(Photo from Found in Brooklyn.)
However, if the nor'easter roars in today as predicted, the weather will suppress turnout, just as the sweltering heat last July 16 limited the crowd for a rally at Grand Army Plaza sponsored by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB). Atlantic Yards boosters will again have gotten random help from the weather gods.
To many outside the trenches, like the Village Voice, there's no reason to focus on the opposition groups--the point is that the Atlantic Yards plan involves demolishing historic buildings for parking that could linger for decades. (Below, a photo used in a BrooklynSpeaks mailer of the longstanding vacant lots in the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area north of Atlantic Avenue, later to become Forest City Ratner's malls and also some low-rise housing.)
Indeed, in the documentary film Brooklyn Matters, there seems to be little difference between representatives of the hard-line DDDB coalition, which is fighting Atlantic Yards in court and wants to kill the project, and the "milder" BrooklynSpeaks coalition, which seeks a "subsidiary with local representation" to embrace local input and modify the project.
And Forest City Ratner hasn't exactly embraced BrooklynSpeaks as a representative of the community, since the coalition would require some serious changes in the size of the project, the transportation plan, and the design of Phase 2.
On the other hand
Still, there remain some significant differences in tactics and rhetoric. BrooklynSpeaks has avoided criticizing the use of eminent domain in this case, even as a fierce court battle--spurred by a lawsuit organized by DDDB--questions whether Atlantic Yards was such a sweetheart deal that it violates emerging Constitutional law.
(Above, an unofficial rendering--adapted from renderings by landscape architect Laurie Olin--of the entire site east of Sixth Avenue as either surface parking, staging, or railyards. This would persist during the construction of the first stage, over four years, which would include five towers and the arena.)
And BrooklynSpeaks, mindful of the difficulty in talking with government entities while suing them, has avoided joining the lawsuit DDDB, the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (which includes some BrooklynSpeaks members) and allies have filed to invalidate the project's environmental review.
Meanwhile, BrooklynSpeaks has been careful to limit its rally focus to the "no demolition for parking" issue, while DDDB, in a recent newsletter, recommended the rally without actually mentioning the sponsor and urged attendees to express opposition to the project as a whole.
Still, the rally suggests something of a big tent. The venue, Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, is provided thanks to the Rev. David Dyson, a member of the DDDB Advisory Board who has forcefully criticized Atlantic Yards, as in this April 2005 Brooklyn Rail interview.
Among the elected officials scheduled to speak are State Senator Velmanette Montgomery and City Council Member Letitia James, who have expressed much broader opposition to the project. (Others scheduled are Assemblyman Hakeem Jefferies, State Senator Eric Adams, and Council Member David Yassky.) One of the musicians playing will be Pheeroan akLaff, another DDDB Advisory Board member.
And BrooklynSpeaks, DDDB, and some more than 1800 petition signers have protested the planned demolition of the historic Ward Bakery (right) for parking.
On the BrooklynSpeaks blog, some commentators have taken the organization to task for its posture. One wrote "Why aren't you people joining law suits and where have YOU all been the last 3 years? Your rally now, though cute, is too little too late!!!!!"
I offer my interpretation above, but asked BrooklynSpeaks for a statement about its posture toward the litigation. Yesterday, it was delivered:
The sponsors of the BrooklynSpeaks.net campaign seek major changes to the planned Atlantic Yards development. To accomplish this goal, we are seeking to aggressively raise awareness of the substantial flaws in the proposal and push for the creation of a platform for meaningful dialogue between the stakeholders - including both supporters and opponents - to explore how the planning for the site can be substantially improved.
We believe that the deeply flawed nature of the proposal is the direct result of the absence of any meaningful public involvement or accountability in the decision-making for the project so far. In this respect, we share many of the concerns held by the plaintiffs that have recently filed lawsuits concerning the project. However, decisions concerning litigation are made by each of the sponsoring groups on an individual basis, and therefore cannot be described collectively.
The term "planning for the site" implies that BrooklynSpeaks won't challenge the outline of the footprint; by contrast, the eminent domain case is based in part on the argument that “the site was chosen and the map was drawn by Ratner."
Parking lots and platforms
While people today will be rallying against demolition for "interim surface parking," that does have some implications--but first, the argument.
Jasper Goldman of the Municipal Art Society (MAS), one of the organizations behind BrooklynSpeaks, wrote an op-ed for Metro Thursday, citing Mayor Michael Bloomberg's commitment to sustainability and the contrast with supporting demolition of two city blocks (including historic buildings) to create more than 7 acres of surface parking lots for construction workers and, ultimately, arena patrons. (That’s about twice the size of Union Square Park.)
(Actually, it wouldn't be quite that big--one block plus parts of two others, as noted in the map above--but close enough.)
The developer calls the lots “temporary,” because they ultimately plan to build the second phase of the project on top of them. But “temporary” could become permanent. Even members of the developer’s own team believe that the second phase of the project won’t be built for 15 to 20 years — if it’s built at all.
The point: the city shouldn't be encouraging people to drive to Brooklyn's largest transit hub, and no similar large-scale project has required such a level of demolition.
