For Parking at New Domino, Don’t Worry About Environmental Review

New_Domino_across_River.jpgEnvironmental review laws don’t stop the City Council from cutting back on parking at the New Domino. Image: The New Domino

As the City Council considers the parking-laden New Domino mega-development, sustainability-minded representatives have the power to ensure that the project doesn’t put thousands of new cars onto Williamsburg’s streets. All council members have to do is to request reductions in the amount of off-street parking included at the site, currently 1,428 spots. The developer’s only stated objection to reducing the amount of parking is that compliance with environmental law requires it. That’s not a concern that need constrain the City Council. 

As we reported in April, the developer, CPC Resources, decided how much parking to include at New Domino by using formulas prescribed by the environmental review process. "We don’t want to include parking for parking’s sake," said CPC Resources senior vice president Susan Pollock. She claimed her hands were tied. 

Of course, since then, the amount of parking at New Domino has been reduced by 266 spaces, so there’s clearly some flexibility. It is true that the poorly designed formulas used in environmental reviews indeed lead to outsized parking lots, but not because developers are required, per se, to construct them. "CEQR is a disclosure process," said Tom Angotti, a professor of planning at Hunter College. "It doesn’t require anything." According to Angotti, the developers were trying to avoid an "unmitigated impact" on the neighborhood parking situation, in which those New Domino residents whom the environmental review designates as drivers would take street parking from current residents. "They don’t have to mitigate that if they don’t want to," said Angotti.

In fact, the New Domino is in a part of town where having too little parking, as defined by environmental review, can safely be ignored. For proposed projects in certain zones, even a large parking shortfall "is generally not considered significant due to the magnitude of available alternative modes of transportation," according to the city CEQR technical manual [page 16-65 of this PDF]. Not enough parking, the manual seems to be saying, just isn’t a concept that makes sense in many parts of New York.

It’s understandable why the developer might be wary of having any unmitigated impacts at all. At Monday’s City Council hearing on the New Domino, Council Member Stephen Levin, an opponent of the project, mined the environmental impact statement for quotes about potential burdens it would impose on the neighborhood. CPC Resources and the company’s environmental consultant repeatedly fell back on a stock answer: "We have addressed all of the impacts." Losing that defense could weaken their case. 

But City Council members don’t have to worry about that. They have the latitude to account for the fact that some residents identified as drivers in the technical analysis might switch to transit or ride a bike, rather than deal with parking a car 20 blocks away. They can say that the precepts of PlaNYC, environmental sustainability, pedestrian safety, and congestion mitigation all call for reducing the number of cars at New Domino. There’s just one question: Will they?

  • Larry Littlefield

    I side with the developer on this one. Just think how long people were able to hold up Atlantic Yards — and San Francisco bike lanes — based on challenging the accuracy of the environmental review. Doesn’t matter if they are right or wrong — if they get that injunction, they can stall. Even without it, who want to finance something that may not be able to be sold or rented?

    The Planning Commission and City Council can impose changes that create lesser impacts, but not greater impacts, than were disclosed. They’d have to re-do parts of the EIS, and re-do all the approvals.

    But wait a minute, you say, if more parking means more driving, that means less parking means less impact! Global impact, yes. Regional impact, yes. But not local impact on those with a prior claim to the private use of public space, and that is what the EIS process is about.

    If the city has $tens of millions of dollars lying around, perhaps it could bribe (um, hire) AKRF, Konheim & Ketchum and the rest of the consultants to do an EIS on changing the CEQR manual to increase the number of exempt actions, including bicycle infrastructure, transit, alternative energy, and reduced parking. Were it not for the CEQR manual review City Planning did while I was there, our bike improvements would probably have ended up like San Francisco. As it is, most small scale actions get a negative declaration (no EIS required) under the rules. Good job guys.

    Bottom line, while the word “environmental” may appear in “environmental review,” as warped by lawyers and court decisions, that has nothing to do with it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    BTW I say this as someone who had to help draft responses on behalf of the city to lawsuits challenging city actions based on the adequacy of the EIS, albeit more than a decade ago. I’ll saw it again — thank goodness for the CEQR technical manual change, which got the process under control. Only big projects such as AY or Domino have to go through it.

  • thfs

    Larry- Are you talking about the new CEQR manual? Because the 2010 manual has all that near the section Noah ref
    erences.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The section asserts that detailed traffic studies in an EIS are required for more than 200 units, and modal split should be based on census bureau data (ACS) or surveys of similar developments.

    What people assert here is that if no or less parking is provided, the modal spilt will change. What the EIS assumes is that the modal split will not change, and those competing for existing spaces off site will be impacted.

    To change the manual, an EIS would be required. The manual would subsequently have to say that reducing or eliminating parking is asserted to have no impact, because the number of cars would shrink to the number of spaces available, and the positive impact on traffic and air quality would outweigh the loss of quality of life for those who find it more difficult or impossible to park. That isn’t what it says now.

  • http://climateprogress.org/2010/06/27/arctic-sea-ice-extent-volume-record-nsidc-volume/

    Not unlike learning of a large fleet of enemy craft heading towards Hawaii and seeing the planes in the air and on their way on radar during World War II, the publicly disclosed information from the Naval Postgrad School for 2016 +/- 3 years can be quite damning if it proves to be true and the beginning of large scale feedback effects rapidly accelerating runaway climate change and much more dangerous and frequent weather events.

    No way will the president be able to say that he did not know and was not informed of the consequences.

  • http://www.torontosun.com/life/greenplanet/2010/06/23/14490681.html

    http://bit.ly/dt0fZT

    “Battle for climate change in cities

    “When it comes to the battle against climate change, the war will literally be won — or lost — in our cities.

    “For the first time in human history, more than 50% of the Earth’s population lives in cities. According to the International Energy Agency, cities consume 67% of the world’s primary energy and contribute 71% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

    “A new report by the University of Toronto’s Sustainable Infrastructure Group and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) confirms that cities must play a key role.

    “Not only do cities product enormous amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, but the density of people and infrastructure makes cities very vulnerable to the effects of climate change.”

  • if only the same were for flushing commons

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