among the concerns are traffic, and the impact on infrastructure and public transportation and particularly school overcrowding, according to Community Board 10 Zoning and Land Use Chairperson Brian Kaszuba.
“Obviously, the Sunset Park area is growing and there have been a lot of changes,” he stressed. Among the questions still to be answered, he said, is “Can we sustain a project of this size? We are taking it very seriously because it is a huge, huge project.”
The corollary question, he added, is, if the project is to go forward, “What is going to have to be done to bring it to the community?”
Traffic and overcrowding are already major issues in the area. The Census tract in which the project is located experienced a 12 percent increase in population between 2000 and 2010, as well as gaining 98 new residential units, “a very high concentration within the study area,” according to an extensive review of the broader area in terms of demographics, economic growth and the built environment written by Michael Devigne, community planning fellow for Brooklyn Community Board 10, in preparation for the board’s consideration of the impending project.
“The Department of Transportation is now working on a Seventh and Eighth Avenue study because of the congestion,” added CB 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann, who stressed that thoroughfares in the northern portion of the board area, at the border of Dyker Heights and Sunset Park, have experienced a large “increase in pedestrian traffic.”
For example, 65th Street, she said, “Used to be Gasoline Alley.” Now, with new schools in the vicinity, she went on, “There have been a lot of changes to traffic controls and crossings.”
The hotel portion of the project is also raising eyebrows. In his report, completed in May, Devigne noted that while many of the uses planned for it “will certainly be able to capitalize from the new development,…the hotel component of the development is unsupported by market trends and its ultimate utility is questionable.”
“A lot of hotel developments fail,” explained Kaszuba. “What do they become after? A lot become SROs or homeless facilities. The developers believe such a growing area could sustain a hotel but it is a concern for us.”
The plan is currently undergoing a full environmental review via the Department of City Planning, with certification expected for late this year or early 2018, said Kaszuba, who stressed, “Most likely the plan is going to change again by the time it comes to us,” based on the results of the environmental review.
At that point, it would be in the process of going through the city’s land use review process, known as ULURP, with the community board and borough president offering their recommendations before it is evaluated by the City Planning Commission and finally the City Council.
According to Chan, the plan has already morphed based on feedback from the community board. “We know as a big developer we have to be responsive,” he said.
“They said it was too tall, so we came down quite a bit,” he told this paper, also stressing that one of the goals of the developers was to consolidate housing, early education facilities and a variety of businesses in a single facility, “sort of a social experiment,” to ease the burden on harried area residents, particularly single parents.
The planned parking, Chan added, is considerably in excess of the 900 spots that would be required, in hopes of easing some of the neighborhood’s traffic congestion, which he attributed in large part to the many people who drive to the area then find themselves circling in search of a parking spot.
Asked about the hotel component, Chan said that he believed it would fulfill a need in the area, which lacks “decent hotels,” and cited the first major hotel built in Flushing, at that time “run-down,” which he said has the “highest occupancy rate in the city.”
The prior plan, which was released in 2014, was comprised of a 160,700-square-foot three-story mixed use retail center, with a 17-story office building, a seven-to-10-story, 150-room hotel, and two 15-story condominium towers on top.
Comparing the two, Beckmann said that the newer plan is “less dense than what was originally proposed. They’ve clearly changed the look. It looks like there’s more open space, more green space, and more setbacks on Seventh and Eighth Avenues.
“I do think the site needs to be developed, but I think there’s concern about density and height and the impact to the streetscape,” she added.
Both plans follow on the heels of the original proposal for the site, which emerged in 2007. That plan, the brainchild of developer Andrew Kohen, incorporated a Home Depot big box store within an 11-story mixed-use building that also included doctor’s offices, apartments and just over 900 parking spots.
Because the land was at that time zoned for manufacturing, the developer had to go through an extended process to allow a mixed commercial/residential structure to be built there. That zoning change was permanent. An added special permit — to allow construction over the adjacent train tracks — was also granted; it has expired and been renewed, and will expire again this fall.