Thursday, September 17, 2009

ESDC approves project; DDDB warns of lawsuit; electeds comment

In a meeting that lasted less than two hours--the bulk of which was public comments--the board of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) today re-approved the Atlantic Yards project after a process that took less than three months.

I'll have a detailed report this evening or in the morning; notably a representative of state Senator Velmanette Montgomery spoke in opposition to the project.

Also, a representative of City Council Member Bill de Blasio--now in a runoff for Public Advocate with AY supporter Mark Green--said the Council Member appreciated the project benefits but thought a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement was in order. (Supporters say that would delay the project, perhaps fatally.)

First, dueling press releases. And then a third, from City Council nominee Brad Lander.

From the ESDC

Empire State Development Corporation’s (ESDC) Board of Directors met today and affirmed the Modified General Project Plan for the Atlantic Yards Land Use Improvement and Civic Project that was first outlined in June and took other actions that will allow the Corporation to proceed with the site assemblage process.

"Site assemblage" is a euphemism for eminent domain.

These actions signify a crucial step toward the implementation of the Atlantic Yards Project. The phased economic development project will ultimately encompass 16 mixed-use commercial and residential buildings—including 2,250 units of affordable housing—approximately 8 acres of publicly accessible open space, and a 675,000 square-foot sport and entertainment complex at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues that will be the home court of the NETS professional basketball team.

In the Technical Memorandum issued in June, the arena was supposed to be 850,000 square feet, as originally planned.

“Today’s vote demonstrates ESDC’s confidence in Atlantic Yards, and offers proof that this project is moving forward,” said Chairman and CEO designate Dennis M. Mullen. “Like the release of the Barclays Center designs last week, this milestone provides tangible evidence that the Atlantic Yards project is on track to be a monumental urban renewal development for New York City, bringing thousands of jobs and opportunities for economic growth to Downtown Brooklyn.”

Mullen, who has yet to be confirmed, didn't actually vote. Four other board members were present; Kevin Corbett had to abstain because a subsidiary of his company has done work on the project. Voting were Derrick Cephas (who served as acting chairman for the meeting), Richard Neiman, and Mark Hamister.

DDDB statement

ESDC Re-rubberstamps Ratner’s Atlantic Yards Project: Action is Likely to Lead to Community Lawsuit

Today the Empire State Development Corporation, the lead agency for Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards development proposal, gave its rubberstamp re-approval to the Modified General Project Plan.

The Brooklyn community’s comments to the ESDC were not given adequate response. Today’s actions will likely lead to new litigation against the ESDC and the Atlantic Yards plan because the agency is required by law to undertake a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), but did not. (Some of the community’s comments are here.)

“It is unfortunate for the ESDC and Forest City Ratner. Had they done things by the book, by the letter of the law, the project wouldn’t be in such substantial trouble. But they haven’t. And with today’s actions, and no Supplemental EIS, the ESDC is taking irreversible steps that will send Atlantic Yards further into community litigation," said Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein. "The likely outcome of today’s actions by the Empire State Development Corporation is that they will be sued."

The State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) requires an SEIS if there is newly discovered information; changes proposed for the project or a change in circumstances related to the project.

The newly discovered information, in part, is the clear realization that the project, will, at best take decades to complete. Forest City Ratner’s agreement with the MTA guarantees a 22 year project at minimum.

The decline in the developer's significant capital investment represents a change. Among the changed circumstances are changes in the financial markets and the demand for housing, as noted in an expert real estate analysis submitted to the ESDC.

(Emphases in original)

Note that the ESDC said it commissioned its own analysis, from KPMG, which said the timetable was possible.

Most outrageous is the absence of any renderings or design information concerning any part of the project other than the arena. The arena is only 8% of the proposed square footage.

The ESDC’s conclusory Technical Memorandum is not a substitute for an SEIS, which allows full public comment and forces the lead agency to respond to comments.


From Brad Lander

City Council Nominee Brad Lander Criticizes ESDC for Rubber-Stamping Atlantic Yards Changes

Brooklyn, NY – Brad Lander, the Democratic and Working Families Party nominee for City Council in Brooklyn’s 39th District (Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Windsor Terrace, Borough Park, and Kensington) released the following statement:

“I am deeply disappointed that the Empire State Development Corporation voted today to approve significant changes to the Atlantic Yards project without sufficient review or adequate information, and despite new evidence from the Independent Budget Office that the project is a money-loser for the City of New York.

The Atlantic Yards project has long proceeded with inadequate process, and with too little regard for the significant negative impacts on the surrounding community. But today, I believe the process has reached a new low, as the ESDC board approved the project despite the lack of a clear site plan, a new cost-benefit analysis, or a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).

At a minimum, the proposal requires an SEIS because of the substantial changes that have been made to the plan. It is clear to me that the ten-year project benefits claimed by ESDC are highly speculative and virtually unattainable. Unfortunately, the ESDC refused to take this critical step, or to face up to the stark reality that the project’s economic structure is at best highly questionable.

I am particularly concerned about this in light of the recent report by the NYC Independent Budget Office that concluded that the City of New York will lose $40 million on this project over the next 30 years, and that it represents $180 million in opportunity cost loss for the City over that period. This is on top of the fact that the anticipated benefits of the project – in particular the affordable housing units – have become much more uncertain as a result of changes to the project.


Note that the ESDC said it conducted its own fiscal analysis, which addresses the whole project and thus counters the IBO report. That should be released later today.

It is my opinion that the Atlantic Yards project should be withdrawn. We should go back to the drawing board to develop the rail yards – with a genuinely public and participatory planning process that begins from public goals, at a scale and density that are suited to the infrastructure, and that proceeds through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

We need to get it right, and I am firmly convinced that we can. The yards represent an incredibly valuable opportunity to create affordable housing, good jobs and new businesses, new parkland, and new spaces of civic life. As the next councilmember for the 39th District, I'm ready to roll up my sleeves, work with City Hall, the City Council, and the community to meet these challenges. But first we must scrap the present plans for Atlantic Yards. I’m sorry the ESDC missed today’s opportunity to put us on the right track.”

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