Monday, April 28, 2014

As public hearing approaches, multiple messages but basic divide: Forest City wants free hand, while critics seek accountability, enforced timetable

As a public hearing approaches Wednesday, April 30 on the court-ordered Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Draft SEIS), a familiar divide--albeit with different particulars--recurs in the Atlantic Yards saga.

Developer Forest City Ratner (plus, presumably, its allies) wants a gentle hand from the state overseer/enabler of the project, Empire State Development, while community critics, against all past evidence to the contrary, urge a faster timetable and additional oversight.

The hearing will be held from 5:30 to 9 PM at Long Island University, 75 DeKalb Avenue, Room HS107.

Written comments on the Draft SEIS will be accepted through 5/12/14, while written comments on minor changes to the Modified General Project Plan--shifting some bulk from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of the project, and cutting the number of parking spaces--will be accepted through 5/30/14.

Hearing background

The Draft SEIS was ordered by a state judge after Empire State Development gave Forest City Ratner 25 years to build a project long said to take ten years--but the state authority never studied the potential impact of a 25-year buildout.

The Draft SEIS essentially says 25 years would pose few impacts not previously disclosed and recommends some minor mitigations. The business changes are more impactful to the developer.

And while there's no proposed amendment enforcing a faster timetable, Forest City's new joint venture partner/overseer, the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group, has said it aims to build the project closer to the original timetable.

So it's ironic that Forest City urges that the community "work with us and not use litigation to stall the project," since litigation was necessary to force the state to act responsibly.

The judge also awarded attorneys' fees to the successful parties, two sets of petitioners organized by BrooklynSpeaks, which has long tried to reform Atlantic Yards, and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, which organized lawsuits to stop the project.

Equally ironic, Empire State Development took longer to produce the Draft SEIS than to produce the much more extensive 2006 Draft EIS--likely because that allowed Forest City to recruit the Greenland Group to buy 70% of the remaining project.

Though the first tower, the world's tallest modular building, is now said to be a year late, Greenland has also said it wants to start three buildings this year, using conventional construction, which Forest City earlier said was financially untenable.

Presumably some allies of Forest City Ratner, such as Community Benefits Agreement signatories and construction unions, also will back the developer's position. It's hardly likely that Empire State Development will respond to the community criticism--it's essentially a rubber-stamp for the governor-- but, to the extent criticism translates into overt or covert political pressure, it may have some effect.

[Updated] Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn issued a statement this morning. I'll have further analysis tomorrow on the hearing and the issues.

From DDDB
Make Some Noise, Speak Up for the Community at the Atlantic Yards Public Hearing
This Wednesday, April 30th starting at 5:30 the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) is holding a court-ordered public hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS).
That's the Atlantic Yards project (not) being built by the Chinese government*, Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov and their minority partner Forest City Ratner. *After Mikhail Prokhorov bailed Ratner out in 2009 the great subsidy—and green cards for cash—abuser has found a new savior - the Chinese government. The Greenland Group, a Chinese government-owned development firm has a joint venture agreement to buy a 70% controlling interest in the project from Ratner pending Treasury Department approval. The agreement would put Greenland in decision-making control of the project and the firm may eventually buy out Ratner's remaining 30% stake.)
If you thought that there was no oversight or accountability before a foreign government took control of the project, well...let's just say it's likely to get worse:
How, exactly, will accountability and oversight come to be with the controlling developer on the other side of the world when there wasn't any with the developer based in Metrotech?!
Who, exactly, will Greenland be accountable to; more to the point, who in our government will hold the Chinese government accountable moving forward?
When the community has issues with the project over the coming decades, who can we turn to: Beijing???
Why is this hearing being held?
Because ESDC and Ratner lied to misled the court about key project documents. DDDB and other groups sued over this and won a court ordered supplemental review of the bulk of the project because it became clear that the developer's 10-year construction period was going to be at least 25 years, leading to a variety of new and unique impacts on the community. Had ESDC and Ratner not misled the court there is a good chance the project would not have been able to move forward at all back in 2010. (The back story to the long case history is here.)

Remember: Forest City Ratner and a basketball team's worth of elected officials (including the new Mayor) promised that the publicly funded, eminent domain fueled Atlantic Yards project would bring 2,250 units of "affordable housing," 10,000 jobs, publicly accessible open space, and would remove alleged "blight." They promised all these pies in the sky would arrive within ten years.

