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Showing posts from August, 2006

CBA accountability? Where are the reports to the community?

At the August 23 public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Atlantic Yards project, we heard rhapsodic praise for the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) that developer Forest City Ratner signed with eight community groups, only a few of which had any track record in the areas which they must contribute.

The CBA includes affordable housing pledges and a 35% minority hiring goal in construction jobs--approximately 525 people a year for ten years--among its main features. It also has led to payments to some if not all of the signatories--a departure from the CBA template pioneered in Los Angeles, where signatories agree not to accept money from a developer.

But we didn't hear much about what's happened since the CBA was signed on 6/27/05. Yes, Forest City Ratner has helped fund signatories to the CBA and has supported a training session for minority contractors, co-sponsored by the New York Association of Minority Contractors, a CBA signatory.

The CBA coalit…

Imagining a 50% scaleback: shrinkage is not surgery

So now there are murmurings of an Atlantic Yards scaleback, and even musings on a 50 percent reduction.

As I noted, there's an argument that a 50 percent cut in the project should've been the ceiling for discussion, in terms of density. What might that look like? I asked graphic designer Abby Weissman to take a crack at project renderings. Above, a look at the project elevations facing south. Below, Weissman's rough attempt at a 50 percent shrinkage, including height and bulk. (Click to enlarge)

First, the renderings don't convey scale all too well. Consider that a 50 percent reduction in the density of three buildings, including the flagship "Miss Brooklyn," would still leave them bulkier than the Williamsburgh Savings Bank.

But there's a certain ridiculousness to the exercise--a reduction in scale wouldn't be accomplished by shrinking the buildings; it would be accomplished by various forms of surgery.

Had the project proceeded via the city's land…

Richard Lipsky and the "booty capitalists" of the AY CBA

Credit Richard Lipsky, lobbyist around town against big box stores (yet for Atlantic Yards and other Forest City Ratner projects) for introducing the term "booty capitalists" to the local discussion. Actually, he's used the term regarding Wal-Mart's potential move to Brooklyn, but it's equally apt regarding Atlantic Yards.

As Lipsky has written in his Neighborhood Retail Alliance blog:
We have referred to the potential Wal-Mart partners in this effort as "booty capitalists" and although the term was coined by Karl Marx its modern application refers to some opportunists, especially in the African-American community, who, while having few economic resources of their own, will use their political positions and a company's vulnerabilities to their own personal advantage.

(So "booty" is being used to refer to "treasure," rather than the more slangy you-know-what.)

The CBA

To watchers of the Atlantic Yards project, especially its controvers…

Another Atlantic Yards mailer from Forest City Ratner

This one quotes editorials from three newspapers. How much more is there to be said about the New York Times's endorsement, which was dissected in my blog and by the Brooklyn Papers?

(Does the parent New York Times Company's business relationship with Forest City Ratner have any influence on the editorial stance? Well, at least the Times discloses the relationship. No such luck with the mailer.)

NoLandGrab has the details, and further dissection. Nope, again there are no tall buildings. Like this:

Yassky calls (almost) for a 50% AY scaleback

City Council Member David Yassky, a contender for the open 11th Congressional District seat, has publicly called for at least a one-third reduction in the size of Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards complex—but privately he’s been telling potential constituents that he thinks the project should be cut in half.

On August 9, at a debate among the four candidates for the 11th CD, Yassky, who's had a "mend it, don't end it" posture toward the Atlantic Yards project, declared that "the current project is way too big."

I caught up with him afterward to ask him to amplify his statements, and to address reports that he'd told constituents he supports a 50 percent cut in the project.

Q & A

Q: So the question is, have you thought about how big it should be?
DY: I’ve said very clearly that it’s way too big now, it’s got to be taken down very substantially. I’m going to testify certainly at the Empire State Development Corporation hearing coming up, and I will have …

The murmurings of a scaleback, but not of a 50% goal

Everyone expected the Atlantic Yards plan to be reduced somewhat as part of the endgame as state approval approached, and that discussion has now reached the press. A New York Sun article today headlined Pressure Mounts to Curb the Size of Atlantic Yards states:
State officials have discussed with the developer, Forest City Ratner, a reduction in the size of the project, a source said.

Presumably this downsizing, likely to come before the end of the public comment period September 22, would be aimed not simply at the Empire State Development Corporation, but at the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), the body that would then have to give unanimous approval. (PACB member Sheldon Silver killed the West Side Stadium last year.)

And the Department of City Planning, heretofore publicly silent on the project, apparently will weigh in, the Sun said:
City officials said yesterday that the Department of City Planning is drafting written testimony that it will submit to the ESDC that will incl…

The mysteries of Site 5: blight and development rights

When I wrote earlier this month about the Brooklyn Bear's Garden adjacent to the Modell's and P.C. Richard on Site 5, I noted that, when Forest City Ratner acquired the land for the big box stores in 1997, the city retained development rights beyond the elevations of the planned buildings.

Some 308,000 square feet of development rights remained. Did Forest City Ratner get those additional rights a long time ago in a negotiation with the city? No. It turns out that those rights were transferred, along with 328,272 square feet from the Atlantic Center mall in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) dated 2/18/05 but not revealed until August 2005, when Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn publicized the memo it had acquired.

It's the city

The language of the MOU is vague, but the confirmation is in Chapter 20, Alternatives, of the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement. On p. 13, it states:
Block 927 contains two active businesses in two separate one-story structures. Al…

YIMBY! The Williamsburg Hasids want an arena? (Not really)

I already noted that many of the people at the Draft Environmental Impact Statement hearing last Wednesday who wore buttons with a slash through NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) were from neighborhoods far from the proposed Atlantic Yards project site.

