Wednesday, April 23, 2014

In Times coverage, Forest City claims neutrality regarding which Community Board oversees Atlantic Yards. But I don't think they want CB 8.

Yet another new Brooklyn reporter for the New York Times, Vivian Yee, gets a crack at Atlantic Yards coverage, and her first effort, A Community Tug of War in Brooklyn, about the efforts to resolve the Atlantic Yards split among three community boards, isn't bad. But it does contain a couple of glaring errors that remind us why it's so important to have continuity among reporters or editors regarding this project.

And though it doesn't really say so, the article leaves clues regarding why Forest City Ratner, though ostensibly neutral, might prefer Community Board 2 takeover of the project site, and reminds us to think about some history that I and others haven't recently ventilated. And that history supports an increased role for Community Board 8, as it seeks.

Uniform take?

The article states:
For the members of these community boards, the issue has a personal resonance. Though many of them spent nearly a decade battling to keep Atlantic Yards from rising in the first place, they have come to feel possessive about it. If they must live with it, they argue, they should have some say over its impact.
This is a bit of a generalization regarding the boards' past and current stances. In 2006, Community Board 6 took a harsh stance toward the project, but later saw several members not reappointed, as Borough President Marty Markowitz and Council Member Bill de Blasio enacted some revenge. Since then, CB 6 has been fairly quiet, especially since Atlantic Yards has not had as large an impact in the district as feared.

Community Board 2, which would include the largest amount of the site, did not officially oppose the project, but issued a series of harsh recommendations that would drastically change or block the project. It's been fairly quiet since then.

Community Board 8, with a significant number of project supporters on its board, instead sent committee and individual criticisms of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Since then, however, CB 8 has been more likely to hear concerns about project impacts from residents, including a few on its board. It's paid the most attention.

Why the geography?

The article states:
Geographically, the project appears to sit in Prospect Heights, most of which falls under Community Board 8. The top half of Atlantic Yards belongs to Community Board 2, which also covers Fort Greene to the north and Downtown Brooklyn to the northwest, among other neighborhoods. Community Board 6, which covers Park Slope, has a triangle of land that bites off part of the bottom half of the arena.
This Frankensteinian patchwork, the precise reasons for which have been lost to history, did not matter much when the area was just a railyard. Now, with a sports arena and hundreds of thousands of square feet in offices, shops and apartments at stake, the situation seems untenable.

(Emphasis added)

While indeed no one has publicly explained the reasons for the patchwork, I suspect the extension of Community Board 2 below the natural border of Atlantic Avenue to Pacific Street, the bottom border of the Vanderbilt Yard and Site 5, relates to the 1968 establishment of the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area (ATURA), which is outlined in red in the graphic at right.

The Atlantic Yards site, which is outlined in blue, including the blue stripes, overlaps ATURA in part.

Note that the original version of the article, before I and Eric McClure posted criticisms on Twitter, inaccurately called the "area" an "abandoned railyard." It was never abandoned. And the "area" never consisted only of a railyard.

Why CB 2? Is Forest City really neutral?

The Times article states:
Forest City Ratner, the project’s developer, has remained neutral. Ashley Cotton, a spokeswoman for the developer, said all the districts would share local hiring and affordable housing opportunities regardless of what happens.
Yet Community Board 2 members cited those benefits when it voted on April 9 to corral the rest of Atlantic Yards without consulting the other two boards — “sort of kicking Community Boards 6 and 8 in the shins,” said Rob Perris, the district manager of Community Board 2.
Actually, CB 2 members barely cited those benefits during the April 9 vote, though they had been cited in the committee vote a week earlier. No one made an energetic explanation for the vote. CB 2's rationale remains fuzzy. (And, unmentioned, Board Chair Shirley McRae voted no.)

Yes, Forest City has stayed out of the debate. But now we know that Forest City Ratner plans this year to start three towers, two on Block 1129. It would certainly be in Forest City's interest, even if Cotton wouldn't say so, to have a few of the "complainers" on CB 8 removed from any jurisdiction.

And wouldn't it be in Forest City's interest to have residents on the south side of Dean Street opposite Block 1129 in another community board so their complaints and concerns would have less weight?