But four years after they broke ground what do we have? We have an arena enjoyed by ticketholders, a huge demolished hole in the neighborhood, ongoing realconstruction blight, rising rents and five stories (of 32) of the first of 16 towers that are to be built. Not a single housing unit, "affordable" or not, has been built and that first delayed tower is going to take at least a year longer than announced at its groundbreaking. (See last week's NY Times article.)
Why should you attend this hearing?
We encourage you to come to the hearing and give oral testimony expressing your thoughts about the project. While we have ten years worth of reasons to doubt that the ESDC will give a darn about what the community has to say, it is important to come and let ESDC, Forest City Ratner, and the media in attendance know what you think of the project, its failures and its impacts on the community:
If you think oversight and accountability are the least the community and taxpayers deserve, come to the hearing and say so.
If you want to say, "we told you so," come to the hearing and say so.
And If you think the project would never had seen the light of day if it originated as the Chinese government's NYC taxpayer-funded plan to demolish a neighborhood and let it sit mostly vacant for decades while a Russian oligarch's vanity team plays a handful of playoff games where people used to live and work...then come to the hearing and say so.
Feel free to bring homemade Russian and Chinese flags and any other appropriate props.

(PLEASE BE WARNED: there is likely to be an abundance of dogs and ponies in attendance.)
From Brooklyn Speaks

BrooklynSpeaks issued a statement, headlined Public Hearing on the Atlantic Yards DSEIS is your chance to demand promises will be keptSpeak up on delays in affordable housing, extended construction blight:
In 2009, sponsors of BrooklynSpeaks filed suit against the New York State Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and Forest City Ratner Companies for their decision to allow the completion of the Atlantic Yards project to be delayed from 10 to 25 years. A State Supreme Court ruled in July 2011 that ESDC’s failure to study the effects of the 15-year delay on surrounding communities violated State environmental law.
Now, four and a half years after its illegal approval of the delayed project schedule, ESDC has issued a draft environmental report that claims waiting until 2035 to complete Atlantic Yards won’t be a big deal for our community.
Our neighbors in danger of being displaced through rising rents can’t wait a generation or more for Atlantic Yards to make good on its commitment to provide 2,250 affordable apartments. The community asked that the State consider bringing in other developers to speed up the project. Can’t be done, the State tells us.. In the meantime, Forest City just announced that the first building at the Atlantic Yards site will be delayed for yet another year—until the end of 2015.
Local residents haven’t forgotten the disruptions they suffered during construction of the Barclays Center arena, either—disruptions that were supposed to be relieved through environmental commitments by Forest City that ESDC failed to enforce. ESDC says it’s learned from past mistakes, but we’ve heard that before. Should we have to take a chance on the agency’s utter inability to look out for the community’s interests for another two decades?
Atlantic Yards is the only large State project where decisions are made by a board of political appointees with no local members. It’s time to tell Governor Cuomo how you feel about giving Forest City Ratner the exclusive right to hold 22 acres of our community hostage for 25 years with no accountability to the public.
Join us! Make your voice heard for accountability, transparency and community input and speak up for Brooklyn!
From Dean Street Block Association

The Dean Street Block Association, which represents residents closest to the project site, is focusing on construction impacts:
The next weeks are very important for the future shape of our community, perhaps the most important in years. If we all work together, we can make a difference.
In 2009 New York State and Forest City Ratner broke the law when they failed to assess how our community may be negatively impacted by twenty-five years of Atlantic Yards construction instead of ten. They chose to put us at risk in order to be eligible for federal tax-exempt bonds for the arena. Together with the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council [one of the petitioners in the suit organized by BrooklynSpeaks], we sued and won.
Finally, as part of a court ordered process, a hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday evening, April 30th, and we can submit written statements until May 12th. Our block association is coordinating an effort to get local residents to speak at the hearing on the 30th, and also to write personal statements for the 12th.
Our quality of life is directly impacted by the way the project is implemented and operated, whether built quickly or slowly. For years residents have documented violations of environmental commitments related to negative impacts like air quality and noise that the State of New York has failed to enforce. For years we have looked at chain link fences and watched our street trees cut down without a credible replacement timetable. We are in the ninth year of demolitions, excavations and jackhammering, and construction of the sixteen high rises, affordable housing and open space in the project has just barely begun.
Future construction may take a generation more.
Together with other local civic organizations, Dean Street Block Association has identified a few specific goals we think moving forward will most help those of us impacted by the project. First, we seek new oversight for the project by a dedicated public development corporation or subsidiary with a board that includes directors appointed in conjunction with local elected officials. We also seek improved oversight of environmental impacts, most especially those related to construction. Forest City Ratner is attempting to sell 70% of the project to a foreign developer owned by the Chinese government who will have control of the remainder of the development. We believe poor responsiveness to community concerns, and lack of accountability to the public, may only get worse...
From Forest City Ratner
Dear Community Members,
On Wednesday, April 30, Empire State Development (ESD) will be holding a hearing on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) for Atlantic Yards. We hope you will turn out to testify at the public hearing on which will be held Wednesday, April 30th from 5:30 – 9:00pm at Long Island University in room HS107 located at 75 DeKalb Avenue.

