Friday, March 01, 2013

Hearing on Atlantic Yards environmental review: critics suggest other developers be considered to achieve ten-year buildout; Forest City supporters urge removal of review roadblock (but avoid timetable)

This has been updated.

Only the project east of 6th Avenue is being considered
The hearing Feb. 27 on the parameters for the court-ordered environmental review of Atlantic Yards Phase 2 included predictable--if quite current--testimony on the benefits of Barclays Center jobs and pedestrian activity, and the community impacts of 24/7 construction, removal of trees, and arena noise.

But the testimony regarding the Draft Scope for a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) essentially turned on one thing: should the state consider rescinding Forest City Ratner’s control of the Atlantic Yards site to deliver project benefits (11 towers in Phase 2, with housing and open space) in the once-promised ten years, or should the new round of review be disposed of quickly to remove impediments to Forest City?

Though the developer had about ten people (plus lawyers and lobbyist) in the audience at St. Francis College, no representative testified. Instead, allies--from the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and others--served as proxies, urging that the SEIS be finished expeditiously.

Turnout was light, but the peak was more than 100 people. All photos (except top) and set by Tracy Collins. 
The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC, or ESD) approve Atlantic Yards in 2006, then re-approved the project in 2009, concluding there was no need for an SEIS. Community groups later went to court challenging the re-approval and, after losing in the first round, got a judge to order an SEIS.

Given that Forest City is still working on the first of at least three (of a potential five) buildings in Phase 1 (the arena block and Site 5), it was unclear exactly how this process delays Phase 2. There must be a Draft SEIS and public hearing before the final SEIS is surely approved by Empire State Development, which has long worked cooperatively with the developer and is unlikely to recommend dividing up the site.

Linh Do of AKRF describes the draft scope; presiding
is hearing officer Edward Kramer
So, given the sequence so far, it's unclear whether this does more than leave some business uncertainty over financing.

Or perhaps Forest City, which has said publicly it intends to build over the surface parking lot--the only piece of Phase 2 that’s terra firm--before it builds an expensive platform over the blighted Vanderbilt Yard, is concerned that this review process might force more rapid expenditure for such a platform. Written comments are due by March 15.

Perhaps the most dramatic contrast came in testimony from non-profit housing advocates; a Forest City partner warned the dividing up the site would not deliver housing faster and cheaper, while others warned that delays would make people currently eligible for the 900 low-income units (of 2250 subsidized apartments) ineligible, the victims of rapidly rising Area Median Income (AMI).

Project parameters accepted

In row: ESDC attorney Kevin Healy; Prospect Heights
resident Wayne Bailey; FCR attorney Jeffrey Braun
More than 100 people were present, and perhaps 30 testified. Though perhaps half of the speakers in the three-hour hearing were critical of the project, Forest City had to feel good that most of that criticism accepted the project as approved and merely sought to get the benefits--including the removal of the purported blight--delivered faster, rather than request a project that’s less dense or opens up new streets.

Those provisions are among the principles of the BrooklynSpeaks coalition, which supplied most of the speakers, though a few activists long associated with Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn--which fought the project in court and has essentially receded--did testify.

Michael D.D. White
(See Michael D.D. White's testimony on the "necessary dismantling" of Forest City's monopoly and the "rolling disaster" of the project.)

The Draft SEIS will consider three scenarios: continuous sequential phasing of the 11 buildings, in a clockwise movement as long illustrated; continuous construction, but starting on the southeast parking block, 1129; or a start-and-stop process. The review also will consider the use of modular construction, which is Forest City’s plan.

While Forest City had support from those associated with the defunct (but apparently not-quite-dead) Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development, or BUILD, and the business and cultural community, it had new allies: some workers at the arena, as well as developers of nearby properties. Other than housing advocates, those affiliated with BUILD constituted representatives of the controversial Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).

Not present, however, was a representative of the umbrella Building and Construction Trades Council, who's in sympathy with arena workers who are protesting part-time work at low pay and wanted to decertify their union--though a decertification vote today reportedly failed.