Some wore both the slash/NIMBY buttons as well as ones that said "Yes In My Backyard." Probably the least convincing wearers of those messages were a group of Williamsburg Hasidim, as pictured in the Courier-Life chain.

Not only is there no room in South Williamsburg for an arena--the population keeps growing exponentially--but those in this enclave want to keep their distance from people who don't share their ultra-Orthodox beliefs.

As the New York Times explained in a 2/17/04 article headlined 'Plague of Artists' a Battle Cry for Brooklyn Hasidim:
The visitors were from the community of 57,000 Satmar Hasidic Jews who live in south Williamsburg and who have in recent weeks been alarmed by talk of their neighborhood being i…

Pleasantville vs. Brooklyn, and other DEIS hearing footnotes

To a great extent, the news coverage of the hearing Wednesday on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) focused on the speakers--both elected officials and citizens--who made it to the podium during the early phases of the seven-hour epic.

That means those who spoke late, or never even had their names called, didn't get the ink. For example, other than in the New York Observer's blog The Real Estate and my blog, the critical yet convoluted comments of the influential Regional Plan Association got no coverage.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn attorney Jeff Baker got no coverage outside of my blog, even though his contention--that a privately-owned arena does not meet the definition of a "civic project"--likely will be part of a major lawsuit. And, as I noted, Community Consulting Services and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign (TSTC) offered important criticisms about traffic. They were almost completely ignored, though the Courier-Life cha…

Democracy vs. demagoguery, and other AY story lines a columnist might've followed

Gather up the press and blog coverage, maybe add some video, and you can approximate the experience of the seven-hour public hearing Wednesday on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). But it really needed a writer with more "voice,” a columnist like Jimmy Breslin or Murray Kempton (R.I.P.).

Why didn’t a metro columnist, or even a sports columnist, from one of the dailies cross the river? After all, it was the day’s—maybe the summer’s--most striking piece of street theater. There were so many threads to follow, building blocks for 800 compelling words, stories with drama and maybe even a moral.

What about all the poor people bused in or organized by BUILD and ACORN, groups that have been paid by developer Forest City Ratner or received donations from them? How does “We need a job so we can eat?” compete with the reality of the relatively few jobs—especially low-skilled ones—the project would produce? (Ditto for the affordable housing.) And how much is the…

The Times on AY: skepticism about construction jobs, but not about revenue

From the New York Times story yesterday, headlined Raucous Meeting on Atlantic Yards Plan Hints at Hardening Stances:
The $4.2 billion Atlantic Yards project is intended to generate more than 1,500 construction jobs during the 10-year building process, plus hundreds of permanent jobs afterward and $1.4 billion in tax revenue.

1500 construction jobs? Forest City Ratner has long promised 15,000 construction jobs, though construction jobs are calculated in job-years, so that would mean 1500 jobs a year over ten years. And FCR's Jim Stuckey recently began estimating 33,000 direct and indirect construction jobs, based on some more generous Empire State Development Corporation projectings.

I've long urged the media to report the construction jobs figure more accurately. (The point was first raised in the 6/26/04 Brooklyn Papers and was made last December in the New York Observer.)

Rowback?

However, the Times hasn't reported that number before, instead choosing to report the cumulat…

AY supporters out in force at epic hearing, but opponents go the distance

It began in mid-afternoon with two distinct shows of strength: hours before the 4:30 pm start of the state hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), hundreds of people—many organized by union locals and Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) signatories—were already lining up outside the Klitgord Auditorium of the New York Institute of Technology on Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn. (Developer Forest City Ratner catered 1500 lunches.) Across the street, at 4 pm, the developer held what was billed as a press conference but was really a no-question-time rally, an opportunity for politicians, union/civic leaders, and celebrities to vouch their support for the project. (Photo by NYC IndyMedia)

When the epic hearing ended at 11:30 pm (the building had to close), three hours later than billed yet still too soon for hundreds of people who’d signed up to speak, much of the crowd had left. (For hours, there was a line to get into the room, which holds about 800.) Pro…

How big? Way big! New graphics show projected AY impact

Mainstream media outlets like the New York Times, as I've pointed out, have done too little to show the public what the Atlantic Yards project would actually look like, so the New York magazine cover story earlier this month was a step forward.

Projections have been the work of inspired bloggers like Jon Keegan and Will James. Now photographer Jonathan Barkey, combining some shots around the Atlantic Yards footprint with graphics, offers some dramatic new visuals, now and projected. (Click to enlarge.)

The Dean Street playground




A view of the arena from Dean Street




Carlton & Atlantic avenues, from Atlantic Terminal 4B housing project


The intersection of Dean Street & Sixth Avenue



An elevated view, from Bergen Street, of the Dean Street playground



A view from the Newswalk roof on Dean Street


Ketcham: Traffic/transit analysis so bad a Supplemental EIS needed

How bad would the traffic be? The Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) suggests it would be a challenge, but not unmanageable, by the time the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) is issued.

Yes, 68 of 93 intersections analyzed would be “significantly adversely impacted,” according to DEIS Chapter 12, on traffic, but proposed traffic mitigations would take care of 29 of them, leaving 39 intersections with unmitigated impacts at certain hours by 2016. Moreover, “Additional measures to further address all unmitigated significant adverse traffic impacts will be explored between the DEIS and the FEIS.”

DEIS myopia

To transportation engineer Brian Ketcham of Community Consulting Services, that’s balderdash. “With Atlantic Yards, the entire Downtown Brooklyn area and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in 2016 will be at a standstill, radiating problems across the region,” he wrote in a recent unpublished letter to the New York Times. “It nearly is now and will be more…