So it’s no surprise that, judging from the CB 8 meeting I attended, 1) community members who spoke often trod predictable ground and 2) not many civilians had read much, if anything, of the DEIS.
So, in a sense, the hearings themselves backed up a message many people offered: the ESDC should postpone the hearing and delay the environmental review to allow for more time to review the massive and complicated documents.
More than 75 people packed a meeting room at the Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation on Prospect Place in Crown Heights. Sentiments were divided for and against the project, though, at least according to the applause, the crowd leaned toward opposition. A majority of black attendees seemed to express approval, though two spoke against it and some others applauded opponents. Nearly all nonblack attendees opposed it. (I’m told that the mostly-white crowd at the CB6 hearing was pretty much against the project.)
[UPDATE: The Brooklyn Papers provides a quick tally on pro vs. con speakers:
CB2: 29–5 (3)
CB6: 24–5 (3)
CB8: 30–21 (6)
The numbers in parentheses account for the speakers who are Forest City Ratner employees, consultants, or Community Benefits Agreement signatories. Quick quote: “I personally apologize for the process. It is the most corrupt [development process] being done in America,” said state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery.]
One noncivilian, transportation engineer Brian Ketcham of Community Consulting Services, had read the document, and his warnings were dire. He charged that the DEIS was vastly underestimating the amount of development in the area, and thus the impact of the Atlantic Yards project.
“What we’ve done is research and map all of the development in and around Downtown Brooklyn not included in the No-Build” scenario of the DEIS, he said. “It’s more than half of the development.”
“They included 12 million square feet,” he continued. “There’s 25 million in and around Downtown Brooklyn,” as well as another 25 million square feet in more distant locations like Greenpoint and Williamsburg that still would affect downtown traffic and transit, especially given that the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is already over capacity.
Ketcham also scoffed that “the DEIS comes to the remarkable conclusion that there’s no impact on subway crowding.”
Ketcham’s three minutes ran out, but he had more to say. “One of the tragedies of this whole process is limiting us to couple of minutes when we have hours of information to discuss,” he lamented.
An editorial in this week’s Brooklyn Papers takes off on Ketcham’s analysis, pointing out that the DEIS ignored “14 sites that already exist—such as large buildings at 9 MetroTech and 330 Jay St., plus the new Federal Courthouse—and also ignored another 13 projects that are already approved, under-construction or nearly completed, such as the Marriott hotel’s expansion, the renovation of 110 Livingston St., two large New York City College of Technology projects, and two large residential towers being built near Flatbush Avenue Extension and Gold Street.”
The subway link from Fort Greene
A set of Forest City Ratner staffers arrived early to sign up FCR officials as speakers, and those speakers, accompanied by a phalanx of aides, made it to each of the three board meetings.
Speaking well before Ketcham was Sam Schwartz (aka “Gridlock Sam”), transportation consultant to FCR, so Ketcham’s analysis went unrebutted.
Schwartz described several of the recommendations made to get arena visitors to take public transit more and drive less, including parking spaces limited to high-occupancy vehicles, and the possible integration of game tickets with MTA fare collection.
Not only do ten subway lines and the LIRR stop at the Atlantic Avenue-Pacific Street complex, he noted, three subway lines pass within two blocks, the C at Lafayette Avenue and the G at Fulton Street.
“We have asked that street amenities be made to South Portland Avenue improving the link between these two trains and the Yards,” Schwartz said. “We also ask for consideration of having the A train stop at Lafayette St. [sic] pre- and post-game.”
“An intelligent parking system designed with the technology of 2009 is being developed that will allow people to know where they’ll find a [remote parking] space, even reserve it, thereby minimizing circulation—always a major contributor to congestion at events.”
With other FCR speakers, Schwartz--headed for another hearing with no time to take public transit--left in a limo.
Jim Stuckey, president of the Atlantic Yards Development Group, in his written statement reprised issues he’d stressed in previous public appearances: the project’s inclusion of affordable housing amid a housing shortage, the emphasis on sustainable design in the buildings, a transportation and traffic management plan.
New estimates of jobs
His analysis of economic benefits, however, included new estimates of jobs, taking off from the more generous estimates from the ESDC. While Forest City Ratner has promised 15,000 construction jobs (or 1500 jobs a year over ten years), and 3740 permanent jobs,
the ESDC calculates direct and indirect jobs in the city and state.
So Stuckey said, “Construction and operation of this project will create over 33,000 direct and indirect construction jobs and between 10,200 and 22,100 direct and indirect permanent jobs.”
Actually, the ESDC, in the DEIS Executive Summary, states that “Phase I construction would create between 14,300 and 14,900 direct and indirect jobs in New York City and between 17,600 and 18,400 direct and indirect jobs overall in New York State” and “Construction of Phase II would generate approximately 12,300 direct and indirect jobs in New York City and a total of approximately 15,300 jobs in New York State.”
Add 18,400 to 15,300 and the total tops 33,000, but that’s in the state, and that is job-years.
The General Project Plan uses different calculations with more precise description: “Construction of the Project will generate 15,344 new direct job years and 26,803 total job years (direct, indirect and induced).”