The SEIS was undertaken to look at the possible impacts of an Atlantic Yards build out through 2035. The draft SEIS does a very thorough job and we would like ESD to adopt it as quickly as possible so that we can work to make the many benefits of Atlantic Yards a reality.

It is important to note that this does not mean that the project will take until 2035 to complete. In fact, with our proposed joint venture with Greenland Group it is our hope to accelerate the project and we are planning on beginning construction on three more of the residential buildings at Atlantic Yards in the near future.

In order for our company to build Atlantic Yards as quickly as you and we want to, it is imperative that the community work with us and not use litigation to stall the project.

We have worked hard to be very responsive to community concerns and inquiries throughout this lengthy process. This will continue throughout the build out of Atlantic Yards. We are a part of this community and will always work to be good neighbors.
I look forward to working with you in the future and I hope that you will contact me if you have any questions about the hearing...
Ashley Cotton
Senior Vice President
Forest City Ratner Companies
718-923-8690
The official notice

NEW YORK STATE URBAN DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION D/B/A EMPIRE STATE DEVELOPMENT
NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING
TO BE HELD ON WEDNESDAY APRIL 30, 2014, PURSUANT TO NEW YORK STATE ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION LAW AND NEW YORK STATE URBAN DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION ACT IN CONNECTION WITH ATLANTIC YARDS LAND USE IMPROVEMENT AND CIVIC PROJECT
PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that a public hearing, open to all persons, will be held at Long Island University, 75 DeKalb Avenue, Room HS107, Brooklyn, New York, from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday April 30, 2014 in connection with the Atlantic Yards Land Use Improvement and Civic Project (the “Project”) by the New York State Urban Development Corporation d/b/a Empire State Development (“ESD”) pursuant to the State Environmental Quality Review Act (Article 8 of the New York State Environmental Conservation Law), and the regulations adopted pursuant thereto (6 NYCRR Part 617) (collectively “SEQRA”), and the New York State Urban Development Corporation Act (Chapter 174, Section 1, Laws of 1968, as amended; the “UDC Act”) to consider: (a) the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“DSEIS”) for the Project; and (b) the March 2014 Proposed Amendment to the Project’s 2009 Modified General Project Plan (the “Proposed Amendment”). The public hearing is for the purpose of: (1) informing the public about the Project, the DSEIS, and the Proposed Amendment; and (2) giving all interested persons an opportunity to provide comments on the DSEIS and Proposed Amendment under SEQRA and the UDC Act.
Project Site and Project Description
The Project site encompasses approximately 22 acres in Brooklyn and includes (i) all the property bounded by Atlantic Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, Dean Street and Vanderbilt Ave, except that within Block 1128 (bounded by 6th Avenue, Dean Street, Carlton Avenue and Pacific Street) only lots 1, 4, 85, 86, and 87 are included in the Project site; and (ii) a parcel bounded by Atlantic Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, Pacific Street and 4th Avenue, including Block 927, lots 1 and 16 but excluding Block 927 lot 26. The Project is described in detail in the Project’s 2009 Modified General Project Plan (“2009 MGPP”), available to the public as set forth below. In addition to the completed Barclays Arena, Carlton Avenue Bridge, and subway improvements, the Project includes development of: (i) a reconfigured and improved Vanderbilt train yard (the “Yard”) to be operated by the Long Island Rail Road; (ii) the development of 16 buildings for residential, office, and retail uses and potentially a hotel, including up to 6,430 units of housing, including 4,500 rental units of which 2,250 units (50%) will be affordable to low, moderate, and middle income households; and (iii) eight acres of publicly accessible open space.
Public Purposes
The public purposes of the Project include: (a) eliminating blighted conditions on the Project site; (b) provision for new development at the Project site, including the Arena; office space; housing, including housing available for low, moderate and middle income families; related local retail and community facilities; and eight acres of publicly accessible open space; (c) reconfiguration and improvement of the Yard; and (d) generation of substantial fiscal and economic benefits for the City and State and the
creation of construction and permanent jobs.
Potential Environmental Impacts of the Project Identified in the DSEIS
