Tuesday, December 12, 2006

“Stop the Clock:” advocates urge PACB delay on Atlantic Yards

The signs said:
Atlantic Yards: Show Us the Money
Atlantic Yards: Not Ready for Approval
Atlantic Yards: Environment Matters


And that pretty much said it all, three years and a day after the project was announced. At a press conference yesterday at City Hall, a host of groups and individuals, some of them with different visions of the Atlantic Yards endgame, gathered to urge the Public Authorities Control Board to postpone its scheduled December 20 vote on the Atlantic Yards project. In front of them were posters with the project’s massive scale juxtaposed against its low-rise neighbors.

(Pictured in Village Voice photo: State Senator Velmanette Montgomery (l.) and City Council Member Letitia James. Posters pictured by Jonathan Barkey.)

The PACB, which is controlled by Governor George Pataki, and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver must vote unanimously in order for the project to be approved, and there’s pressure on Silver to stall the project until the administration of incoming Governor Eliot Spitzer, a fellow Democrat.

Some ironies

There were more than a few ironies. As Neil de Mause wrote in the Village Voice’s Power Plays blog, “It isn't every day that a bunch of good-government groups hold a press conference to demand that an undemocratic, unelected state panel intervene to delay a public project.”

And both Silver and Spitzer basically support the project, so a delay of a few months might not lead to significant changes in Atlantic Yards.

Then again, the groups assembled hope that Silver and Spitzer will get up to speed on their many concerns, which they say have not been well considered by the undemocractic, unelected Empire State Development Corporation.

Reasons for delay

“A huge amount of information is still missing, and after PACB approval, there will be no legislative oversight of this project, the biggest sole-source land deal in NYC history," said Council Member Letitia James, who represents the area including the site, and who served as the MC for the press conference.

"The Atlantic Yards project would attract more than 20,000 cars per day and many thousands of transit riders to an area often choked with gridlock," said Gene Russianoff of NYPIRG’s Straphangers Campaign. Criticizing the ESDC’s environmental review, he warned that the agency’s plan would be “condemning downtown Brooklyn to traffic hell."

Good Jobs New York Project Director Bettina Damiani said, "The reasonable goals of economic development require a process that is transparent and accountable,” calling it “unconscionable” for the PACB to consider approving this project without further disclosure of subsidies.

“To rush into this decision is just foolhardy,” said City Council Member Tony Avella, who represents a district in Queens and chairs the zoning committee. “If allowed to go ahead as currently constituted, it’ll actually be a blight on Downtown Brooklyn.” (Locals would locate most of the Atlantic Yards site in Prospect Heights, actually.)

What are the chances?

Will the call to action be heard? James indicated that there had been communication with Spitzer, who likely can influence Silver’s vote, but wouldn’t provide details. Asked what she thought the chances of a delay were, she replied, “Keep hope alive.”

One person who did hear something was Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, an Atlantic Yards booster. He exited City Hall after the event had formally concluded, but there were enough people there to jeer him.

Other listed endorsers of Monday's call for stall included Natural Resources Defense Council, NYPIRG/Straphangers, Sierra Club, Fort Greene Association, Society for Clinton Hill, FROGG, Pratt Area Community Council, BrooklynSpeaks, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, Assemblymember Annette Robinson, and the Reverend Clinton Miller of Brown Memorial Church, though not all were present.

Some oppose the project outright, while others want to see it changed significantly or have specific criticisms of the environmental review. Also calling for a delay, though not present, were Assemblymembers Jim Brennan and Joan Millman, who with Robinson sent a letter to Silver, and Assemblymember-elect Hakeem Jeffries, who on Friday sent a letter echoing similar concerns but adding that the project should be held until the eminent domain case is resolved.

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