ESDC on parking for patrons
Those are good questions, but the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) has answered them, in Chapter 24 of the Final Environmental Impact Statement, as I wrote. Those answers either demand a rebuttal or an alternate conception of the project.
The ESDC stated:
As demonstrated in the EIS parking analyses, without the proposed 1,596 interim parking spaces on blocks 1120 and 1129, there would be a deficit of off-street parking capacity in the vicinity of the arena during a weekday or Saturday Nets basketball game in 2010, resulting in a significant adverse impact to off-street parking conditions and increased demand for on-street parking spaces during these periods
So what does that mean? BrooklynSpeaks recommends residential parking permits and road pricing, among other policies, to reduce the need for so much surface parking. The state has so far avoided such policy changes.
In Brooklyn, it seems, arena backers agreed on a location without much nearby parking. By contrast, the Verizon Center in Washington, DC offers just 475 parking spaces of its own, but has 10,000 spaces within 10 blocks (a total the Washington Post says is optimistic).
Still, the area around Verizon Center--an arena cited specifically by the ESDC as being "compatible with its commercial and residential neighbors"--is nothing like the low-rise, historic Prospect Heights. (I visited recently and will write more at another date.)
Also, the scale of Atlantic Yards and the tight location near residential neighborhoods also apparently require the southeast block of the project to be razed, according to the ESDC:
As part of the preparation of the DEIS, the construction phasing, staging and sequencing was assessed. This included examining what construction sequencing solutions could be implemented to limit the effects of staging, construction worker parking and construction activities to the surrounding community. This consideration resulted in the selection of Block 1129, which is bordered by Dean Street, Pacific Street, Vanderbilt Avenue, and Carlton Avenue, to be used as an on-site staging/parking area for a large portion of the construction period to keep construction-related vehicles off neighborhood streets to the extent practicable. Without this designated staging/parking area, the neighborhood and surrounding streets would be more affected by the project’s construction activities (e.g., more or longer lane closures).
And, said the ESDC, parking must be provided for construction workers:
This research concluded that a substantial number of construction workers would likely travel via auto, irrespective of the abundance of transit options in the area and the costs associated with driving. To avoid overtaxing nearby on- and off-street facilities, the project sponsors would provide on-site (southern half of Block 1129) parking for construction workers at a fee that is comparable to other parking lots/garages in the area.
Is there an alternative? If there were residential parking permits and limited off-street facilities, would workers not drive? Are there other factors at work, such as the natural desire for the employer to have construction workers close at hand?
Also, the ESDC said the project requires more space for staging than other big projects:
The staging needs for the Atlantic Yards project are substantially greater and different in nature than those for the Seven World Trade Center and the New York Times Headquarters buildings. The construction of a new state-of-the-art railroad facility for the LIRR, retaining walls, foundations for a platform and the future residential buildings, the platform itself and related supports over the Vanderbilt Yard, in particular, along with the installation of utilities and the construction of the Arena structure, require more equipment compared to projects like Seven World Trade Center or the New York Times Headquarters buildings
So, would any construction project regarding the railyard require so much equipment? Or is it the construction of an arena while building over a railyard, and moving that railyard, the cause?
In other words, is it possible to oppose the interim surface parking yet support the arena, as some elected officials apparently do? How much of a reduction in the project, and in what parts, could preclude the need for such a staging area? We don't know.
The project is supposed to take ten years, and the state sticks with it, even though we now know the number is doubtful:
Furthermore, since the existing buildings on Blocks 1128 and 1129 would ultimately be replaced by the proposed residential buildings and open space, demolishing them early in the project schedule to facilitate better operation of construction activities and the benefit to the surrounding environment is appropriate.
It becomes less appropriate, of course, if "ultimately" means 20 years rather than ten, a time frame suggested by project landscape architect Laurie Olin.
A road not taken
As I wrote in December, Forest City Ratner considered a hybrid (right) of both interim surface parking and temporary open space for the southeast block of the development--at least by 2010, after the lot had been used as parking for construction workers.
Apparently that plan was discarded because it was either too costly or didn't provide quite enough parking. But Forest City, under pressure, could always resurrect it.
The alternate plan--with the option for temporary open space--is shown in documents on file with the Department of City Planning, which I acquired through a Freedom of Information Law request. Besides temporary open space on the southeast block, the alternate plan (right) also included temporary open space in the eastern portion of the central block.
There may be flexibility regarding the ratio of parking to open space. But demolition of the Ward Bakery, according to the ESDC, is essential to the construction plan, the provision of open space, and environmental remediation.
So today's rally, expressing opposition to demolition of the bakery for parking and construction staging is, in essence, an argument for a major redesign and reduction of the project, if not an argument against the arena itself.
A major redesign and reduction of the project would delay Forest City Ratner's plans and cut into the bottom line. It's hard to envision the developer embracing such changes. And the ESDC, in writing, has rejected the criticisms of demolitions for parking.
Then again, both the city and state have some measure of fiscal leverage. Could a rally, and pressure from elected officials, get the mayoral and gubernatorial administrations to pay attention such concerns? Could the legal challenges do so? Could both?