Skip to main content

Marty's Atlantic Yards Committee: not quite oversight, but not unimportant, either

Coming up Thursday is the ninth and last in a series of meetings--not really hearings--of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee. Among the topics is land use, which should stimulate discussion about how this project overrides city zoning.

These meetings, set up by Borough President Marty Markowitz, are the closest thing to a public process regarding the massive Atlantic Yards plan as it awaits environmental review by the Empire State Development Corporation, or ESDC. (The ESDC is expected to issue a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or DEIS, within weeks or months, after which there will be a comment period and public hearing.) The sessions at Borough Hall aim to be a "vehicle for research, information and advocacy" regarding the project.

And though these meetings can be dreary and hardly constitute democratic oversight--the public can't ask questions--it's remarkable how concerns about the project have emerged:
--the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, the western border of the proposed project, was already declared "impossible" and a consultant suggested the project be put on hold to avoid a "disaster."
--local officials declared the boundaries in the scope of analysis to be completely inadequate to address transit and traffic impacts.
--despite Forest City Ratner's promises of landscaped open space, the amount of open space planned for the population influx is deeply inadequate.
--the design process was dismissed as backwards.
--a rep from the City Planning Department acknowledged that the city has no policy about demapping streets, though, as architect Jonathan Cohn argues, it should keep large blocks like Pacific Street open.
--terrorism was dismissed as an issue.

Who's missing

Developer Forest City Ratner has never participated, which means basic questions about the location of affordable housing or the company's plans for storm water runoff remain a mystery. The ESDC appeared only once.

Panelists--usually a mix of bureaucrats, academics, and other experts--typically observe that a question will have to wait to for clarification in the ESDC's DEIS--thus adding an air of impotency to the proceedings. And, given that it's an unofficial process, both the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the New York City Transit Authority decided against sending representatives to answer questions.

Criticism and cheerleading

Some tough critics have appeared on panels. Psychiatrist Mindy Fullilove warned how "intense verticality" would transform Prospect Heights. Transportation engineer Brian Ketcham warned of looming chaos and harshly criticized the ESDC's methodology.

Markowitz often acknowledges that he supports the project but wants to see it examined thoroughly so Brooklynites are satisfied. He's occasionally offered some not-so-subtle cheerleading for the project, notably when questioning an Independent Budget Office official as to whether the fiscal benefit would be even greater than the agency estimated.

Unanswered questions

There are many unanswered questions, many of which will be addressed, if not fully answered, in the EIS. Remember, the process requires environmental impacts to be "mitigated," but if they are deemed unmitigatible, the ESDC can still decide to approve the project.

But some issues may remain mysteries. Take this exchange at the 10/24/05 session, when ESDC officials attended, as captured in the terse meeting notes:
Why was there a separate, secret MOU?
At the time, there were two investment groups. ESDC is now treating them as one project.


That second MOU refers to development rights to Site 5, which now contains P.C. Richard/Modell's, and to the Atlantic Center mall. It was signed at the same time the MOU regarding the Atlantic Yards project was signed. The latter was released via a press conference; the former was not made public until obtained by project opponents Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn.

Why was it secret, I asked ESDC via email. And why would the presence of a second investment group mean that one MOU would be treated differently? The response I got, in toto, from ESDC spokeswoman Jessica Copen: "There was never a secret MOU. There were always two MOUs and they were both made available to the public. However, there is only one project encomposing both MOU's that ESDC expects to adopt which will be used as the basis for the EIS and the GPP [General Project Plan]."

Preparing for Thursday

In case you're interested in attending the 4 pm meeting Thursday at Borough Hall, here's what you might expect. First, don't worry about being prompt--the meetings usually start late, after 15 or 20 minutes. Is that because the witnesses are late, or because Markowitz runs late? The latter, I think. Then Marty rumbles in, greets everybody, and recites the committe's goals. He then leads off with a few questions; they're obviously prepared by his staff, but compared to many politicians, he at least seems to understand the issues. Marty's chief of staff, Greg Atkins, sits by his side, and chimes in with questions; other aides are behind him.

Around the table are places for representatives of the three affected Community Boards (usually the chairperson, with the district manager in the second row). Assemblywoman Joan Millman usually attends, with an aide; Assemblyman Roger Green comes less frequently. Council Member Letitia James is often there; otherwise she'll have a legislative aide in her place. Council Member David Yassky usually sends an aide, as does Senator Velmanette Montgomery. The elected officials and CB officials then can ask questions; some questions from concerned community members are fed through them.

In the audience, News12 Brooklyn often has a camera. Reporters from the Brooklyn newspapers--the Brooklyn Papers, Brooklyn Eagle, Courier-Life, and Brooklyn Downtown Star--appear sporadically, though sometimes they'll cover the hearing after the fact via a phone interview. Reporters from the city dailies hardly ever attend, though the New York Post wrote one story.

In the audience are a smattering of community members, sometimes representatives of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, which opposes the project. And quietly taking notes, there's usually someone from AKRF, the consultancy that's preparing the DEIS.

The windows are usually open, offering air flow in the cavernous room. Loud traffic rumbles by, and when panelists don't speak into the mikes, they can be inaudible. Sometimes Marty leaves early, a gesture that suggests his attendance at yet another ceremony trumps this unofficial process. The written summaries of the meetings are somewhat skimpy. The importance of close attention to this project remains.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.