Elected officials: Levin

Only one elected official, Council Member Steve Levin, was present. (Council Member Letitia James and state Senator Velmanette Montgomery joined Levin in a pre-hearing press release calling for the study of a ten-year buildout.)

“The constituents I represent are dealing with the effects of the arena and the surrounding development on a daily basis,” Levin said. “As many in the community have stated, the approval of the 2009 MGPP [Modified General Project Plan] seems to be at odds with the goal of removing blight from the area within the Atlantic Yards project.”


(All videography by Jonathan Barkey)

“I believe that the SEIS must address a range of issues from construction noise and housing.. to available open space... and it ought to study the 10-year buildout as an alternative scenario," he said. "The SEIS must address the impact of the delayed affordable housing units.”

“The Atlantic Yards project is truly unprecedented in terms of its size and scope, but it does not mean it does not have to conform to the standards we hold to any other developer to,” Levin said, missing the opportunity to point out that the state override of zoning means that there are in fact special standards.

“The community has put up with far too many problems and will likely deal with many more issues over the years,” he said. “At the very least, the promises made to local residents should be delivered sooner rather than later. I implore ESDC to be vigilant and to hold FCRC to its promises.”

Elected officials: Markowitz rep

Borough President Marty Markowitz sent a representative, Luke DePalma, who spoke briefly to cite "the Borough President’s complete support for this project. Barclays Center has been a success. Brooklyn now has a world class arena and a major league team, soon to be two.




"And construction has begun on the first residential tower, with more on the way," he said. "Congrats to FCRC and ESD for their continued good work."

Such enthusiasm without any recognition of community concerns surely reflects Markowitz's position in the last year of his last term, without any need to appeal to potential voters of mixed opinion.

Veconi on the timetable

"I've been to quite a few Atlantic Yards hearings over the last six years,” said Gib Veconi of BrooklynSpeaks. "This seems like a nice one so far." (Indeed, compared to the raucous hearings of 2006, with cheers and boos, this was generally calm, with a smattering of claps for certain speakers and relatively few speakers determined to speak after being told their time was up.)

"There are probably some people who think Atlantic Yards is a good project, and I think there are some people who think it's not," Veconi said. "Tonight, I think we can put those question aside, because the hearings on those questions happened six years ago.”



"Tonight, we have an opportunity to talk about something I think we will all agree on: how long should this project take to get built," he said, noting that ESDC "tried to conceal" changes that gave Forest City 25 years to build the project.

(The Master Development Agreement, or MDA, was revealed only after the project was passed and not until after the first hearing in the lawsuit challenging the 2009 re-approval of the project. Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman in March 2010 ruled for the state, upholding project approval, then re-opened the case and allowed the MDA into the record, and then ruled against the state and Forest City, which unsuccessfully appealed.)

"So, if you like Atlantic Yards... would you rather see the jobs and affordable housing in 10 years or in 25 years?" Veconi asked. "If you don't like Atlantic Yards, because you’re concerned about some of the construction impacts.. or some of the open space impacts, do you want to endure those for ten years, or for 25 years?"

“The bad news is on page 4 of the Draft Scope... where it says that the reason the 2009 MGPP was approved was due to ‘difficult economic conditions.’ Now, it must’ve been pretty bad if they had to go from 10 years to 25 years.”

“The good news, I think, is that on Monday,” Veconi continued, “Bruce Ratner gave an interview to Bloomberg Television, where he said there's never been a better time to be a residential real estate developer in New York City... and Brooklyn is the best place to be. So it doesn’t sound like the difficult economic conditions apply, at least not in Mr. Ratner's view.”

“Since on page 2, the court says this project was remanded to conduct... and further findings on whether to approve the MGPP for Phase 2 of the project. So I tonight would like to ask the ESDC... to consider whether the grounds for the 2009 MGPP are still valid, and whether this project can in fact be built in 10 years, as it was originally approved.”

“I'd like them to do that by talking to Forest City Ratner about amending the MDA and the MGPP to the ten-year schedule," Veconi said. "And if Forest City doesn't want to do that, I'd like to see ESDC as part of the SEIS do what governments do best and issue an RFP for developers who can do this project in ten years.”

