Thursday, February 12, 2009

State Senate to hold oversight hearing regarding Atlantic Yards

The New York State Legislature will finally hold an oversight hearing regarding Atlantic Yards, thanks apparently to the recent ascension of the Democratic Party to power in the State Senate. The hearing might help explain, as one of its proponents wonders, whether the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) in charge, or is it developer Forest City Ratner?

The hearing announcement was perhaps the most important news to emerge at last night's meeting of the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, and it came not from the guest of honor, ESDC Ombudsman Forrest Taylor, but from an audience member, Irene Van Slyke (right), an aide to State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, whose district includes the Atlantic Yards site.

(Copyrighted photo by Jonathan Barkey)

The hearing would be held by the Senate Committee on Corporations, Public Authorities, and Commissions, which is chaired by State Sen. Bill Perkins and has an oversight role regarding the ESDC. Montgomery is a member of the committee, which held a hearing last September regarding reform of eminent domain laws. Also on the committee is new State Sen. Daniel Squadron, who represents a district including several neighborhoods along Brooklyn's western edge.

Tentative date: April 24

The hearing is scheduled for April 24, most likely at 250 Broadway in Manhattan. The picture regarding Atlantic Yards may have changed significantly by then. Should the two main lawsuits be resolved in the state's favor, as is more likely than not, the developer would get a boost. Should one of the cases linger, or be subject to appeal, delays would further hamper the project.

Van Slyke said Montgomery was particularly interested in plans to issue bonds for the project, and the question of "who is really in charge: is it the developer, or is it ESDC?"

The full scope of inquiry, as well as the witness list, obviously remain topics for further discussion, but the ESDC almost certainly will be called to explain its role. (As the hearing approaches, I expect to collect some questions that I hope are raised.)

And in the Assembly

And why hasn't the counterpart Assembly Corporations committee, headed by the formidable Richard Brodsky, not tackled Atlantic Yards? Brodsky has focused on Yankee Stadium over multiple investigations. Beyond that, he has remained studiously agnostic regarding Atlantic Yards.

Brooklyn Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries represents a district that includes the Atlantic Yards site; as a freshman member, Jeffries last May backed an Assembly hearing, citing support from neighboring Assemblymembers Jim Brennan and Joan Millman.

Such a hearing never came about; beyond the Assembly's focus on the Yankees, many believe--but won't say for the record--that powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, an Atlantic Yards backer (and indirect recipient of Forest City Ratner largess), hindered the effort.

So the Senate, given Montgomery's role and the Democrats' new capacity to steer hearings, now will become the venue, as Jeffries hinted when I spoke to him two weeks ago after his State of the District address.

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