Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The ironies of the CB 6 purge: Jerry Armer, flamethrower?

Borough President Marty Markowitz has the right to not reappoint community board members. Still, his decision, along with City Council Members Bill de Blasio and David Yassky, to remove nine volunteer members of Brooklyn Community Board 6, apparently because of their posture toward Atlantic Yards, can't turn the board from its criticism of the project.

The board voted overwhelmingly not to support Atlantic Yards as currently planned, as the votes detailed below show, citing unmitigable impacts like traffic, poor process that didn't accommodate local input, and a host of requested specific changes, including a reduction in scale.

Armer gets the boot

One of those Markowitz removed was Jerry Armer, the board's chairman when it developed its Atlantic Yards response and a veteran of more than 20 years. Armer told the New York Observer that he was disappointed: “What we were doing was giving the community a voice and reflecting the community.” (CB 6 covers Park Slope, Boerum Hill, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, and Red Hook.)

And Armer, who works for the MetroTech BID influenced by Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner, is hardly a flamethrower. He participated in numerous meetings of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, cordially raising some worthy questions. He presided over relevant CB 6 meetings. He spoke courteously, even ponderously, in testimony to the Empire State Development Corporation.

As with most of the CB members, he kept his distance from the organized opposition to the project, hence the irony of the New York Post headline today, ARENA FOES SLAM DUNKED, and the Post's decision to quote only one person by name: Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) spokesman Daniel Goldstein.

(DDDB does make the comparison, unmentioned in the Times and Post articles, to the actions of Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, who last year chose not to reappoint several members of Bronx Community Board 4 who opposed the new Yankees stadium he supported.)

And Armer was not alone when he joined the chairpersons of Community Boards 2 and 8 in May 2006, criticizing Forest City Ratner for "overstating" the CBs participation in "crafting" the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA): "Given the very limited role played by the three community boards in crafting the CBA and FCRC's overstatement of that fact, we are requesting that you discontinue all mention, in any form, of our participation."

Armer and CB 6, like the other two CBs, held hearings to get public input on Atlantic Yards. As I reported last October in the Brooklyn Downtown Star:
While CBs 2 and 8 did not take an official stand, the testimony they filed September 29 to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) expressed strong objections to or concern about the plan.

Marty doesn't speak

The Times noted of Markowitz, in an article today headlined Project’s Foes Shown Door in Brooklyn:
While he did renew the appointments of some Board 6 members who voted against Atlantic Yards, he replaced a greater percentage of Board 6 than of any other community board in the borough.

The typically voluble Markowitz wouldn't comment to the Times about his action; that speaks volumes.

[Correction: Markowitz was on a cruise. The Times noted: At the time the article was being reported, Mr. Markowitz could not be reached by his aides because he was on a ship at sea, had no telephone access and was not regularly checking his e-mail messages. He did not “refuse” to comment. Still, Markowitz did not have any explanation prepared when the letters went out.]

And what will Markowitz do about CB 6 member Louise Finney, a friend and former campaign treasurer? (Her term expires next year; here's the list of members.) Co-chair of the CB 6 Transportation Committee, Finney said last year: "The area they chose to analyze is way too small... You don't have to be a genius to know you should look at the BQE."

"This is difficult for me. It's a big step," said Finney, when voting last October for a Park Slope Civic Council resolution opposing Atlantic Yards as currently planned.. "Marty is a friend. But we represent Park Slope."

The payback in the Borough President's decision may be more symbolic than effective. Markowitz likely would prefer to see Goldstein gone from his residence in the AY footprint. But he had to settle for Armer.

Maybe Markowitz has the CB 6 District Manager, Craig Hammerman, in his sights; Hammerman explained, not unreasonably, in the December 2006 Park Slope Civic Council's Civic News:
“I think a lot of people were looking for things to support that weren’t in the plan at the end of the day,” he continued. “It became a tough decision, that came down to whether people were willing to vest blind trust in government agencies and a private developer that everything would be okay. Some people felt comfortable doing that but we didn’t, because the plan they put out failed so many different tests.”


Or, as CB 6 member Jeff Strabone told the Times: “It’s a shame to punish people for having independent judgment."

(Update: I just saw the print edition and saw that the Times story made the front of the Metro section. I don't necessarily quarrel with that, but I'll note that the Times didn't see fit to cover CB 6's original disapproval of the project. Nor, I think, did any of the other dailies. It's another case of politics over substance.)

Fighting the tide

The tenor of CB 6 likely can't change significantly--yet. (In a year, another half of of the 50-member board will be up for reappointment). In September, the board voted 35-4 to disapprove of the project as proposed in the July 18, 2006 General Project Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement "because it will cause irreparable damage to the quality of life in the borough of Brooklyn."

The board also voted 37-2 to include several procedural objections:
a) Failure to involve the Community Board and the community in a meaningful way; misleading and overstating the involvement of the public in the process.
b) Failure to provide adequate or sufficient time for the public to review the GPP and DEIS.
c) Failure to provide resources to the Community Board to assist in their review of the project.
d) Failure to subject any aspect of the project review to the City’s uniform land use review procedures (ULURP).

The board voted 37-2 to include the following general proposal-related objections:
a) The project is out-of-scale with the surrounding community.
b) Several material project impacts have been identified as being unmitigable. (Excerpt: "Through no fault of your agency, or the project sponsor, the baseline traffic conditions in this area of Brooklyn are unacceptable....Traffic conditions will worsen. Intersections will not be able to process projected traffic. Public safety will suffer.")
c) Portions of the data in the DEIS are insufficient, inadequate or questionable.
d) The scope of the DEIS is insufficient.
e) There has been insufficient modeling.

A final resolution, adopted by a vote of 23-4, offers the "following specific points that must be addressed as part of our disapproval of the project as currently proposed":
a) Substantially reduce height of buildings and density of project;
b) Clarify and mitigate the impact:
i) of gridlock and traffic;
ii) of events on residential parking and public transportation;
iii) of the disruption of inter-neighborhood connectivity resulting from the de-mapping of streets and the placement of buildings that physically separate surrounding communities;
iv) on Natural Resources (e.g., stormwater and sanitary sewage CSO events at the Gowanus Canal);
v) on response times by emergency services (e.g., FDNY, NYPD, EMS, etc.); and
vi) on local businesses.
c) Treat privately-owned “publicly accessible” open space as true public open space through permanent right of access, easement, covenant or some other appropriate mechanism;
d) Relocate 78th Police precinct so that the location of its facility would be insulated from project and personnel could better cover its catchment area;
e) Provide:
i) requisite accessory parking for the 78th Police precinct at their current location;
ii) space for a community and youth center;
iii) sufficient and sustainable electrical supply and distribution; and
iv) enhanced pedestrian safety and mobility through project site (e.g., safer crossings for pedestrians, crossing guards);
f) Consider the cumulative impact of all studies (e.g., Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming, Brooklyn Rapid Bus Transit, etc.) and plans (e.g., Downtown Brooklyn Rezoning, etc.);
g) Phase-in the benefits (e.g., construction of a school, affordable housing, parks/open space) described in the GPP sequentially so that more are included in Phase I of construction and within each segment of Phase II construction;
h) Re-review project in phases to account for real-time information and actual impacts associated with construction, and after the completion of Phase I, to take into account the actual effects of the project and allow for greater flexibility in achieving further mitigation;
i) Re-designate Site 5 as a separate Phase III so that construction is not occurring simultaneously on both sides of Flatbush Avenue at this busy location;
j) Eminent domain should not be used in this instance to take private property solely for the benefit of a private developer.

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