Skip to main content

Marty's Atlantic Yards Committee: not quite oversight, but not unimportant, either

Coming up Thursday is the ninth and last in a series of meetings--not really hearings--of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee. Among the topics is land use, which should stimulate discussion about how this project overrides city zoning.

These meetings, set up by Borough President Marty Markowitz, are the closest thing to a public process regarding the massive Atlantic Yards plan as it awaits environmental review by the Empire State Development Corporation, or ESDC. (The ESDC is expected to issue a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or DEIS, within weeks or months, after which there will be a comment period and public hearing.) The sessions at Borough Hall aim to be a "vehicle for research, information and advocacy" regarding the project.

And though these meetings can be dreary and hardly constitute democratic oversight--the public can't ask questions--it's remarkable how concerns about the project have emerged:
--the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, the western border of the proposed project, was already declared "impossible" and a consultant suggested the project be put on hold to avoid a "disaster."
--local officials declared the boundaries in the scope of analysis to be completely inadequate to address transit and traffic impacts.
--despite Forest City Ratner's promises of landscaped open space, the amount of open space planned for the population influx is deeply inadequate.
--the design process was dismissed as backwards.
--a rep from the City Planning Department acknowledged that the city has no policy about demapping streets, though, as architect Jonathan Cohn argues, it should keep large blocks like Pacific Street open.
--terrorism was dismissed as an issue.

Who's missing

Developer Forest City Ratner has never participated, which means basic questions about the location of affordable housing or the company's plans for storm water runoff remain a mystery. The ESDC appeared only once.

Panelists--usually a mix of bureaucrats, academics, and other experts--typically observe that a question will have to wait to for clarification in the ESDC's DEIS--thus adding an air of impotency to the proceedings. And, given that it's an unofficial process, both the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the New York City Transit Authority decided against sending representatives to answer questions.

Criticism and cheerleading

Some tough critics have appeared on panels. Psychiatrist Mindy Fullilove warned how "intense verticality" would transform Prospect Heights. Transportation engineer Brian Ketcham warned of looming chaos and harshly criticized the ESDC's methodology.

Markowitz often acknowledges that he supports the project but wants to see it examined thoroughly so Brooklynites are satisfied. He's occasionally offered some not-so-subtle cheerleading for the project, notably when questioning an Independent Budget Office official as to whether the fiscal benefit would be even greater than the agency estimated.

Unanswered questions

There are many unanswered questions, many of which will be addressed, if not fully answered, in the EIS. Remember, the process requires environmental impacts to be "mitigated," but if they are deemed unmitigatible, the ESDC can still decide to approve the project.

But some issues may remain mysteries. Take this exchange at the 10/24/05 session, when ESDC officials attended, as captured in the terse meeting notes:
Why was there a separate, secret MOU?
At the time, there were two investment groups. ESDC is now treating them as one project.


That second MOU refers to development rights to Site 5, which now contains P.C. Richard/Modell's, and to the Atlantic Center mall. It was signed at the same time the MOU regarding the Atlantic Yards project was signed. The latter was released via a press conference; the former was not made public until obtained by project opponents Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn.

Why was it secret, I asked ESDC via email. And why would the presence of a second investment group mean that one MOU would be treated differently? The response I got, in toto, from ESDC spokeswoman Jessica Copen: "There was never a secret MOU. There were always two MOUs and they were both made available to the public. However, there is only one project encomposing both MOU's that ESDC expects to adopt which will be used as the basis for the EIS and the GPP [General Project Plan]."

Preparing for Thursday

In case you're interested in attending the 4 pm meeting Thursday at Borough Hall, here's what you might expect. First, don't worry about being prompt--the meetings usually start late, after 15 or 20 minutes. Is that because the witnesses are late, or because Markowitz runs late? The latter, I think. Then Marty rumbles in, greets everybody, and recites the committe's goals. He then leads off with a few questions; they're obviously prepared by his staff, but compared to many politicians, he at least seems to understand the issues. Marty's chief of staff, Greg Atkins, sits by his side, and chimes in with questions; other aides are behind him.

Around the table are places for representatives of the three affected Community Boards (usually the chairperson, with the district manager in the second row). Assemblywoman Joan Millman usually attends, with an aide; Assemblyman Roger Green comes less frequently. Council Member Letitia James is often there; otherwise she'll have a legislative aide in her place. Council Member David Yassky usually sends an aide, as does Senator Velmanette Montgomery. The elected officials and CB officials then can ask questions; some questions from concerned community members are fed through them.

In the audience, News12 Brooklyn often has a camera. Reporters from the Brooklyn newspapers--the Brooklyn Papers, Brooklyn Eagle, Courier-Life, and Brooklyn Downtown Star--appear sporadically, though sometimes they'll cover the hearing after the fact via a phone interview. Reporters from the city dailies hardly ever attend, though the New York Post wrote one story.

In the audience are a smattering of community members, sometimes representatives of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, which opposes the project. And quietly taking notes, there's usually someone from AKRF, the consultancy that's preparing the DEIS.

The windows are usually open, offering air flow in the cavernous room. Loud traffic rumbles by, and when panelists don't speak into the mikes, they can be inaudible. Sometimes Marty leaves early, a gesture that suggests his attendance at yet another ceremony trumps this unofficial process. The written summaries of the meetings are somewhat skimpy. The importance of close attention to this project remains.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

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…

"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.” Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to …