Thursday, May 25, 2006

The ATURA mystery: why doesn't it overlap with AY footprint?

As I've written, part of the proposed Atlantic Yards footprint sits within the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area (ATURA), and part does not. (ATURA is in red, the footprint is in blue, and the overlap is both.) But if the southern blocks of the footprint, between Pacific and Dean streets, were important for the city's redevelopment plans, why did the city never add them to ATURA? The failure to do so, said Allison Lirish Dean, a Hunter College graduate student in urban planning, suggests "striking asymmetries" between city redevelopment/land use policies and Forest City Ratner's project.

Dean and fellow students in the Hunter College master's degree program, under the leadership of Tom Angotti, are analyzing the Atlantic Yards plan on behalf of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB). DDDB will use the analysis in comments and challenges to the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) environmental review process. The student team presented a preliminary version of their findings at a session Monday night. A written report is due next month.

ATURA was launched in 1968, and has gone through ten amendments. The boundaries have only changed once. Angotti pointed out that there was a rezoning on Pacific Street, to promote residential development at the old Daily News printing plant, now the Newswalk condos. "Implicit in the rezoning was the anticipation that it would promote residential development. If the city thought it not enough," he said, "the next step would be to include [the block] in ATURA."

Blight and beyond

Is the area blighted? That's the claim that the state is expected to employ to justify the use of eminent domain to acquire remaining properties in the footprint. But again, if the city wanted powerful tools to fight blight, the failure to extend the boundaries of ATURA raises questions. "There are no hard and fast rules to defining blight," Angotti added, noting that the ESDC plans a study of blight in the footprint as part of its review of the project. "They'll assign it to a junior staffer, he'll cook it up and it will pass muster."

Dean also noted how the language of the ATURA plan shifted. From 1968 through 1975, the plan stated that the housing "shall" be for low- and moderate-income residents; in 1982, it was amended to say that the housing "may" be such a population. By 1997, the shift was complete, to provide "new housing," and, rather than retain businesses, to "strengthen the tax base."

"Everyone is skittish"

Dean also added a piece of hearsay that must have encouraged some of the Atlantic Yards opponents in the room. A former staffer for the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which supports the Atlantic Yards project, told her that "everyone is very skittish" about the plan. Similarly, I was recently told that, at a recent public meeting a staffer from the Brooklyn Borough President's office said, "At Borough Hall, we give it a 50-50 chance."

Given the controversy surrounding the project, some skittishness and doubt from official circles is not surprising. What's surprising is hearing it articulated.

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