Forest City's housing partner #1

Amelia Adams, Deputy Director at ACORN successor New York Communities for Change, said, “I think we’re pretty happy we have an arena, but the focus should be on this affordable housing. For far too long, New Yorkers are struggling to find an affordable place to live... There are people at our office, day in and day out, looking for affordable housing.”



“This Phase 2 needs to happen expeditiously, because affordable housing is scarce," she said. " This won’t not solve the problem that the city has, will put a small dent in it. The city has a really really really hard time... finding affordable housing for working families and low income families.

"On that note, we really need to push the tiered income and mix of apartments. We cannot get a whole bunch of one-bedrooms and studios," she said. "We really need to push for two- and three bedrooms so that actual families can call Downtown Brooklyn their neighborhood.” It wasn't clear who she was pushing: Forest City Ratner, which failed to follow its promise of larger units, or city funders who allocate subsidies on a per-unit, rather than per-bedroom, basis.

“As Empire State is the lead agency on this," she said, "we’re really urging you by any means necessary to go forward on Phase 2 for the affordable housing.” But expeditious environmental review likely would only ratify the existing 25-year deadline.

Forest City's housing partner #2

Ismene Speliotis, executive director of ACORN successor Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY) and MHANY Management, said they made a decision along with ACORN, and currently with NYCC [New York Communities for Change] and The Black Institute [led by former ACORN head Bertha Lewis]. to be part of the CBA and to work very hard from the inside to influence and hold Forest City and Atlantic Yards project accountable.”



She said it was “a very big deal” to get the first tower started, because there are units available for people making from 40% to 160% of AMI: “We worked really to hard to make sure that there were bands, so that there would be something for everybody.”

“Clearly, in the first building, there are not enough large apartments,” she said, hinting at the divergence between the promise that 50% of affordable space would be devoted to two- and three-bedroom units, while only 20% of the 181 units would be two-bedroom ones. (She didn’t mention that the latter are skewed toward the upper-income bands.)

“I think we did really well on the incomes, and I think we have to do really well on the apartment sizes in the next phases,” she said. “I the the way to do it is to not slow it down but to actually keep plowing ahead.”

“The commitment by Forest City of 2500 affordable rental apartments [actually 2250] and 600 ownership apartments on and off site is a real commitment,” she said, but advocates need to ensure it gets built.

In closing, she responded to critics, though without detail: “I just want to say this idea of carving it up and divvying it up to other developers...we should be very careful.” She cited testimony from another developer building a project that’s 80% market, 20% subsidized. “We know what’s been built. This is 50/50 affordable development project and we believe that carving it up does not necessarily make it cheaper, faster, or will it make it more affordable.”

Of course, given that MHANY is partnering on recruiting the tenants, it also would be an institutional blow.

Delay prices out potential tenants?

Michelle de la Uz, Executive Director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, a member of BrooklynSpeaks that builds and manage affordable housing, noted that the majority of low, moderate, and middle income households earning 30-125% of AMI who’d be eligible for affordable housing if it’s built in the first ten years would not not be eligible for same units if they're built in 25 years. (Note that Forest City would not be building all the housing at the end.)



“The HUD Area Median income for a family of four in the New York metropolitan area in 1990 was a little less than $37,000 a year,” de la Uz said, “Twenty-three years later, that number has nearly doubled, and AMI for New York City is $71,400 for a family of four.” Given that the least-advantaged households eligible for Atlantic Yards affordable housing must earn 30% of AMI, a rising AMI would render them ineligible.

Note that it’s unlikely that AMI will rise at the rapid pace of the last few decades, but there’s already a significant mismatch between Brooklyn income and AMI, since it’s based on a region that includes affluent suburban counties.

She also noted that, because of ongoing gentrification, “there are likely to be continued changes in the racial and ethnic makeup of Community Board 8 that will disadvantage African-Americans in a lottery that takes place in 2035 rather than 2010.”

