Thursday, May 11, 2006

Some heft for the community: CBN retains consultant to run DEIS review

On Monday, members of Community Board 6 seemed daunted by the challenge of finding the money and expertise to respond to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) being prepared on behalf of the Empire State Development Agency. Expected to be issued in the next weeks or months, the document likely will be thousands of pages long.

But The Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN) has stepped forward and announced it has retained Phillips Preiss Shapiro Associates (PPSA) to act as the lead consultant for a review of the DEIS. Last December, CBN issued a Request For Proposals to top environmental planning firms to help review the DEIS.

The response to the RFP brought forward dozens of firms and organizations, CBN said in a press release, and PPSA--the city’s largest independent planning firm--will coordinate those efforts. It's not clear whether the Community Boards will participate. While CBN has no official position on the Atlantic Yards project, given the job of responding to the environmental review, many of its member groups oppose the project, and the Community Boards may be wary of the association.

Then again, the CBs don't have the money to hire experts. Nor does the CBN--at least, not yet. "Our budget overall is somewhat in excess of $500,000," CBN's Jim Vogel told me. "We have positive indications for funding from both the City Council and the State Legislature, but we continue to hold our breath. Our consultants are aware of our budget and the somewhat tenuous funding position and are being very cooperative."

What they'll do

John Shapiro of PPSA said: "This job is about making a complex project understood by the people most affected by it, and thus allowing them to be the best advocates for their own interests and concerns -- whether that is in support, opposition or simply expressions of concern. I have worked on a number of large-scale projects, but I can't think of any that has a larger impact on my home borough than this."

The Environmental Simulation Center will provide visual representations, including photomontages, of what building impacts may occur. Last year, for example, responding to the DEIS regarding Brooklyn Bridge Park, the firm commented that it lacked "verifiable visual simulations that illustrate the impact of the action on visual and historic resources." So they produced such simulations, with before and after images of the same location (examples at right).

Several groups affiliated with academic institutions will participate. The Pratt Center for Community Development has a history of working with neighborhood groups; it previously worked on a survey for the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, a member of CBN, and also issued its own preliminary analysis of the Atlantic Yards project in March 2005.

The recently-created Hunter Center for Urban Studies will involve Urban Studies faculty and students in affiliation with CUNY's Center for Urban Research. Tom Angotti, who has criticized the planning for the Atlantic Yards project, will coordinate the effort.

Also involved will be the Project for Public Spaces, whose head, Fred Kent, recently declared, “There are no great public spaces in Downtown Brooklyn."

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