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