Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Atlantic Yards protesters list demands: new plan, reformed oversight, more developers, environmental review, new regulations

Organizers of the Atlantic Yards Crime Scene web site and upcoming protest events centered around at the Barclays Center opening weekend have fleshed out the website that debuted earlier this month, with, among other things, a list of demands:
When it put the economic interests of a single private developer before critical promised public benefits, the State of New York failed its obligation to the people of Brooklyn and the taxpayers of New York.
We demand that the State now:
However understandable these demands, they depend on a political configuration that doesn't yet exist. Still, I'd expect at least some more attention to public input as the project goes forward.

Note that Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing the project, has delayed conducting the SEIS. Regarding other developers, the sponsors note that developer Forest City Ratner "has distanced itself from commitments it made to win project approval," including a ten-year timetable and high-rise, union-built affordable housing.

Need for oversight

Regarding oversight, the sponsors note:
The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) oversees many large development projects throughout the State of New York. No comparable project is managed like Atlantic Yards.
Other ESDC projects are overssen by dedicated subsidiaries or local development corporations that have outside directors appointed in conjunction with local elected officials. This not only provides transparency to local stakeholders, but ensures they are represented in decision-making as projects evolve.
ESDC has assigned only one person to the Atlantic Yards project on a full-time basis, even though at $5 billlion, it's one of the largest in the agency's history. All decisions are made by Forest City Ratner Companies. Maybe that's why courts have found the project's public disclosures "lack the candor the public was entitled to expect", or why a recent independent consultant's report found that violations of Atlantic Yards' environmental commitments were "widespread."
In June of 2011, legislation to reform Atlantic Yards governance passed the State Assembly (over FCRC's opposition), but the bill has stalled in the State Senate. It's time for Governor Cuomo to make better oversight for Atlantic Yards a priority, and use his influence to make it a reality.
Promise vs. reality

The press release states:
At the time of Atlantic Yards’ approval in 2006, in return for an estimated $2.1 billion in taxpayer subsidies, access to the power of eminent domain, the purchase of public land below its market value, and an override of the City’s zoning regulations as well as a bypass of its democratic land use review process, FCRC committed to provide within ten years 2,250 units of affordable housing, 10,000 permanent jobs, 8 acres of open space, and a thriving mixed-use 15-tower [actually 16] development.

But less than three years later, the State agreed to modify the project terms. In a move courts have ruled violated State law, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) attempted to conceal an extension of the project schedule from 10 to 25 years—an extension which pushed the vast majority of promised jobs and housing into the distant future. Now, two and a half years after the arena groundbreaking, the gap between promise and reality is stark:
  • As the result of displacement through eminent domain, demolition and project construction, Atlantic Yards has caused the loss of 171 affordable apartments from the its footprint.
  • Not a single unit of affordable housing is under construction. Groundbreaking for the first residential tower has been repeatedly delayed, with current plans calling for only 9 apartments for low-income families.
  • Plans for the office building that was to provide space for the bulk of the permanent jobs have been shelved. FCRC has claimed the arena will provide 1,900 part time (and non-living wage) jobs, and 105 full-time jobs.
  • A one-acre “interim plaza” in front of the arena is likely to be the only open space available for at least a decade, and perhaps much longer.
  • The rest of the site, roughly 18 acres, remains a demolished wasteland of vacant land, and a blighting surface parking lot.
When it put the economic interests of a single private developer before critical promised public benefits, the State of New York failed in its obligation to the people of Brooklyn and the taxpayers of New York.
I'll note that the $2.1 billion figure comes from a New York Post article and was not endorsed by any outside agency. For example, the NYC Independent Budget Office, which did not try to evaluate the project as a whole, did not agree that the PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) represented a subsidy worth more than $1 billion but called it a loss of $146 million. The IBO did, however, call the arena a net loss for city taxpayers.

I wouldn't call the rest of the site "a demolished wasteland," since it includes two retail stores (Modell's/P.C. Richard), three houses on Dean Street (next to a new lot for TV vehicles), and a working railyard (which needs a deck for development and has a few buildings jutting over it). But it sure doesn't look "whole and complete during each phase of construction," as Forest City once claimed.

The sponsors

Co-sponsors are Park Defense Fund; Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats; Park Slope Neighbors
East Pacific Block Association; Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus; South Portland Block Association; Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council; and Fort Greene for Peace.

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