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Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what's coming + FAQ (pinned post)

At BrooklynSpeaks press conference, elected officials call for denial of new underground space without environmental review, new timetable (Adams now supportive)

Jo Anne Simon speaks. Image North Flatbush BID
In a press conference held this morning on the Carlton Avenue Bridge between Pacific Street and Atlantic Avenue, representative of the BrooklynSpeaks coalition embodied--for the cameras--a previous call for Governor Andrew Cuomo and Empire State Development to deny new underground space for a fitness center and field house until:
  • a review of the environmental impact of the change has been performed and the public given an opportunity to comment;
  • the proposed change is amended to include offsetting public benefits as proposed by elected officials; and
  • the project developers provide a road map to complete the required 2,250 units of affordable housing by 2025.
As I'll write separately, later in the afternoon, the advisory Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation--steered significantly by skepticism from Gib Veconi, a BrooklynSpeaks member--deadlocked on whether to recommend that new underground space. That was the first deadlocked (or negative) vote in AY CDC history.

That doesn't mean the parent ESD will fail to follow the governor's (and developers') wishes, though, or that the other demands will be met. But it does suggest a renewed effort at accountability.

A Twitter exchange

Note that the ESD frame--that this is simply a trade of parking for underground space--has gained some adherents:
A few new supporters

The press conference, helmed by Michelle de La Uz of the Fifth Avenue Committee, featured statements by Assembly Members Jo Anne Simon and Walter Mosley, in front of representatives of neighborhood and advocacy groups that are part of the BrooklynSpeaks coalition, which has aimed to reform the project.

The press release (bottom) indicates that, along with Council Member Laurie Cumbo (mentioned in the preview press announcement), Council Member Brad Lander and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams have since joined the call.

What kind of impact?

Clearly, the act of going public changes the equation somewhat. Both Simon and Mosley indicated that they had been contacted by representatives of the state regarding their concerns. (They also expressed great skepticism that the 2025 deadline for affordable housing would be met; I think it's possible, but the state and developer must come clean.)

Beyond publicity, however, the history of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park is that only litigation--such as that pursued by BrooklynSpeaks and in parallel Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, which led to a new environmental review--or the threat thereof generates results.

So, in the Q&A (see video below), I asked if they had a legal strategy.

"Anything and everything is on the table," de la Uz said.

I also noted that the 2014 settlement that set the new 2025 housing deadline led to two "100% affordable" buildings, which were skewed toward middle-income households. What can they go to ensure that the units are more affordable?

"We're trying to leverage this moment," de la Uz said. "We've been dissatisfied with affordability levels since Day 1. [The units are] absolutely not meeting the actual needs that exist in this community."

The opening speakers



Comments from a Dean Street resident

They called on Jimmy Greenfield, who is a Dean Street resident and property owner, who lamented the lack of public input on the proposed changes.



Another concerned neighborhood group

Not part of the press conference but observing it were Cathy Iselin and Elaine Weinstein, the co-presidents of North Prospect Heights Association, formerly the Dean Street Block Association, which left the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (a member of BrooklynSpeaks) upon the 2014 settlement.

In a sign of rapprochement, de la Uz welcomed the NPHA from the dais and, in the interview below, Iselin said they were supportive of the effort and "would like to work together with BrooklynSpeaks." Their 400 members live in the blocks closest to the project.



Comments from housing advocate Bernell Grier of IMPACCT Brooklyn



The Q&A

(Note some bumptious, off-topic questioning at 4:53 from the notorious Stephen Witt.)



The press release, verbatim

Elected officials, civic leaders and housing advocates call on Governor to withhold approval of new development rights at Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park pending environmental study, public benefits and plan to meet affordable housing deadline
Proposal for fitness center and field house on Dean Street would increase project’s retail space by more than 40%, but developers remain silent on how 2,250 affordable apartments will be completed by May 2025
BROOKLYN, Monday, August 12: Elected officials representing districts included in the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park footprint, civic and business leaders, and housing advocates came together today to demand accountability after New York State Empire State Development (ESD) officials planned approval of a proposed 105,000 square feet of new development rights at the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project with no environmental review, and no additional public benefits.

The Atlantic Yards project was approved by the State of New York in 2006; it was rebranded as “Pacific Park” in 2014. In July 2019, developers requested the increased space to add a fitness center and field house beneath apartment towers planned for the block of Dean Street between Vanderbilt Avenue and Carlton Avenue, a use not included in either Atlantic Yards’ 2006 or 2014 environmental reviews. A planned advisory vote of the board of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation scheduled for July 15 was delayed after directors expressed concern they had not been provided with an ESD report finding the change would not result in any new environmental impacts. The vote was rescheduled for the afternoon of August 12, with a final vote by the ESD board planned for August 15.

Speaking out against the scheduled vote were Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams, New York State Assembly Members Walter Mosley and Jo Anne Simon; City Council Members Laurie Cumbo and Brad Lander; leaders of civic and community-based organizations from the BrooklynSpeaks coalition, including the Boerum Hill Association, the Park Slope Civic Council, the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, the Fifth Avenue Committee, IMPACCT Brooklyn, and the Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation; and the North Flatbush Business Improvement District.