Members of the three community districts, CBs 2, 6, and 8, were initially given priority, as one half of the units in the lottery would be restricted to them. That lottery has since been expanded to include Community Board 3, in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

The advantages of bidding

Deb Howard, executive director of the Pratt Area Community Council, another BrooklynSpeaks member, urged study of dividing the site “among multiple development teams in a competitive bidding process... adding resources, expanding access to financing, and reducing development risk.”



Howard said the buildout at corridor of Livingston and Schermerhorn streets in Downtown Brooklyn “is a particularly good example,” as it has combined affordability and diversity of housing, using multiple developers.

“Clearly the Brooklyn real estate market is not in a recession,” she said. ““One has to ask: Is the delay, instead, caused by the financial condition of the sole source developer and not the market?”

She noted that projects on city-owned land in the BAM Cultural District include cultural facilities at the base.

“Can't the state, in guise of the ESDC and MTA, bring more public benefit to Atlantic Yards site by utilizing a competitive process and multiple developers,” leading to a variety of housing, deeper affordability, community facilities, and cultural facilities, Howard said in closing.

Neighborhood impacts

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block association pointed out that the source of the delay--and the reduction of the public value of the project--was Forest City Ratner’s request for an extended schedule.

It’s also a result of the state failing to look at the “true feasibility of the project,” he charged. Too much of the environmental analysis appears to give the developer flexibility.



Krashes noted that the construction of the arena has been delinked from the other Phase 1 buildings and the “construction method now differs from what was analyzed.”

And while the hearing--as the illustration at top indicated--was focused on Phase 2, he said that B1, the office tower slated to loom over the plaza, “may be constructed at any point.” He asked for details about traffic/sidewalk impacts from the construction of that building and also Site 5, now the home of P.C. Richard and Modell’s, but slated for a tower.

He said other issues need to be studied, such as the post-event surge of pedestrians, the presence of an additional arena entrance, and the parking that blocks the sidewalks of Sixth Avenue.

Support from nearby developers

Juliet Cullen-Cheung, a VP at the real estate developer Steiner NYC, noted that she was in charge of developing an 80/20 rental building in Downtown Brooklyn along Flatbush Avenue, with 750 units, 150 of them subsidized.

“From the interest of our company, this [Atlantic Yards] development will definitely improve the economic bottom line of that project. it will help the retail spaces be filled,” she said. “From a neighborhood perspective, I am also a Downtown Brooklyn resident, I'm on my condo board at the Toren, I’d like to see this development get built.”



Cullen-Cheung noted that her project has been in planning for two years and it will take four years more to get built. “I would like to see it get built fast, but I also understand how long things take, especially with additional public review,” she concluded. “ I would like to see ESDC move forward quickly with the Draft SEIS so we can see the benefits from this project."

Stan Spiegelman
Offering similar testimony was Stan Spiegelman of GFI Development, which has converted 470 Vanderbilt into an office building (to be used by the city Human Resources Administration) and claimed that the lease would have been difficult without Atlantic Yards.

GFI also controls the lease for a development on the parking lot, and said lenders and capital partners view timely commencement of Phase 2 as helpful. “We ask that you complete the necessary work quickly, so any barriers to investment will be removed.”

Does delay benefit no one?

Michael Cairl, president of the Park Slope Civic Council, a BrooklynSpeaks member organization, contended that “a 25-year project period benefits no one. It doesn’t benefit residents who suffer from the impacts of construction.. people who need affordable housing.. a diminishing number of construction workers... It doesn't benefit people getting a diminishing number of permanent jobs...it doesn't benefit the city that has to await completion over a longer period to realize the full benefits.”



He also said it “doesn't benefit the developer,” since the longer it takes to build, longer it takes to generate a return.” That of course is in debate, since the developer has refinanced the project with cheap capital from immigrant investors seeking green cards.

“With all due respect to the previous speaker, the whole point of this is not to speed up the SEIS and slap together and call it a day,” he said. “We cannot stand for a slapdash SEIS.. it has to be full, it has to be well considered... it has to consider a full range of all impacts. It has to be supported by data. We expect nothing less and, quite frankly, the project sponsor should expect nothing less."