ESD, as the SEQRA lead agency, has accepted the DSEIS as satisfactory with respect to its scope, content, and adequacy for purposes of public review under SEQRA. The DSEIS has been prepared to address potential environmental impacts resulting from a prolonged construction period for Phase II of the Project, pursuant to Court Order dated July 13, 2011. The DSEIS also considers the Proposed Amendment described below. The DSEIS indicates that a prolonged Phase II construction period would result in a significant localized adverse impact on neighborhood character during the construction period in the immediately surrounding area of the Phase II site as a result of construction traffic and noise impacts and the visual effects of construction that would be experienced in the area. The DSEIS also identifies significant adverse environmental impacts with respect to community facilities, construction-period open space, transportation (operational and during construction), and construction noise. The DSEIS identifies measures to mitigate these significant environmental impacts to the maximum extent practicable. With respect to the predicted shortage of public school seats, operational traffic and pedestrians, construction traffic and construction noise, no practicable mitigation has been identified to fully mitigate significant adverse impacts.
The Proposed Amendment
The Proposed Amendment would: (a) allow a transfer of up to 208,000 gsf of floor area from Phase I to Phase II of the Project (i.e., from the western portion to the eastern portion of the Project site); and (b) reduce Project parking requirements. The floor area shift would not increase the maximum total floor area of the Project or the approved maximum bulk of any individual Project building, and would not change the Project requirement of 2,250 affordable housing units. The required number of Project parking spaces would be reduced from approximately 2,246 in the Project’s initial phase and approximately 3,670 at Project completion to approximately 1,160 parking spaces in the Project’s initial phase and approximately 2,896 at Project conclusion. Alternately, a “Reduced Parking Alternative” would further reduce the required number of parking spaces at Project completion to 1,200. The Project’s Parking Key Plan would be modified accordingly.
Availability of the DSEIS and the Proposed Amendment
The DSEIS and the Proposed Amendment are on file at the office of ESD, 633 Third Avenue, New York, New York 10017 and are available for inspection by the general public between the hours of 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, public holidays excluded. Please contact ESD’s Derek Lynch at (212) 803-3736 or dlynch@esd.ny.gov to arrange an appointment. Persons seeking a copy of the Executive Summary of the DSEIS, a CD-ROM that includes the entire DSEIS, the Proposed Amendment, or the 2009 MGPP, any of which will be available without charge, should also contact Mr. Lynch. Copies of the DSEIS, the Proposed Amendment, and the 2009 MGPP also are available at the ESD web site at http://esd.ny.gov/Subsidiaries Project/AYP.html. Paper copies of the DSEIS can be ordered from Mr. Lynch for a charge to cover the cost or reproduction. In addition, paper copies of the DSEIS are available at the Brooklyn Public Library at its central location at Grand Army Plaza and at the branches located at 25 Fourth Avenue (Pacific Branch), 496 Franklin Avenue (Bedford Branch) and 93 Saint Edwards Street (Walt Whitman Branch). Pursuant to the UDC Act, ESD also has filed a copy of the Proposed Amendment in the office of the Clerk of Kings County and the office of the Clerk of the City of New York, and has provided copies thereof to the Mayor of the City of New York, the Brooklyn Borough President, the Chair of the City Planning Commission, and the Chairs of Brooklyn Community Boards 2, 6 and 8. Copies of the DSEIS have been provided to all involved agencies and to other parties as required under SEQRA. Copies of the DSEIS Executive Summary, the Proposed
Amendment, and the 2009 MGPP, and an inspection copy of the DSEIS, also will be available at the public hearing.
Comments
Comments on the DSEIS and the Proposed Amendment are requested, at the hearing and/or in writing. ESD’s protocol for the conduct of the hearing is also available at the ESD web site noted above. Comments on the DSEIS must be received at ESD on or before Monday, May 12, 2014. Comments on the Proposed Amendment must be received at ESD on or before Friday, May 30, 2014. Written comments should be delivered to ESD at 633 Third Avenue, New York, New York 10017 (Attention: Derek Lynch), or may be submitted by e-mail to atlanticyards@esd.ny.gov. Comments also may be made verbally at the public hearing. All comments received at the public hearing and all written comments received by ESD prior to the deadlines set forth will be considered by ESD prior to final consideration of the DSEIS and the ProposedAmendment.
Further Action

After the public hearing and public review and comment, a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“FSEIS”) will be completed by ESD. ESD Directors will be requested to issue the FSEIS and affirm, or if appropriate, modify the Proposed Amendment, and make any requisite statutory findings under SEQRA, the UDC Act, or other applicable law.

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