Thursday, November 19, 2009

BrooklynSpeaks, pushed into firm opposition, points in lawsuit to the failure of ESDC and FCR to talk, meet, or bend

I'll have much more tomorrow (including video) on the new lawsuit filed by BrooklynSpeaks and allies, but the fact of the lawsuit--BrooklynSpeaks' growing opposition--may be just as important as its contents.

The suit in many ways echoes the previous lawsuit filed by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) and allies aiming to annul the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) approval of the Modified General Project Plan.

It charges that the ESDC should have conducted a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), given the delay imposed by Forest City Ratner's renegotiated deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Though there's not direct overlap--the new suit does not cover all the ground of the previous one but adds the charge that ESDC illegally delegated to Forest City Ratner the discretion to determine the project timetable and the components included--the two cases likely will be consolidated.

ESDC response

The ESDC issued a statement:
Empire State Development Corporation will vigorously defend this action and we expect to prevail on the merits. It should be noted that this new lawsuit is similar to the lawsuit filed one month ago by Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, in that the primary claim in both cases is that ESDC should have prepared a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. Repeating this claim, however, does not make it any more valid.

ESDC carefully considered whether a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement would be required. The conclusion of that analysis, which is set forth in a detailed Technical Memorandum, was that a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement was not required. The additional claim asserted in the new lawsuit is devoid of merit. We do not expect that either lawsuit will delay the Project.
New rhetoric

But the rhetoric of the legal complaint, which charges that the ESDC has capitulated to a private developer, and the details in an accompanying affidavit suggest that the organization--once following a "mend-it-don't-end-it" strategy--has been pushed into firm opposition by the intransigence and lack of consideration from the ESDC and developer Forest City Ratner.

In other words, even though there's some longstanding tension between BrooklynSpeaks and DDDB, BrooklynSpeaks has come much closer to DDDB's stance.

From the affidavit

The affidavit from BrooklynSpeaks founder Gib Veconi, also a stalwart in the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, points to a long series of missed opportunities and disregard of public input. Many of the episodes--a City Council hearing where project opponents were shunted to the end; Mayor Mike Bloomberg's endorsement of the Community Benefits Agreement; and a state Senate oversight hearing regularly disrupted by project proponents--are reasonably well known.

But the affidavit offers new details on some little-known episodes, notably the foundation of BUILD, and new emphasis on some episodes worth remembering.

Below are verbatim excerpts from the affidavit, prefaced by my headings. I've also added some links.

Forest City Ratner helps organize BUILD
On February 4, 2004, FCRC invited members of community groups to a meeting about the Project at the developer’s MetroTech offices. Hoping to hear details of the Project and some identification of its expected impacts, upon arriving at the meeting, the PHNDC members discovered that the purpose of the event was to plan the organization of BUILD, a group expected to sign a community Benefits Agreement with FCRC. The meeting was led by BUILD organizers, who dismissed questions about impacts to the surrounding neighborhood as not being germane to the discussion.
The Neighborhood Benefits Agreement that never happened
On November 29, 2005, representatives of the Park Slope Civic Council (“PSCC”) met with Mr. [Jim] Stuckey of FCRC. Among other topics, the group asked Mr. Stuckey to re-open the Community Benefits Agreement to address the concerns of the stakeholders of the neighborhoods surrounding the Atlantic Yards project. He expressed interest in working on a Neighborhood Benefits Agreement that would cover issues of concern to Brownstone Brooklyn if the Atlantic Yards project came to fruition, and acknowledged that FCRC had not yet addressed such issues. However, neither Mr. Stuckey nor other officials from FCRC ever followed up on this offer.
The meeting on Block 1129 that wasn't held
On May 31, 2007, representatives of the sponsoring organizations of BrooklynSpeaks met with officials from the ESDC, including Chairman Patrick Foye, to discuss questions about Atlantic Yards decision-making. Rachel Schatz [actually: Shatz] of the ESDC offered to convene a meeting with FCRC and the assembled community organizations to address concerns about the use of the block 1129 for construction staging and interim surface parking. This meeting was never held.
A canceled meeting with the developer
On December 5, 2007, the BrooklynSpeaks sponsors convened another meeting of the same stakeholders and invited Forrest Taylor, the ESDC’s newly-hired Atlantic Yards ombudsman, to attend. At that time, MR. Taylor was informed of Ms. Schatz’ offer to convene a meeting with FCRC to discuss interim surface parking for the Project. Mr. Taylor was reminded of the same offer at similar meetings on January 18, 2008 and February 29, 2008. After the February 29 meeting, Mr. Taylor organized and confirmed a meeting with FCRC for March 28, 2008, the purpose of which was to discuss traffic impacts and possible mitigation, but Mr. Taylor subsequently canceled that meeting.
A promised ESDC meeting never scheduled
On July 15, 2007, members of the BrooklynSpeaks sponsor organizations met with officials from the ESDC, including ESDC Chair Avi Schick. The sponsor representatives expressed concern that the Project build-out, including demolition of existing structure, had already started to create construction impacts in the surrounding communities. At the same time, the Project had not gone forward on schedule and further delay seemed inevitable. Given the delay, the use of block 1129 for interim parking was an even bigger concern. Mr. Schick (who had already announced plans to resign from the ESDC) promised to convene a meeting of ESDC’s transportation experts, but the meeting was never scheduled.
A query to the ESDC responded to by FCR
On December 31, 2008, the BrooklynSpeaks sponsors wrote Governor David Paterson asking for his help in ensuring remediation of specific construction impacts that were being worsened by the delay in the Project. No reply from the Governor was ever received. A local legislator sent the letter under separate cover to the ESDC asking for a response. The ESDC responded by forwarding the letter to FCRC’s Maryanne Gilmartin and asking for her response, which was largely to deny the concerns raised in the Brooklyn-Speaks’ letter.
A request for an SEIS ignored
Faced with these changes [in the plan], on July 28, 2009, the BrooklynSpeaks sponsors, together with City Council Member Letitia James, Assembly Members Hakeem Jeffries, Joan Millman and Jim Brennan, and State Senators Eric Adams and Velmanette Montgomery, sent a letter to ESDC Chair Dennis Mullen calling on his agency to provide a complete set of documentation for public review and to prepare a supplemental EIS prior to taking action to vote on the MGPP. No response was received. City Councilman Bill DeBlasio [actually” de Blasio] subsequently sent a separate letter with the same demand.

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