Official backing

Jessica Walker of the business group Partnership for NYC noted that the group had consistently supported Atlantic Yards and “reaffirm that support more strongly than ever, as the benefits begin to be realized.” She cited 2000 new jobs at the arena without acknowledging that 1900 are part-time, with no benefits.



“Good things are happening, but the most significant public benefits will be realized in the second phase,” Walker said. “We urge ESD to complete the necessary work to move forward quickly, so obstacles to the realization of new housing, including affordable housing, eight acres of publicly accessible open space and other public benefits can be removed, and development of Phase 2 can begin.”

Prolonged blight

Jo Anne Simon, female District Leader for the 52nd Assembly District, testified that the SEIS must study the effect of prolonging the blight associated with the railyards, as well as the continued impact of a blighting influence.



Moreover, she said, given that Block 1129, now home to the parking lot, once included residential, light manufacturing, and an artistic business (unmentioned: the largest building was vacant), the SEIS must determine whether the demolition and replacement with parking extended the blight.

Simon noted--though it’s outside the scope of the ESDC review--that Forest City still hasn’t hired the Independent Compliance Monitor promised for the project. And, she pointed out, construction “occurred virtually 24/7,” which meant some promised mitigations were never enforced.

The view from North Flatbush

Regina Cahill, president of North Flatbush Business Improvement District, said she’d moved to Flatbush Avenue in 1975: “You want to know about blight, I have stories... many of my members are saying ‘hallelujah,’” given the influx of new customers and growth in the area.



While she recognized that issues regarding traffic and pedestrians and noise must be addressed, Cahill said things should move forward.

“Many of my fellow neighbors talk about organic development,” she said, observing that “you can have one tenant and be horrible landlord... We ask for humanity, we ask for housing, we ask for the project to be moved forward. I worry if we divide it up into several construction sites at all at one time, the mass effect of everybody trying to communicate, whether deliveries are happening, whether the community is going to be impacted, is going to be horrendous.”

Michael Pintchik
Michael Pintchik of Pintchik Hardware, a major landowner along Flatbush, said that he was relieved that any trepidation regarding arena impacts had been allayed, with Forest City Ratner, for example, taking care of garbage.

“I’m here to encourage, not a slipshod, but an expeditious EIS process, so the housing can get built,” he said, suggesting, based on his guess rather than any inside information, “that the schedule will surprise everyone.”

"The idea of hope"

Though BUILD went out of business last year, facing a debt to the Internal Revenue Service and a complaint to the state Attorney General over improper spending, there was no mention of that. Nor was there any mention of the lawsuit filed by those in a coveted pre-employment training program who have sued for unpaid wages and the value of promised union cards and construction careers.

In fact, several people referred to BUILD as if it were still active.

Gregory Tyner, a former life skills instructor at BUILD, said he wanted "to speak about the idea of hope.



“We were all very excited about being connected to the project," he said. "To offer a person who has nothing to opportunity to be a part of history is very powerful."

"As a life skills instruction at BUILD," he reflected, "our clients were unemployed, or underemployed. They showed feelings of helplessness, which led to anger, anger which led to depression. The idea of being part of an opportunity turned helplessness into inspiration, and their depression to proactive thinking.”

An arena worker

Darren Frazier testified as “a representative of the BUILD organization, James Caldwell is our CEO.”



Frazier said he was a graduate of a BUILD customer service training program aimed to prepare people for work at the arena, and he’s now working at the Barclays Center.

Though some others affiliated with BUILD offered unequivocal praise for the project, Frazier suggested that the ESDC do more to educate people on how to qualify for some of the affordable housing.

A BUILD board member

Evangeline Porter said, “I speak on behalf of the community at large” and cited her role as founder of the Crow Hill Community Association focused on Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights. (She didn’t mention that she was a board member of BUILD and of the 77th Precinct Community Council, also led by Caldwell.)



“It was not always the best place to be,” she said of Franklin Avenue. “It is one of the nicest places to be in at this point in time.. I have been very actively involved in the community, with the BUILD program, to my estimation, one of the best programs that came into Brooklyn.” She cited work helping job-seekers with their GEDs and customer service training.