Stuckey on offense
In his oral statement, however, Stuckey was more combative, pointing out that, in contrast to many other buildings going up in the area, “What I thought was very interesting that, unlike the responsibility we have at Atlantic Yards, very few of the single-user buildings have the responsibility to look at issues like jobs or housing or open space, or how to deal with the Gowanus Canal.”
(Well, are the other buildings the largest project in the history of Brooklyn, or seeking as much in subsidies? And doesn’t any construction create jobs?)
Stuckey avoided the question of density, but he was eager to take on the issue of scale: “I understand that you’ll hear people tell you that it’s three times the Empire State Building. They won’t tell you that it’s 12 times the Empire State Building’s footprint. They’ll tell you that it’s 23 times the Williamsburg Savings Bank, but what they won’t tell you is that it’s 53 times the Williamsburg Savings Bank’s footprint. And what they won’t tell you about is the thousands of families that don’t have housing, about the seniors that will be housed… They won’t tell you about the two- and three-bedrooms that are meant to keep families in the neighborhood.”
Or they will.
Several people living in Dean Street just across from the development warned of the impact—traffic, noise, air quality—on their daily lives. “We’re in the heart of the blight neighborhood,” Michael Rogers, a resident of the high-end Newswalk condos, said wryly.
He recalled how residents were rehabilitating buildings, but said, “in the middle that wasn’t blight, it was railyards.” He said representatives from his building did warn the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that the area around the railyards wasn’t being maintained, “but they ignored us.”
“We’re being exposed to the biggest, cruelest science experiment,” he warned, citing the influx of some 16,000 people, which would make it the densest neighborhood, by far, in the country. “When it turns out it doesn’t work, we’re going to be stuck.”
Questions of blight
Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein called on the community board to oppose this “colossal blunder,” saying that “there are many alternatives that create jobs and housing.”
Though Goldstein’s home in the footprint is just outside the boundaries of CB8, he said he chose that meeting because he thought the impact of the project would be strongest there. “According to definitions in the Draft EIS,” he said, “the whole district is blighted,” given that there is multiple ownership of underutilized buildings.
“Community Board 8 is ripe for eminent domain abuse. Community Board 8 is ripe for overdevelopment,” he said. “If it happens with Ratner’s project, why wouldn’t it happen with the next developer’s project?”
Patti Hagan of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition (and DDDB) talked about how she and others reclaimed the neighborhood, then took a broad swing at FCR’s projects. “Where’s the blight? Ratner’s Atlantic Center mall. Ratner’s Atlantic Terminal mall. P.C. Richard. MetroTech.”
(While the Atlantic Terminal mall and MetroTech have their critics, the Atlantic Center mall and Site 5, with P.C. Richard and Modell’s, have faced far harsher judgment--and, indeed, if underutilization of potential development rights is a definition of blight, are blighted because of that.)
The project supporters who spoke didn't comment directly on the EIS but cited the need for housing, jobs, and development.
Several spporters testified from BUILD, the job-training group that provided crucial support for the project as it negotiated a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA)--and denied being funded by FCR before admitting it. CEO James Caldwell observed, as has often been voiced by CBA signatories, that Forest City Ratner gave people of color “the opportunity to be at the table.”
Caldwell and others praised the project for providing housing and jobs. “It’s about jobs and redistribution of the wealth,” asserted William Wright.
Marie Louis of BUILD commented, “This is a new paradigm for development. It creates a way for those who are most vulnerable to benefit.”
“This project will bring jobs to a black community that’s in desperate need,” said Kevin Yard of the Central Brooklyn Contractors Association. Also speaking in support were two representatives of Laborers’ Local 731.
Prospect Heights resident Raul Rothblatt, a DDDB supporter, said, “I feel very strongly that we need housing and we need jobs…. The Ratner supporters are acting as if this is the only chance. Let’s take the subsidies and do something really good.”
“I am concerned that a lot of promises Forest City Ratner is making will not come to pass, because the language in the document is equivocal,” pointed out Ethel Tyus, a member of CB8 and of the Crown Heights North Association. She noted that the open space would be closed by 10:30 p.m. between May and September, and after 8 pm or sundown in other months. “That becomes private space.”
Tyus warned that the nighttime lighting and signage from huge buildings will have significant effects on neighbors. “We really have to look at this very carefully,” she said. “I’d like to see development but not on such a gross and dramatic scale.”
Warnings about insurance
Alan Rosner, who has put the security issue on the Atlantic Yards map, reminded the CB that last year he pointed out that terrorism insurance premiums had not been calculated into the project’s financial analysis. “Now I’m here now to warn you that insurance is also a time bomb for every single homeowner or business person in CB8, or 6, or 2—as well as for the public’s access to Atlantic Yards’ open spaces,” he said.
He added, “Just ask yourselves what business decisions might be made by insurance industry executives after actuaries calculate the increased risk of concentrating three designated Department of Homeland Security prime terrorist targets—a glass arena and a glass-clad office skyscraper above an urban transportation hub that was already the target of a thwarted suicide bombing in 1997."
But terrorism and post-9/11 security are not part of the state law governing environmental review, so they're not part of the DEIS.