Skip to main content

Before ESD approves Final SEIS, Veconi hints of legal action over timetable and gentrification

In less than half an hour, the board of Empire State Development, the state authority overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards, approved the court-ordered Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Final SEIS) despite evidence that it was not complete.

Board members seemed unperturbed. But they may have been a bit more perturbed by a seeming warning of legal action or major protest regarding the failure to enforce a more timely construction schedule.

The warning came from Gib Veconi, treasurer of Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, part of the BrooklynSpeaks coalition, which sued after the state agreed to give Forest City Ratner 25 years to build Atlantic Yards after long claiming it would take a decade. The lawsuit forced the SEIS to evaluate the impacts of an extended buildout.

"In 2009, our organizations were concerned about potential for delay," Veconi said. "Today, I would say, we are exponentially more  concerned." He cited information in the Final SEIS that shows how "working families and families of color are being displaced at a breakneck pace from the neighborhoods that surround this project."

Atlantic Yards was supposed to stem the tide of gentrification in Northwest Brooklyn, and received hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, plus zoning overrides, tax-exempt bonds, and the ability to assemble property under the threat of eminent domain, Veconi noted. But no affordable housing has been built.

Who's to blame?

Veconi said it couldn't be blamed on lawsuits because "there have been no legal impediments to the project's moving forward"--at least for Phase 1, around the arena block.

"Is it the fault of bad economy?" he asked. "We know it's not the case... Construction is at an all time high in Downtown Brooklyn."

"Is it Forest City Ratner's fault?" he asked. "They may deserve some of the blame... but at the risk of speaking bluntly, most of the blame for the delay in affordable housing at Atlantic Yards belongs to ESDC, quite frankly it belongs to you."

He pointed out that, in 2009, the state authority approved a Modified General Project Plan that established a 2035 outside build date for Atlantic Yards, "with no meaningful remedies for non-performance."

"Now, today, you have an opportunity to right that wrong," he said. "You have an opportunity to see that, instead of surfing the tide of gentrification [a formulation used in this blog] it actually works to stem the tide."

What next?

Approval of the SEIS, he said, would allow Forest City and its joint venture partner, the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group, to build two towers on the southeast block, as planned. But nothing will change the 2035 deadline.

"You today should not approve an SEIS that will clear the way to cement that date until you are certain that the project as it's reconstituted now has meaningful mitigations that protect the vulnerable populations in the communities around the project from the risks of extended delay," he warned.

"I urge you not to move on this SEIS today until you know those remedies are in place," he said. "From our perspective, as community organizations, the Brooklyn Speaks organizations are not prepared to stand by and watch the state continue to be allow our communities to be exposed to the risk of project delay."

That sounds like a threat.

Other comments

Wayne Bailey of the Newswalk Board of Managers noted that new oversight is proposed in the Final SEIS and asked how the developer's compliance would be overseen.

He noted that residents have through-the-wall air conditioners and need covers to mitigate noise. "Why should the residents have to pay to have those covers installed so we can get peaceful sleep at nighttime?" he asked.

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association pointed to a litany of community complaints, and cited a statement in the Final SEIS in which ESD claimed to be unaware of a request for air monitoring at one point. "I can tell you I was on the phone with Jennifer Maldonado," then an ESD staffer, regarding that, Krashes said.

"The community will never trust the state to oversee this project," he said, reiterating the request for "a dedicated board with independent directors" to oversee the project.

Also testifying was Dean Street resident Richard Dalton, who said significant nighttime noise when modular components are delivered means "my family and I are woken up many times."

The sanctioned noise mitigation, double-paned windows and air conditioners, is "totally inadequate."

"I spent a lot of time researching mitigation strategies and implementing them at our own expense," he said. "All I ask is that you consider disclosing the sound transmission class of the windows of the buildings that are going to be built in this project, and consider providing those windows and ventilation to impacted residents."

ESD response

ESD CEO Kenneth Adams, a Brooklynite, was unfailingly cordial, as always, and thanked community members for their comments and concerns. He and fellow board members offered no substantive response, however.


Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.