Monday, September 18, 2006

At the Atlantic Antic: Nets promos, luxury housing, and some tough principles on AY

The Atlantic Antic is the borough's premier street fair, and yesterday's version was no exception, with the bonus of excellent weather. There was no shortage of Atlantic Yards-tinged moments; as I'll describe below, the Boerum Hill Association distributed some toughminded principles regarding the proposed Atlantic Yards plan, essentially calling for the density to be cut in half.

The Antic had relatively few of the generic vendors and food-sellers that mar so many street fairs, so the stores and restaurants on Atlantic Avenue got to strut their stuff. Stages every few blocks featured blues, country, and soul music--and one of the churches offered its own sidewalk performance. And Robert Puca of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (right) was there to provide another point of view in the vicinity of a Forest City Ratner table.

Forest City Ratner promotions

With Forest City Ratner as a sponsor, there was heavy promotion for the developer's malls and Atlantic Yards project. The company sponsored three tables. Though each table promoted the Nets and the AY project, the first focused on the Atlantic Terminal and Atlantic Center malls; I got a mug, a pencil, a keychain, and a mini-radio, all co-branded, in one fell swoop.

Further east, a table promoted the Nets. A third table featured autographs from Brooklynite and former NBA player Albert King, who rose in the Nets promotional hierarchy after his brother Bernard got arrested for beating his wife. People lined up to shoot hoops to win a free Nets jersey and other swag.

The developer is still handing out the brochure, released in May, that proclaims Atlantic Yards "a new vision for Downtown Brooklyn" but somehow neglects to picture the planned towers. FCR's Jim Stuckey told the New York Observer in July that the brochure wasn't meant to be an architectural brochure, and that images were given to the media not long after the brochure was issued.

Well, if it's a "vision," shouldn't people get a sense of it?

The three FCR tables distributed orange Nets balloons, which many stroller-rolling parents attached with nary a qualm, but probably the most popular Nets promotional effort came when a group from the Brooklyn Steppers marching band, rebranded as the Nets drumline, produced some powerful sounds.

[Clarification: a Brooklyn Steppers contingent has been operating as the drumline for two years.]

DDDB & CBN

Was it a coincidence that the drumline gathered near the table of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), the coalition opposing the Atlantic Yards plan? Well, the drummers were shepherded down Atlantic Avenue by two p.r. people who work for the developer.

Continuing its effort to marshal opposition to the plan, DDDB reported gathering some 428 names on petitions and 500 postcards sent to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Silver can modify or even stop the project from his position as a member of the Public Authorities Control Board, which must weigh in after the Empire State Development Corporation Acts.

DDDB also handed out posters urging "Stop Atlantic Yards" and listing four web sites, including this one, for people to "Learn More." (Note that my critical coverage of Atlantic Yards is aimed to be a broadly useful resource, not simply for those who want to stop the project.)

At the table for the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN), visitors could watch a Google Earth-based view flyover of the proposed project, and were shown graphics with the projected shadow sweep. In lieu of attending the second and final Atlantic Yards community forum scheduled at 4:30 p.m. today, people were invited to offer three-minute testimonies about the project.

BHA criticism

The Boerum Hill Association distributed some detailed principles that would lead to significant modification--and possibly a scrapping--of the AY plan.

The principles include:
--the number of apartments should be cut by at least a half, so the density of the residential area would be now bigger than Battery Park City at planned full buildout (152 apartments/acre)
--no use of eminent domain (which means that the developer would have to change the plan to deal with holdouts, or negotiate further)
--traffic changes should be implemented before new development adds excess demands
--no demapping of streets
--creative solutions to parking, including residential parking permits
--no demolishing of existing buildings until replacement design and financing are in place ("Boerum Hill and the surrounding communities have lived with this situation in the past.")
--adequate schools for the children of new residents should be built within the project footprint.

Development looming

Meanwhile, signs of new luxury housing popped up along Atlantic Avenue, including the new project pictured, 75 Smith, from developer Shaya Boymelgreen. Though the project web site doesn't say so, it's right next door to the now-closed Brooklyn House of Detention, which might be said to have had a blighting effect.

At a table run by developer David Walentas's Two Trees Management, known for renovating DUMBO, I picked up a glossy brochure for the converted 110 Livingston, the Downtown Brooklyn building built as an Elks Club that formerly housed the Board of Education.

"As for amenities--110 Livingston will not be outdone," the brochure bragged, promising high-end appliances, a fitness center, and a 24-hour concierge. It's another luxury project subsidized under the 421-a plan, which supports all market-rate outer borough development, including the market-rate units planned for Atlantic Yards.

A city task force is reexamining 421-a, and I'd bet such luxury projects in the future won't get the tax break unless they include affordable housing. But the presence of so many subsidized luxury projects is one reason why the city has rezoned several neighborhoods to offers an inclusionary zoning bonus--more developable space for a builder who promises to include affordable housing.

And it's one reason why housing group ACORN negotiated to get affordable units included in the Atlantic Yards project--even though, unlike with a rezoning, there's no governmentally-negotiated cap on the development's size. And we don't know what the affordable housing would cost the public.

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