Friday, August 18, 2006

DEIS hearing or Atlantic Yards rally? BUILD, ACORN, community groups muster the troops

In some ways the hearing Wednesday on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) is just a public relations exercise. After all, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) is expected to approve the project after community comments are incorporated into a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).

But advocacy and community groups are rallying their troops to criticize the DEIS and to urge for the project's approval--and to shape the media portrayal of the debate. So expect an energized, possibly raucous crowd at New York City Technical College's Klitgord Auditorium, from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (Location: 285 Jay Street @ MetroTech, between Tillary & Johnson. Poster at right from Fort Greene Association & Society for Clinton Hill.)

Among the pre-meeting messages is an explanation for the July 11 Affordable Housing Information Session, in which Forest City Ratner and ACORN told some hopeful but frustrated New Yorkers about housing that was at least four years away.

Now ACORN is encouraging attendees--remember, they filled out information sheets so they could be reminded of housing information--to lobby for the project next week. The session last month was, among other things, a recruiting meeting.

What's at stake

The DEIS is a disclosure document, not a decision document; it discloses adverse impacts on issues like traffic, open space, and noise, but does not require mitigation. The ESDC will hold a follow-up forum on September 12 (the day of the primary election) and accept comments through September 22.

Once the ESDC board receives the FEIS and approves the General Project Plan, an associated document, then the political fight resumes. Assuming that the project is not delayed in court over an eminent domain challenge or a challenge to the validity of the DEIS, the project would eventually go to the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB).

Approval requires a unanimous vote of the PACB, which is controlled by representatives of the governor, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

While Silver killed the West Side Stadium, he has expressed no such dismay about the Atlantic Yards project; in fact, one explanation for the downsizing of office space in the Brooklyn project is that it wouldn't compete with space in Silver's Lower Manhattan district. (Other explanation: a weaker Brooklyn office market and more lucrative condo possibilities.)

Rallying the troops

To BUILD, whose leaders have been among the project's most fervent advocates, the only potential adverse impacts are traffic, shadows and "building heights."

In the flier BUILD is sending to supporters, those issues are no match for, among other things, "the Historic Community Benefits Agreement, Jobs, Affordable Housing, Business Opportunities, and a Brooklyn NBA Team."

BUILD is advising its members to get to the meeting at 3:30 p.m., an hour before it begins. Given the number of people who likely want to speak, it could be a long night. (Note that most of the photos regard the Nets. Click to enlarge.)

ACORN's alert

A NY ACORN alert, sent to those who signed up at the Affordable Housing Information Session, states that New York ACORN will be speaking out on:
The need for affordability and not luxury.
2,250 affordable rental apartments for low to moderate income families.
10% of the rentals for senior citizens.
Tell the ESDC that We Support the Atlantic Yards Project and We Need Housing!
Speak up for Atlantic Yards! Speak up for Housing! Speak up for Brooklyn!


Note that the "need for affordability and not luxury" is a reference to Atlantic Yards in the context of several other development in Brooklyn, not a description of the project as a whole. Of 6860 apartments, 2250 would be considered affordable, but 900 of the affordable apartments would rent for more than $2000 a month.

As noted, some two-thirds of ACORN followers surveyed on the Atlantic Yards project have household income under $30,000; they'd be eligible for some 900 of the subsidized apartments.

In other words, the pledge of 50 percent affordability glosses over the fact that low-income New Yorkers could access fewer than half the units deemed affordable.

ACORN will form a group at the corner of Jay Street and Willoughby at 6 p.m., which is after the hearing begins but an acknowledgement that those interested have jobs and travel obligations.

ACORN in the Voice

NY ACORN executive director Bertha Lewis, in a letter to the Village Voice this week, criticizes an article by C. Carr, Life in the Footprint, writing that Carr completely ignored the larger context. This development is about finding solutions to New York's affordable-housing crisis....ACORN has worked with Forest City Ratner to guarantee that 50 percent of the 4,500 new units planned for Atlantic Yards will be rent stabilized and affordable to low, moderate, and middle-income families.

Note that there would be 6860 new units, not 4500, and thus the project would not be a 50/50 affordable plan; the affordability applies only to the rentals. And Lewis leaves out the larger context of to whom the units would be affordable.

The critics and opponents

Some community and activist groups concerned about the project are emphasizing the potential impact of the projects. The poster at top, emphasizing the project's scale, was issued by the Fort Greene Association and the Clinton Hill Society, both of which specified that they are critical of the plan as it stands.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn has posted this message and will hand-deliver it to thousands of Brooklynites:
This narrow window for public comment on the "Atlantic Yards" DEIS is symptomatic of a process that has severely limited the community’s input and scrutiny from the outset. By scheduling the hearing in late August, the ESDC appears to be trying to minimize public criticism of the DEIS, so it’s crucial that we don’t let them get away with it. Please prepare as well as you can: the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, the Atlantic Yards Report and the Brooklyn Papers have some great info to get you started; arrive at the DEIS hearing as early as possible, and sign up to speak; and let the ESDC know what you think.

Addendum: NoLandGrab offers a waggish edit of the BUILD poster. (Click to enlarge)

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