Wednesday, December 20, 2006

AY approved by PACB in five minutes; DDDB, James, Jeffries respond

Ignoring the calls for delay from the four Assemblymembers closest to the Atlantic Yards site, as well as several civic groups, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, joined the other two controlling members of the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB) and approved Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project this afternoon.

That leaves the courts as the remaining barriers to project; lawsuits have been filed in state and federal court challenging the use of eminent domain for the project, and another is expected to be filed challenging the legitimacy of the environmental review conducted by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC). "Fortunately, we still have three branches of government,” said Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) spokesman Daniel Goldstein in a press release.

City Council Member Letitia James, a staunch opponent of the project, offered a list of unanswered questions and commented, "I hope Governor-elect [Eliot] Spitzer will be in a position to further amend this project. The project now lies in the hands of the judicial system. I trust that the courts will give the constitutionality, legality and the merit of this project a thorough review, something that has not happened in any legislativebody up to this point. Until the courts rule on pending and upcoming cases, Atlantic Yards, as we know it, cannot be built. Today is a sad day for democracy and the community I represent. But, our fight is far from over."

Assemblymember-elect Hakeem Jeffries, who had called for delay, was diplomatic, as he got a portion of what he'd requested: "The inclusion of affordable home ownership in the Atlantic Yards project is a significant step forward for our community, and will provide hundreds of working families in Central Brooklyn with a piece of the American dream. I hope and expect to work closely with the Spitzer administration to address the quality of life and density concerns that many in the community, including myself, continue to have.”

His statement today did not reference his request that the project be delayed until the eminent domain case was resolved.

BrooklynSpeaks, a coalition that said the plan should be changed substantially or rejected, stated: "We believe the incoming Spitzer administration must seize the opportunity in the new year to fix the project. The plan, particularly its second phase, must be changed to address its overwhelming scale, superblock design, lack of a transportation plan, and public process that has alienated rather than involved New Yorkers. "

Less than five minutes

The PACB's public consideration of Atlantic Yards took less than five minutes, according to Jeff Baker, attorney for DDDB, who was in the conference room for the PACB meeting, which began at 4:30 p.m. (Other issues were on the agenda, as well.)

Baker noted that the PACB did not approve the project financing, because that comes from a $100 million legislative authorization to the budget of the ESDC. "They did not approve any bond financing through ESDC, because they're going to set up an LDC [Local Development Corporation]. It's a way of avoiding PACB approval. A lot of the questions of financing we raised were not addressed. Our position is that the PACB has overriding authority to make sure the project makes sense."

There was no discussion of new tax revenue, a contentious issue raised in the press and at an Assembly oversight hearing on Monday.

Two months til groundbreaking?

Steve Matlin, an ESDC attorney, told the PACB that the developer was not expected to break ground for at least two months, according to Baker. As for taking title by eminent domain of properties the state must acquire, that could take at least four months.

Baker said that there was no public discussion that indicated, as had been reported by Crain's New York Business, that the flagship Miss Brooklyn tower had been reduced and that on-site for-sale affordable co-ops had been added to the project.

Unanswered questions

"It was not a pretty sight," Baker told me of the PACB meeting in general, "because when you look at the amount of indebtedness and the scope of projects approved, and how little care and discussion occurs, it raises a question as to whether there is any meaningful oversight."

DDDB pointed out that "the PACB still has not received a full accounting of the true public cost of the project or a realistic projection of the project’s new net revenue for the city and state," as well as details about enforceability of the affordable housing agreement.

Challenges remain

"The approvals by ESDC represent egregious violations of multiple state laws and the public trust. While [ESDC Chairman Charles] Gargano may claim there has been extensive public review, the facts show otherwise,” Baker charged in the press release. “The New Yorkers whose trust was betrayed by the Governor, Mayor and Mr. Gargano will now place their trust in the courts to assure that the laws are followed and this project is sent back for the review that was required.”

The role of incoming Gov. Spitzer, like Silver a Democrat, was unclear, since Spitzer, an Atlantic Yards project supporter who nonetheless may face headaches regarding the project, remained silent. DDDB's Goldstein said, "'Day one’ is just around the corner, and we look to incoming Governor Spitzer to make sure that everything truly will be different.”

For now, however, Spitzer--who could have lobbied Silver--apparently passed on the chance to stall or change Atlantic Yards.

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