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Busy Atlantic Yards week awaits: approvals before MTA and ESD; joint venture likely to be finalized; later, hearing on federal lawsuit

Though the one public recent public hearing on Atlantic Yards--to solicit comments on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Draft SEIS)--is long over, there are three agency meetings next week to consider and approve aspects of the Atlantic Yards plan.

At each, public comment will be accepted, if not necessarily taken particularly seriously. Given that the governor controls Empire State Development (ESD), and the governor and mayor control the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), Forest City Ratner's plans are, historically, in the bag.

Then again, the MTA typically includes a few more independent directors who might raise some questions.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Monday, June 23: the MTA's LIRR Committee will discuss Forest City Ratner's proposal to accelerate building of the platform needed for vertical development over the Vanderbilt Yard, while asking for 15 months' delay in the required completion of a permanent railyard. The Committee materials should be posted sometime Friday.

MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue (44th-45th Streets), 5th Floor Board Room. 9:30 am.

Wednesday, June 25: the MTA's full board will discuss (and, I'd bet, approve) the above-mentioned plan. The Board materials should be posted Friday.

MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue (44th-45th Streets), 5th Floor Board Room, 10 am.

Empire State Development

Friday, June 27: ESD will (I'm sure) approve a revision to the Modified General Project Plan, which would shift bulk from Phase 1 to Phase 2 and reduce parking onsite from 3,670 spaces to either 2,896 parking spaces or (I'd bet) 1,200 spaces.

ESD headquarters, 633 Third Avenue, 37th Floor Conference Room. The Board materials and time of meeting (likely 9:30 am or 10 am) should be posted the day before. RSVP will be required one day before.

Revised Final SEIS needed?

One lingering question is whether they need to issue a revised Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement because they left out one of my comments, regarding the failure to study hockey crowds as a worst-case scenario for traffic and parking. The answer, apparently, is no.

As I reported, I publicly told the ESD board that a comment was missing, and they ignored it. A day later, as I reported, I was told:
We have since reviewed the quarantined emails and have determined that your single email was the only email relating to the FSEIS flagged by our system and not delivered. We regret that this occurred, but the issue identified in your comment was considered during the SEQRA review process, and we will inform the Directors about it before they meet to make any final decisions on this matter.
I asked if "the issue identified in [my] comment was considered during the SEQRA review process," should it not have been included in the Response to Comments document?

I was told no, sort of:
The FSEIS considered the reasonable worst case scenario and was complete as accepted and approved by the Directors last week – next week, the Directors will be asked to adopt the SEQRA findings and affirm modifications to the GPP.
It's not clear to me that the Final SEIS did consider the reasonable worst case scenario, because it ignored hockey.

But I expect the issue to be massaged, since the State Environmental Quality Review Act allows the balancing of adverse environmental impacts with other issues:
A positive findings statement means that the project or action is approvable after consideration of the final EIS, and demonstrates that the action chosen is the one that avoids or minimizes adverse environmental impacts presented in the EIS and weighs and balances them with the social, economic and other essential considerations. If the action is not approvable, a negative findings statement documenting the reasons for the denial must be prepared.
The Greenland deal

Another lingering question: must ESD approve the joint venture? Does ESD have to approve Forest City's emerging joint venture with the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group, which has agreed to buy 70% of Atlantic Yards going forward, excluding the arena and the first tower?

At the 4/30/14 hearing on the Draft SEIS, ESD CEO Kenneth Adams said no. The next morning, I got a more ambiguous statement from ESD, saying the issue was under review.

I haven't gotten any further clarification, despite a request. I'd bet that no approval is needed, but that saying that is not politically prudent.

Assuming everything passes on June 27, I'd expect Forest City Ratner and Greenland will issue a triumphant press release about their new partnership.

A court hearing in July

A less triumphant event should be an oral argument in federal court on 7/3/14 on a motion to dismiss most of the case filed against Forest City Ratner and Community Benefits Agreement signatory Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD) by participants in a coveted training program who say they were promised construction jobs and union cards.

I expect to write a preview of the case before the hearing.

Update: the case will be heard Friday, July 11, 2014 at 12:00 PM in courtroom 6C South.

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