Saturday, October 14, 2006

Park Slope Civic Council opposes AY as currently proposed

The Board of Trustees of the Park Slope Civic Council (PSCC) has agreed, nearly unanimously, that it "cannot support" Atlantic Yards project as currently proposed. In doing so, it cited an undemocratic public process, a poorly conducted environmental review, the inappropriate use of eminent domain, and the affect on the area's quality of life.

Still, the compromise statement adopted Oct. 5 allowed that PSCC could support the project if changes were made, as per the BrooklynSpeaks campaign that PSCC has already endorsed, including a "substantial reduction of the project and the creation of truly public open space," improvements in transportation and transit, a better affordable housing plan, and a "truly public process."

Close look raises concerns

The vote, 19-1, with one abstention, came after the PSCC Atlantic Yards Committee discussed its extensive and rigorous submission in response to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), citing numerous flaws in the document and adverse environmental impacts on the neighborhood and beyond. (I'll discuss that document, just posted, another time.)

"The closer you look at it, the more concerns you're likely to have," said PSCC President Lydia Denworth. Referring to the statement before the group, she said, "We tried to acknowledge the good things," such as jobs and affordable housing, that might come with the project.

There was some debate about the wording; while the initial draft of the statement said the project "would" provide jobs, housing, and growth, the board, acknowledging that the benefits were not guaranteed, agreed to modify that to "could."

After discussion whether to add specific details to the statement, the board agreed to add a link to PSCC's critique of the DEIS.

Compromise document

Denworth acknowledged that "this is something of a compromise document, even within the committee." Trustee Kyle Johnson observed that Community Board 6 had taken a much tougher position. "We could hardly be more polite," he said.

Others acknowledged that criticism hadn't come easy. "This is difficult for me. It's a big step," said Louise Finney, who has served as Borough President Marty Markowitz's campaign treasurer. "Marty is a friend. But we represent Park Slope."

"It's crazy not to look at the East River Bridges, the BQE and Grand Army Plaza," added Finney, chair of the Community Board 6 Transportation Committee. "I want to see the arena and housing and development, but the process is flawed. I think we've really been left no choice."

In the DDDB camp?

The one overt project supporter in the room, Bernard Graham, a Civil Court judge, took an all-or-nothing view. "I'm sensing this project would never be acceptable," he said, adding that a poll and the City Planning Commission support the project.

"We are entering the the camp of people who are opposing the project," he said, adding that "this is practically a Develop Don't Destroy [Brooklyn] analysis." (Actually, there's a large gap between BrooklynSpeaks and DDDB.)

"Don't think by shrinking this to a fraction, you're going to get an arena and affordable housing," Graham claimed. "You're going to have two-family housing built." (Graham has strong ties to the Brooklyn political mainstream, with the endorsement of State Sen. Carl Andrews and help from the Rev. Al Sharpton and also from Markowitz.)

Finney countered, "I don't feel I'm in the camp of those who are against it. I don't think we have many options."

Added Bob Braun, "It's not a black and white issue. The community and infrastructure can only support so much."

Different tactics

Denworth pointed out that she has "disagreed very publicly with [DDDB spokesman] Dan Goldstein and DDDB. There is a difference."

"Marty [Markowitz] said to me a year ago, 'Nothing will be good enough [for critics],'" Denworth recounted. She said PSCC would take its message to state Assemblymembers like Jim Brennan, who had earlier visited the meeting and discussed the AY endgame.

"The goal is to talk about what they realistically might do," Denworth said. "I think Develop Don't Destroy is going to pursue a legal recourse. I do believe this is the beginning of a different conversation about not trying to stop it but make it better." (DDDB is also lobbying.)

Eminent domain?

The PSCC statement goes beyond the BrooklynSpeaks document to criticize "inappropriate use of eminent domain." I asked Denworth to elaborate, and she responded, "The use of eminent domain troubles many of us... We question it on several levels from the use by a private developer to how they arrived at the determination of blight. We would like to see the question resolved in the courts before any construction begins."

Criticism, not opposition

In the latest PSCC newsletter, Denworth writes:
Speaking for myself, I resent the implication that anyone who questions the environmental impact of this project is racist or, on the other side, that anyone who likes the idea of an arena must be in the pocket of Forest City Ratner. It is possible (and I would even say reasonable) to want more affordable housing and still think that Atlantic Yards—as currently proposed—is too big, and that its effect on the surrounding neighborhoods will not be positive. It is also possible (and again I would say reasonable) to appreciate some of what the project could bring—affordable housing, jobs, an arena, an end to the gaping barrier of the railyards—and still think that Atlantic Yards—as currently proposed—is too big, that its effect on the surrounding neighborhoods will not be positive.

Yes, I’m repeating myself, on purpose, for emphasis. I hope that the developer and the elected officials who have been such vocal supporters of this project will put aside some of their anger at anyone who questions the project and see that we are simply voicing the real concerns of our community. Those concerns should be treated with respect. They are not unreasonable concerns—in fact, they are eminently reasonable. Their project would be far more successful if they were to heed some of our concerns and change the project accordingly.


PSCC Statement on Atlantic Yards

I. The Park Slope Civic Council cannot support the “Atlantic Yards” project as currently proposed. We take this action reluctantly because development of the Vanderbilt Railyards and new construction around Flatbush, Atlantic and Fourth Avenues represents a great opportunity for Brooklyn for the following reasons:

a. It could allow for growth and economic development.
b. It could provide badly needed affordable housing.
c. It could create jobs and help to alleviate high unemployment rates in the adjacent community.
d. It could represent an opportunity to strengthen infrastructure.
e. It could integrate neighborhoods currently divided by the railyards.
f. It could help attract a major-league professional sports franchise to Brooklyn for the first time in 50 years.

II. However, while the Park Slope Civic Council supports development over the Railyards and at Atlantic/Flatbush/Fourth Avenues, we do not support the “Atlantic Yards” project as currently proposed for the following reasons:

a. The process by which this project has been put forward has lacked both community participation and oversight by city agencies, both of which would have been addressed by ULURP, a more thorough and democratic process.
b. The environmental review process has not permitted adequate community participation. The public hearings on the project scope and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement were poorly conducted. The scope of the DEIS is insufficient. The proposed project would create too many unmitigable impacts.
c. The project will not improve quality of life. It will make it worse.
d. The project makes inappropriate use of eminent domain.

III. The Park Slope Civic Council believes that significant development can work over the Vanderbilt Railyards and should go forth, but only under the following conditions. The state, city and developer need to redesign the project under the principles promoted by BrooklynSpeaks.net, of which the Park Slope Civic Council is a co-sponsor:

a. Respect and integrate the surrounding neighborhoods. This includes, but is not limited to, a substantial reduction of the project and the creation of truly public open space.
b. A long-term transportation plan that really works. This includes implementing residential parking permits and traffic calming measures and developing a robust Brooklyn mass transit improvement plan.
c. Affordable housing that addresses community needs. A reasonable portion of that housing must be included in the first phase of the project.
d. A truly public process. That process must include consideration and integration of all major development projects and studies currently underway such as the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming and Transportation Blueprint and the Greenpoint-Williamsburg Rezoning. It must also include reviews of the project so that the community can evaluate progress and commitments from the developer, city and state during construction.

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