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ESD CEO will again meet with select community reps; state agency has since lost big court case; despite changed dynamic, no sign of bending (updated)

Update May 1, 8:30 pm: I am told by Alfred Chiodo, aide to Council Member Letitia James, that "ESD has agreed with our office that you be allowed to videotape tomorrow’s Ken Adams meeting."

Some seven months after Empire State Development CEO Kenneth Adams met with select community representatives regarding Atlantic Yards, Adams will reprise such a meeting at 6 pm on Wednesday, May 2 at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

While the Nets' branding juggernaut proceeds and state officials have expressed no qualms about the project, community questions should have a bit more weight, given an appellate court decision last month slamming the state's oversight and continued obfuscation about plans to rebuild the Carlton Avenue Bridge.

Indeed, yesterday, the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council asked Adams's boss, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Mayor Mike Bloomberg to stop the scheduled construction of a surface parking lot for the project, given that the release of plans for the lot has been delayed six months and there had been no response to residents' concerns.

New restrictions on meeting

The meeting is sponsored by Borough President Marty Markowitz and Council Member Letitia James, along with State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries, and Council Member Stephen Levin.

Concerned organizations were invited to send one representatives and to submit questions in advance, as with the 9/26/11 meeting, with questions to be submitted beforehand and to be delivered via elected officials.

However, just hours before the meeting, held at Brooklyn Borough Hall, ESD opened up the meeting to the press. During the meeting, community members were allowed to ask direct questions, and there were no restrictions on press representatives taking photos or videotaping.

Early yesterday, I queried Arana Hankin, the ESD's Atlantic Yards project director, regarding the ground rules for the May 2 meeting. She directed me to James's aide Alfred Chiodo, who told me that the ground rules were the same as last September.

In a later message, however, he followed up, stating, "we will be asking those reporting on meeting to refrain from taking photographs or taping." I asked for an explanation, but didn't get one. It sounds like someone--likely not his boss, Council Member James--is leery of too much scrutiny.

(Note that videotaping and photographs are similarly banned at the one regular event where Atlantic Yards issues are discussed, the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet interagency meeting. The stated explanation is to "prevent disruptions." More likely, it's to limit transparency. It's a distinct contrast to the made-for-TV Nets branding events.)

Changed dynamic?

At the 9/26/11 meeting, Adams, a Brooklynite, was genial but essentially gave no quarter, asserting that his agency, which has the dicey task of both evaluating and shepherding the project, was capable of monitoring the project without the more independent governance.

Since then, however, an appellate court has unanimously backed a lower court's finding that the ESD essentially misled the public by failing to study the community impacts of a 25-year project buildout, and has ordered the agency to conduct a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

Also, Forest City Ratner's promised Transportation Demand Management plan, anticipated to be released last December, has been delayed multiple times, and is now due out May 22--leaving a very brief opportunity for public input.

"We’re still fully confident that Forest City is going to build this whole thing and, over time, deliver all the promised benefits," Adams said last September.

That was nearly months before Forest City Ratner announced a plan to build all the towers via modular construction to save money--likely lowering the number of workers and almost certainly reducing cumulative salaries and thus tax revenues. The state has performed no new recalculation.

At the same time, Bruce Ratner said, that "existing incentives" don't work for high-rise, union-built affordable housing, even though that's what he proposed--and the state approved.

Also, Forest City has delayed the start date of the first tower multiple times, and Ratner said last week that it might not begin until early 2013.

In the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding, the developer pledged that 50% of the subsidized units, in terms of floor area, would be larger (2BR and 3BR) units. That pledge is not being met with the first building.

Moreover, the promised jobs at the Barclays Center are nearly all part-time, and without benefits.

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