“Rome was not built in a day, so why are we complaining about how long its taking them to build affordable housing and all of this good stuff,” Porter said.

“Nobody complained when they were re-building Yankee Stadium,” she declared, prompting much pushback from audience members who recalled that the city appropriated public park space.

Porter was undeterred, stating, “I've been in Brooklyn for 60-some years. And I remember what it was and what it wasn't. As far as BUILD is considered, as far as Barclays is considered, I think it is one of the best things that could have happened to Downtown Brooklyn.”

BUILD's role

Caldwell didn't testify, but he did observe the hearing from the audience. After the hearing, I asked him if he was involved in recruiting speakers. “BUILD shut down,” he replied. “I lost all my telephone numbers.”

Monique Moody
I noted that the speakers were saying they represented BUILD. For example, Monique Moody described herself as an employee of the Barclays Center and speaking “on behalf” of “the BUILD corporation... I would like to take this time to thank Forest City Ratner for building the arena."

Caldwell said they were “just coming to say thank you... but we’re out of the business.” Others around him said they'd kept up with the project.

I asked if Caldwell still had any business or consulting relationship with Forest City.

He said yes, but declined to elaborate. Forest City Ratner's Jane Marshall deflected questions to Executive VP Ashley Cotton, who'd already left the building (and pretty much ignores my questions these days).

The impact of modular

Jim Vogel, a 34-year resident of Pacific Street near Fourth Avenue (and, unmentioned, an aide to state Senator Velmanette Montgomery), said “It is refreshing to see that this EIS [hearing] has not turned into a circus... but the people who were brought in by the developer, the unions and the desperately poor people who were made all these promises, were pretty shamelessly exploited, and they're not here today. I don’t find that a proud moment, but I do find it telling.”



“The ESDC is supposed to be managing this project,” he said. “It is not supposed to be taking orders from Forest City Ratner... It is the ESDC's responsibility to deliver the promised public benefits while it can benefit residents currently suffering through being an ongoing construction project.”

He said the agency should “share a fire study on the admittedly experimental modular” building plan, since such structures “have relatively no concrete to act as buffer.”

In a reference to the lower pay for workers in the modular factory, he said “ESDC should study and publish the economic consequences of bait and switch of union construction jobs with standard techniques versus modular.”

Local impacts

Wayne Bailey of the nearby residential building Newswalk testified that "residents have no reasonable expectation when the [railyard] platform will be built... As Forest City Ratner has said publicly, they control the pace."



"There have been very significant impacts" from construction, including noise, traffic, congestion, loss of parking, and never-ending Long Island Rail Road construction, he said, adding that, had there been "promised independent oversight, then the community wouldn't have created Atlantic Yards Watch to document impacts. Lights at the railyard "are as many lights as you'd have with a baseball field."

He cited a July 2012 report by Sandstone Environmental Associates that documented various violations of construction protocols.

"Nothing, it seems, has been the construction activity's fault or the answer is, nothing can be done because you live next to a construction zone," he said, citing "weeks of 60+ daily arrival of dump trucks... that illegally idle for hours, beep, blast music next to our building."

The role of the consultant

Patti Hagan, the original activist against the project, stated that "even another Potemkin hearing is something, I guess."

She described herself as "34-year resident of the Prospect Heights historic district, now in my 10th year of testifying about the abuse of Forest City Ratner, with the full collusion of New York City and State government."



"Forgive me if I say that this whole decade of trying to speak reasonably against this backwards, top-down much derided, Robert Moses type [development]... has left me profoundly cynical that I or any of my fellow citizens have any place in this New York participatory democracy, so-called."

She opined that the original environmental review, "fabricated" by ubiquitous consultant AKRF "will no doubt be supplanted by another 25-year no-impact AKRF SEIS since AKRF is the custom designer of no-impact EIS's for the Bruce Ratners of the world.”

