Some 20 years ago, Dyker Heights residents successfully battled an oversized and extremely controversial development project proposed to be built above the train tracks running between 61st and 62nd Streets from Eighth to 14th Avenue that came to be known as the Megamall.
A much less lengthy — but potentially much taller — successor to that project has just surfaced, with the release by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) of a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a mixed use residential-commercial development to be built in the air rights over the Long Island Railroad train tracks (currently used for freight trains by the New York and Atlantic Railway) between Eighth Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway, on the border of Dyker, Sunset Park and Boro Park.
“It’s deja vu, all over again, as Yogi Berra said,” noted Doris Cruz, chairperson of Community Board 10.
“As soon as I saw it, I became concerned,” agreed Fran Vella-Marrone, the longtime president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association, who was one of the leaders of the opposition to the Megamall. “I said to myself, ‘Okay, here we go again.’ It looks like a very, very dense, big project with all sorts of facets in an area that’s already congested and is going to become more congested. It’s a lot smaller than they were talking about last time, one block, but what effect is it going to have on the surrounding blocks? It’s not someone building a house.”
The RFP, which is dated December 28, 2017, seeks a developer who, it indicates, will “maximize revenue for MTA’s capital program” while “Minimiz(ing) disruptions and protect(ing) current and future MTA, LIRR and New York Transit Authority infrastructure and operations,” as well as “other infrastructure,” including the Buckeye Pipeline that runs through the railroad right of way bringing jet fuel to Kennedy Airport.
Among the items on the MTA’s wish list for the 3.8 acre development site is “Present(ing) a development program that optimizes the Development Site’s proximity to transit, enhances the surrounding context, and serves the needs of the surrounding neighborhoods.”
In addition, the RFP specifies that the developer should aim to build to an average Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 6.0, in an area zoned for light manufacturing (M1-1), where the maximum FAR is currently 1.0, with FAR being a measurement that reflects the ratio between the total floor area of the building and the square footage of the lot on which it is built. The higher the FAR, the denser the project.
A quick perusal of the New York City’s Department of City Planning’s Zoning Handbook indicates that 6.0 FARs characterize high-density residential areas (such as R8A), where the maximum building height is 120 feet, potentially allowing 12-story buildings to be constructed on a platform over the right of way for its entire length.
The MTA stresses that a zoning change would be necessary for the project as envisioned, and notes that if it includes housing, the city’s requirement to include affordable housing would be triggered.
Population density in the area is already intense, a fact that the MTA acknowledges in its RFP, noting the “substantial increase in population” in Sunset, jumping 34 percent between 1990 and 2014, “at a rate twice as fast as the City’s overall population growth,” as well as the “rapid population growth” in Boro Park…creating a corresponding need for housing.”
According to a study prepared for CB 10 by Michael Devigne, a community planning fellow, the Census tract in which the project site 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 Devigne’s extensive review of the broader area, which took into account demographics, economic growth and the built environment.
And, that’s before another project already in the pipeline — at 6200 Eighth Avenue, directly across from the new development site — is taken into account.
The 6200 Eighth Avenue project, which takes advantage of revamped zoning created a decade or more ago for another project combining housing and retail that never came to fruition, is planned to combine a two-story retail complex, which functions as the base for a total 12-story residential tower with 250 apartments fronting on Seventh Avenue, with a 12-story commercial tower fronting on Eighth Avenue and an 11-story hotel tower planned for mid-block.
“We will be looking at it very carefully,” noted Cruz of the MTA’s RFP. “There are a lot of things to be considered — the congestion in the area for one. The arteries in the area are not equipped to handle additional traffic.”
In addition, she asserted, “Any housing development must have some provision for schools. It’s in an area where School Board 20 has the greatest overcrowding.”
Nor are those Cruz’s only concerns. “I think the RFP doesn’t accurately depict conditions in Dyker Heights, with all the illegal conversions [It is described, in the RFP as a “residential neighborhood primarily characterized by one and two-family homes.”],” she told this paper.
Also, Cruz cited “issues involving freight usage,” which she contended had increased recently, as well as “the potential for the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel,” a project which, if it came to fruition, would dramatically increase the number and length of trains on the line. “I think that’s underplayed,” she stressed.
A series of approvals would need to be secured for the project to move forward. These include sign-offs by the MTA, LIRR and NYCT, the state and city Departments of Transportation and the Buckeye Pipeline, as well as state and city environmental reviews and ULURP, the city’s extensive land use review process used for all projects in which zoning changes are involved.
According to the MTA, proposals for the site are due by April 27, with a developer to be selected by the third quarter of 2018.
Photo courtesy of the MTA
An aerial view of the development site.