Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Protest against demolitions finds backhoe at opposite end of Atlantic Yards site

Just because Forest City Ratner had the go-ahead from a judge to demolish at least eight buildings in the Atlantic Yards site before a May 3 hearing on a preliminary injunction didn't mean that the developer would actually start the demolition work at 8 a.m. yesterday.

So when several dozen people--at least 80, at the peak--gathered at Flatbush Avenue near Pacific Street, in front of three row-house structures the developer owns and plans to demolish, they faced nothing more than a few television cameras with their signs, saying things like "These demolitions are premature" and "Gov. Spitzer: Albany Reform begins with Atlantic Yards."

"Fight the blight; it's not a done deal," they chanted, mindful that the project can't proceed until and unless cases filed in state and federal courts are resolved.
(Photos by Jonathan Barkey; full portfolio here.)

City Council Member Letitia James (right) arrived a bit late, and quickly stepped up to the cameras. "We are against development that doesn't respect the community. This is blight created by the developer, Forest City Ratner," she declared. "We have no idea how long these lots will remain blighted."

Of course, the developer plans to turn the lots into part of the initial arena block, with initial construction finished by 2009. Also, the lots offer an argument for further development and further isolate remaining footprint residents, some of whom are plaintiffs.Daniel Goldstein (right) of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), which organized the protest, called the demolitions "premature and an attempt to intimidate residents."

"We are extremely confident that this project is going to have to go back to the drawing board," declared Candace Carponter, DDDB's legal chair. Community planner Ron Shiffman, a member of DDDB's advisory board, called the demolitions, some of which will create interim surface parking lots, a "direct contradiction" to the sustainability plan announced Sunday by Mayor Mike Bloomberg. "If the mayor means anything, they'll step in and tell Ratner to go back to the drawing boards and develop the site in a more environmentally sound way."

Keeping watch

Nearby, several security guards hired by FCR took it all in. Up Flatbush Avenue, other officials with the developer and contractors gathered. Several cops were there to keep order, with the major danger the traffic that stalled periodically at the intersection of Flatbush and Fifth avenues, a portent of potential gridlock after Fifth Avenue is closed by May 27 between Flatbush and Atlantic avenues.

After a while, the protesters made their way around Fifth to Pacific Street, then traveled east on Pacific to Vanderbilt avenue. They passed Carlton Avenue, where a "finger" of row houses (right) is exempted from the plan.

Demolition under wraps

At the corner of Pacific and Vanderbilt, there was some demolition going on, behind a fence fortified with wood that almost--but not quite-blocked all views. Why was this gas station at 524 Vanderbilt (below, right) being demolished?

It wasn't in any of the developer's initial announcements, on February 20 or March 1.

Credit a carefully-worded letter from Forest City Ratner attorney Jeffrey Braun, which is included in the application for a temporary restraining order filed by DDDB and the 25 other groups that have challenged the environmental review of Atlantic Yards:
On Feb. 20, FCRC issued a press release announcing that it was beginning asbestos abatement work in preparation for the demolition of 179 Flatbush, a vacant one-story former auto repair shop, and it was beginning work on the construction of a temporary rail yard for the MTA. The MTA-related work includes demolition at the vacant gas station on Block 1121, Lot 47, which an FCRC affiliate owns, and demolition of the vacant one-story building at 175 Flatbush Avenue which is owned by the City of New York but was used by the MTA. We understand that petitioners have no objection to continuation of the work for the MTA.

That MTA-related work at the gas station was not specified in the press release and differs, obviously, from the below-grade MTA work that has been ongoing.

Return to the CLO

The protesters returned along Pacific Street and turned at 6th Avenue to stop outside the Atlantic Yards Community Liaison Office established by Forest City Ratner. It was time for a few more words, including a brief address from Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, who wore his BrooklynSpeaks t-shirt.

The only channel for communication regarding demolition activity, Veconi pointed out, is through Forest City Ratner. "It's not appropriate to be left up to the developer," he said. Those who wished could line up to enter the office one by one and submit questions.

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