Harmonizing service and focusing one district

The article notes that Sanitation is split among two districts, though the 78th Police Precinct, which otherwise serves CB 6, was expanded to encompass the arena.

And while the article ventilates the arguments for CB 2 (a continuation of high-rises) and CB 6 (co-terminality), it ends with a partial recognition of the argument for CB 8:
But Gib Veconi, an advocate for Prospect Heights who waged a bitter campaign against Atlantic Yards, believes residents in his neighborhood will bear the brunt of the project’s ill effects. Keeping the project under a single board would focus community participation — and, if need be, opposition — as Atlantic Yards and its successors are built, he said.
“This project is going to evolve and all sorts of things are going to happen that nobody’s even thought of yet,” he said. “Beyond that — my God, look at the pace of development in Brooklyn. How long does anybody expect things to stay the way they are?
Actually, as I tweeted, Veconi never "waged a bitter campaign against Atlantic Yards." Though he's often been a forceful critic, he's been a leader of BrooklynSpeaks, a group I've characterized as "mend it, don't end it," in comparison to Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, which tried to stop the project. Since then, both groups filed lawsuits, later joined, that led to a court-ordered Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, with a public hearing scheduled for April 30.

And Veconi, who tweeted that "seems bitter on this end," has argued that the site be bid out to other developers. But I'd still argue that his positioning with BrooklynSpeaks, which avoided the eminent domain lawsuit that aimed to kill the project, makes a difference.

Veconi, in a post on Patch, made a more elaborate and compelling argument regarding "community participation":
For instance, Vanderbilt Avenue bisects the Prospect Heights Historic District. Since property owners must have major plans reviewed by the local community board before being heard by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, separate community board committees would be passing on projects in the west and east sections of the district, potentially allowing the Historic District to develop differently on each side of Vanderbilt Avenue. Community boards must also approve exceptions to the State Alcoholic Beverage Control Law’s “500-foot rule” which limits concentration of bars in a neighborhood. Considering the pace at which new restaurants and bars are opening on Vanderbilt Avenue, it’s easy to understand why splitting this responsibility down the middle of the street between two community boards would be a bad idea. Community board support has also been important for other community-wide initiatives like the recently-approved Neighborhood Slow Zone.
...The current carve-outs on the north and west sides of district 8 can no longer be justified as being consistent with the intent of the Charter. And moving them further into Prospect Heights would lead to disenfranchisement of neighborhood residents and business owners. Economic, demographic and land use changes are coming too quickly in Prospect Heights to let that happen.

1 comment:

  1. A couple of thoughts:

    One contributor to the confusion with respect to locating Atlantic Yards within a particular community board is due to the very odd monkey wrench shape of what is officially considered the project. That configuration, criticized during oral arguments at the Court of appeals by a dissenting judge, has to do with the way the developer was allowed to wield the pencil to include for eminent domain seizure land that was desirable to him, but outside the ATURA, not over rail yards and not truly blighted. Had that land not been seized in this way there would be no project land that is currently in what is currently CB8. By this measure CB8 has suffered the most harm to its constituents and the most economic devastation and should rightly be looking to express outrage.

    Also, the site wouldn’t have its strange monkey wrench shape if it weren’t for the carve out as untouchable of the parcel being developed by the then politically connected Boymelgreen. Had that been included it would have meant inclusion of more CB8 territory and more harm to it. That carve out creates the tongue that sticks out from, and is part of, the newly created Prospect Heights historic preservation district.

    Another contributor to confusion is that 22 acres that officially constitute the “Atlantic Yards” site are not, what in essence constitute the complete contiguous acreage of the entire 30 acre Ratner project with the two malls and the existing and proposed towers on those adjacent blocks. That puts more of Ratnerville in CB2. There is also more adjacent urban renewal property (also in CB2) that was sold off as low-rise owner-occupied housing was also developed by Ratner with deep subsidy assistance from state and local government.

    Of course, based on what little has actually been built, one could argue that most of the currently existing AY development is in Park Slope (CB6). That also involved taking a lot of already existing buildings that stood in Park Slope and CB6.

    Or we could start evaluating based on where the most previously publicly-owned streets, avenues and sidewalks were taken over by Ratner, now to be owned by the Chinese and Russian investors looking to get in on the collection of our subsidies.