The developer-government alliance

The 2099 approvals, observed Terry Urban of the East Pacific Street Block Association, "to Forest City Ratner certain modifications that solely benefited the developer's bottom line notwithstanding their blighting effects on the very community this project was purported to enhance."



“We are now asking for that same ESD" that joined Forest City Ratner in misleading representations in the court case, she said, "to demonstrate some renewed integrity and take an honest hard look at the impacts of Phase 2 of this project."

The platform over the railyard, she said, “should have been your first milestone if you were truly interested in providing us with public benefits.”

She later noted that nearly all the arena jobs touted are part-time, without benefits.

Idling cars

Steve Ettlinger, a 30-year resident of north Park Slope, stressed the operating impacts of the arena: "Quite often, I've found many illegally parked cars, also many of them are idling... on my one block alone, I found 25 illegally parked cars."

"This has been since October, I believe it’s an easy problem to solve," he said. "I think we should hold their feet to the fire more vigorously." The idling cars also cause air quality impacts and affect pedestrians.



"Because of the extended buildout, the area is less attractive to possible new tenants," he said, describing himself as a "small-time landlord."

"We need more jobs now, we need to create them in ten years, we need more affordable housing," he said. "We need to recover the value of the undervalued public land that Forest City was given, under the public streets." Thus he encouraged new development partners and potentially more commercial space for jobs.

A slam on ACORN

Lucy Koteen, active in Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, and the Fort Greene Association, asked, "What's the difference between ten years and 25... in ten years, most likely, I will be alive... in 25 years, there’s a very good chance I will be dead... perhaps only Prokhorov will not be dead, and by then he may own the whole project."

And so it goes, she said, for the people who were promised an affordable family-sized apartment but won't get it.



She recalled a meeting where ACORN's Bertha Lewis promised that ten percent of the affordable housing would be set aside for Brooklyn seniors.

(That's promised as a goal on p. 25 of the Community Benefits Agreement, which says the units may be concentrated in one building to provide services. There's no plan for senior housing in the first tower, B2 nor any announced timetable for senior housing.)

"What a cruel joke," Koteen recalled. "When asked if FCR did not deliver, she said, I will tear this city up. But no Bertha, you are just another liar. I see no signs of you or anyone else tearing the city up over promises broken by Forest City Ratner. You are just a shill, like all the others who took money from FCR."

She also questioned whether those displaced from the footprint would get an apartment in an Atlantic Yards tower as promised. At least as reported by the Daily News, a "handful" of people who took that deal will go to the first tower.

Some whimsy from a long-time combatant

Near the end of the hearing, Robert Puca, a resident of the nearby Newswalk building, was playful, pointing to the familiar faces in the room, including lawyers and the hearing officer, Edward Kramer.



“I now have more gray hair from all the negative impacts I’ve been dealing with,” he said. “For example, my son now lives with his mother in a separate area, because, when the construction was going on, he couldn't handle the noise and the vibration.”

Puca scoffed at the justification that the project was approved to remove blight, saying, “they're not going to build a deck over the supposedly blighted railyard ‘til 25 years are up. (Actually, a deck must be started in 15 years.)

“It’s amazing,” he said sarcastically, that condos in his building cost a million dollars before the project was approved and still do.

“Forest City Ratner’s cutting down trees on Pacific Street,” he said, citing a much-reported complaint. “We fought to get those trees on the block.. now they're being cut down and there’s no timetable to replace it.”

“Another negative impact: when there's concerts going on, there's massive vibrations in Newswalk building, the whole building shakes,” he said, playfully proposing that the arena might be encased “in another skin.”

“Also, I just want to say that, thank god for all of my fellow activists,” he said. “We almost won. If it wasn't for [Nets majority owner Mikhail] Prokhorov, we would've won and [Bruce] Ratner wouldn’t have built this... I wonder if the ESDC and governor would've been so for the project if they would have known if it was subsidizing not only Ratner the billionaire [actually, he’s not] but a Russian oligarch who’s also a billionaire.”

He didn't get an answer, but do note that Prokhorov's investment, surely negotiated in 2009 before the re-approval of the project, was not announced until after that re-approval.

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