"The latest proposal from Empire State Development is deeply concerning to me, especially since the long-awaited public benefits at the Atlantic Yards project haven’t materialized yet. The community deserves transparency on this plan, not back-room deals with little to no public input. Thanks to all the community advocates for speaking out," said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams.

The group of stakeholders, advocates and elected representatives called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to withhold approval for the additional space for the fitness center and field house until:
  • a review of the environmental impact of the change has been performed and the public given an opportunity to comment;
  • the proposed change is amended to include offsetting public benefits as proposed by elected officials; and
  • the Atlantic Yards developers have presented the public with a plan showing how they intend to meet their obligation to complete 2,250 units of affordable housing by 2025.
“The history of the Atlantic Yards project has been full of broken promises by developers and utterly lacking in transparency on the part of Empire State Development,” said Assembly Member Walter Mosley, whose district includes most of the Atlantic Yards footprint. “Once again, the State has tried to slip by a major change to the project over the summer months without public review. The proposed fitness center and field house represent an increase of more than 40% in retail use at the site. It’s critical that a thorough study of the effects of this facility be completed and the public is given a chance to provide input and comment."

“Traffic from Atlantic Yards construction and events at the Barclays Center arena have created significant disruption to residents and businesses near the project for the last twelve years,” said Robert Witherwax, Chair of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council. “The State owes the community an independent assessment of what the impact of the fitness center and field house will be, and must hear the concerns of the project’s thousands of neighbors.”

“A destination facility like the proposed fitness center and field house is not the same as the local retail use that had been planned for the Dean Street buildings,” said Regina Cahill, President of the North Flatbush Business Improvement District. “That retail use will presumably now be moved to some other part of the project, but where? It’s irresponsible for the State to move forward on all of this without a real analysis.”

“Atlantic Yards is supposed to be a public-private partnership, but so far, that has been in name only; the public has been doing all the giving while the private has been doing all the getting,” said Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon. “105,000 square feet of development rights is a significant increase on the private side of the ledger worth millions of dollars a year. What justifies that kind of a gift when our transit system is crumbling, our public schools lack adequate facilities, and we’re in the middle of an affordable housing crisis?”

Development leases for the Dean Street lots proposed for the fitness center and field house were recently sold by Atlantic Yards developer Greenland Forest City Partners to TF Cornerstone, a transfer permitted by the project agreements. “We’re concerned that when more Atlantic Yards lots are sold in the future, the new developers will also expect the State to make other changes that increase their profit, at the community’s expense,” said Howard Kolins, President of the Boerum Hill Association.

“As rights continue to get transferred from one real estate developer to another, it seems that the State and City have lost interest in making sure that the few community benefits that were originally promised are actually delivered,” added Nat Rubin, President of the Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation.”

“The ‘affordable’ apartments at Atlantic Yards include some of the most expensive that have been built in Brooklyn,” said Bernell Grier, Executive Director of IMPACCT Brooklyn. We all know there is a heightened need for affordable apartments that are properly income targeted to meet the needs of low-income Brooklynites. We need for the affordable housing to be built and promises to be kept in a way that meets the needs of the community. Instead of meeting the needs of low income Brooklynites it is evident the State is catering to services that are more upmarket and foster economic inequality.”

In 2014, members of the BrooklynSpeaks coalition negotiated a settlement with the State of New York and then-Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner requiring all of the project’s 2,250 affordable apartments be completed by May of 2025. “Given the current state of the project, the developer and the Empire State Development (ESD) must show a clear and realistic path to providing all of the 2,250 units of affordable housing promised in the 2014 settlement with the community,” said Joe Rydell, President of the Park Slope Civic Council.

“Nobody believes that the affordable apartments promised at Atlantic Yards will be ready by the May 2025 deadline, yet the developers refuse to explain how they will meet their commitments,” said Michelle de la Uz, Executive Director of the Fifth Avenue Committee. “It's unconscionable for the Governor to allow a vote on an increase in size or change in use without ensuring the public benefits that the developers are committed to deliver are actually achieved.”

“The community fought long and hard to ensure that the development of Atlantic Yards would include a significant commitment to affordable housing, but we have yet to see a real plan to meet the commitment of providing 2,250 units of affordable housing by 2025. Now, the developers are asking for more commercial development without making any additional promises to provide public benefits or to follow through on their existing commitments. The Atlantic Yards developers should not be given a pass on their obligation to fully study the environmental impact of increased commercial development nor their responsibility to create the affordable housing they promised to the community,” said City Council Member Brad Lander.

“The housing crisis in Brooklyn gets larger every day,” said City Council Majority Leader Laurie A. Cumbo. “At this point, the priority must be delivery of Atlantic Yards’ affordable apartments. Families facing displacement can’t take a back seat to additional demands from the project’s developers. We need to hear how the 2025 deadline will be met, and we need to hear it now.”

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