Wednesday, January 14, 2009

BrooklynSpeaks to Paterson: stop street closures, halt demolition, and come clean on Atlantic Yards timetables

Complaining that the preliminary and stalled work on Atlantic Yards has created blight and disruption, the sponsors of BrooklynSpeaks, the "mend-it-don't-end-it" group of Atlantic Yards critics, have asked Governor David Paterson to intervene.

In a letter sent December 31 (and posted January 9), before the recent flap about a discounted arena, they asked that Paterson ensure that the city, state, and developer Forest City Ratner halt further street closures, halt demolition of viable vacant buildings and repurpose them, return the Carlton Avenue Bridge to service, and create interim public open space as play areas or community gardens. (Full text below)

Not all of that may be practical; the bridge seems tied to reconstruction of the Vanderbilt Yard, which is on indefinite hold, and state and city officials have not clarified the timetable.

Clarity on construction

Perhaps that's why, in the letter, BrooklynSpeaks also asked Paterson to make available "current expected and worst-case construction timelines and release updated construction schedules."

That would be a significant shift, given that the project was approved with an anticipated 10-year timeline, which has long been questioned, and Chuck Ratner, CEO of parent Forest City Enterprises, said last month that the market would determine the project's pace.

Community involvement

They also asked that Paterson require Forest City Ratner and ESDC "to involve the community and its elected representatives with public forums and outreach" regarding construction mitigations; street closures, traffic flow, and parking issues; and safety and security problems fostered by the loss of business and residential activity.

"The disposition of the site and its future development are of huge concern to the surrounding communities," the letter states. "It is highly unlikely that the plan as approved by the ESDC will move ahead. Notwithstanding the uncertainty of the project, buildings have been razed and traffic routing around the site has been disrupted. This is unacceptable. We call on you to work with all stakeholders to repair the situation and reintegrate the Atlantic Yards site into our community."

The letter was CC'd to several elected officials, city agencies, and community board representatives. I'm told that Assemblyman Jim Brennan sent a copy to ESDC President and CEO Marisa Lago.

Conflict coming?

This seems like a sober attempt to mitigate some of the problems, and also sets forth some guidelines for an interim situation should the project be abandoned. It also suggests that the sponsors of BrooklynSpeaks, who have asked for significant changes in the project but mostly avoided confrontation, have lost trust in the developer and the government.

BrooklynSpeaks, led by the Municpal Art Society, took a pragmatic position that legal action would fail and also render the groups involved ineligible to sit at the table with the state and the developer. The organization offers a home for elected officials critical of the project who don't want to ally with project opponents.

Thus, even if BrooklynSpeaks' principles have not been adopted, project supporters like Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz have called them "reasonable people."

Markowitz, however, has backed Atlantic Yards to the hilt, and reiterated that support yesterday. As BrooklynSpeaks questions the project more than ever, will Markowitz and fellow supporters listen?

Full text

Dear Governor Paterson:
As you know, construction activities at the Atlantic Yards site have ceased as of December 1. No matter how quickly the legal challenges and the present credit constraints are resolved the project’s developer can not meet the timetable disclosed to the public. The net effect of this project delay will be to damage our community fabric, create blight and disruption and reverse the trend of the neighborhood’s development progress which existed before the project’s announcement.

We ask you to engage the ESDC, Forest City Ratner Companies, and the City of New York to do the following:

• Until financing is in place for planned construction and construction timelines have been updated and shared with the community:
o Halt further street closures.
o Halt removal/displacement of residents or businesses in the footprint.
o Halt demolition of viable vacant buildings on land where there is no construction currently scheduled. If Forest City Ratner controls such vacant buildings, repurpose them for use as community facilities, small business or non-profit office space, or affordable housing until construction on those sites is ready to begin.
• Return the Carlton Avenue Bridge to service.
• Reduce the scale and locations of construction staging and construction worker parking consistent with scheduled work.
• On sites where demolition is complete, create interim public open space as play areas or community gardens.
• Design and maintain all fencing and sidewalk pedestrian consistently throughout the site for public safety, convenience and amenity.
• Make publicly available current expected and worst-case construction timelines and release updated construction schedules, including updates as soon as schedules are decided or changed.

Project delays heighten community concern about the custodianship of the full project site. We ask that you require Forest City Ratner and ESDC to involve the community and its elected representatives with public forums and outreach for input regarding:
• construction mitigations such as barricades, interim landscaping, rodent control, noise and dust abatement, and the maintenance of the site in general;
• street closures, truck routes, changes to pedestrian and bicycle pathways, traffic flow and parking availability, including the locations of parking lots, construction staging and their entrances and exits from the site; and
• safety and security problems which have resulted from removing business and residential activity from the project footprint.

The disposition of the site and its future development are of huge concern to the surrounding communities. It is highly unlikely that the plan as approved by the ESDC will move ahead. Notwithstanding the uncertainty of the project, buildings have been razed and traffic routing around the site has been disrupted. This is unacceptable. We call on you to work with all stakeholders to repair the situation and reintegrate the Atlantic Yards site into our community.

We look forward to your timely action to protect our neighborhoods.
Sincerely,

THE BROOKLYNSPEAKS SPONSORS:

Ian L. Kelley
President
Atlantic Avenue LDC

Sue Wolfe
President
Boerum Hill Association

Judy Stanton
Executive Director
Brooklyn Heights Association

John Massengale
Chairman
Congress of New Urbanism – New York

Michelle de la Uz
Executive Director
Fifth Avenue Committee

Kent Barwick
President
Municipal Art Society

Ken Freeman
President
Park Slope Civic Council

Deborah Howard
Executive Director
Pratt Area Community Council

Gib Veconi
Chairman
Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council

cc: Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Borough President Marty Markowitz
Representative Yvette Clarke
State Senator Velmanette Montgomery
State Senator Eric Adams
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries
Assemblywoman Joan Millman
Assemblyman Jim Brennan
Councilmember Letitia James
Councilmember David Yassky
Councilmember Bill DeBlasio
Robert Mathews, Chairman, CB8
Doris Alexander, District 8 Manager
Richard Bashner, Chairman, CB6
Craig Hammerman, District 6 Manager
John Dew, Chairman, CB2
Robert Perris, District 2 Manager
Amanda Burden, Commissioner,
NYC Dept. of City Planning
Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner,
NYC Dept. of Transportation
Raymond Kelly, Commissioner,
NYC Police Department
Adrian Benepe, Commissioner,
NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation
Robert LiMandri, Commissioner,
NYC Dept. of Buildings

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