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Showing posts from November, 2006

Security study for Atlantic Yards? Sure, but it's Ratner's

A panel discussion last night sponsored by the Municipal Art Society, Security at What Cost? Balancing Security and Public Space, seemed like a good place to ask the Atlantic Yards security question.

A panel of design and engineering experts from the public and private sector had just discussed a variety of issues relating to security perimeters, security barriers, and the importance of maintaining a public streetscape. Post-9/11 New York was a giant "laboratory for security, said Bob Ducibella, principal at security consultants Ducibella Venter & Santore, but the city's been doing well.

Indeed, posited Ray Gastil, director of the Manhattan Office, New York City Department of City Planning, "I've never seen the city stronger, in terms of street life."

Then again, as Ducibella put it, "glass and explosives go well together." His firm has worked on numerous major projects, including the World Trade Center transportation hub and the Bank of America towe…

High crime in footprint? FEIS ignores the criticism

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) in the Response to Comments section of the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), aims to offer "a summary of these relevant comments and a response to each." (Emphasis added)

Many responses might be seen as incomplete, but at least they're responses. When it comes to dubious charges of high crime in the Atlantic Yards footprint, charges raised in the ESDC's Blight Study but severely criticized (by me, at first), the ESDC has ignored the issue.

Criticisms sent to ESDC

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn in this file (p. 7) from its Blight Response, quoted my criticism and added to it. Community Board 2 told the ESDC:
The crime statistics in the DEIS are misrepresented and cannot be used honestly as evidence of blight.

Indeed, as I pointed out, in two of the three sectors studied that each included parts of the footprint, the crime rate was lower last year than in the larger police precincts to which they …

Michael Ratner offers contributions (Lopez, etc.), office for meeting

As I reported in September, Greenwich Village resident Michael Ratner, eminent constitutional lawyer and brother of Forest City Ratner (FCR) CEO Bruce Ratner, has given campaign contributions to several candidates from Brooklyn and beyond apparently favored by the developer. So has his wife, Karen Ranucci.

But I missed a few. After my article appeared, Ratner gave further contributions to Brooklyn candidates who might have an impact on the Atlantic Yards plan.

Maximum gifts to Lopez

On 9/8/06, Ratner and Ranucci each gave $3100 (the contribution limit) to the campaign of Brooklyn Democratic Chair Vito Lopez, who has a lock on his Assembly seat. Lopez had no primary and token opposition in the general election.

But Lopez can have influence with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Forest City Ratner certainly wants Silver to greenlight Atlantic Yards when it reaches the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), where Silver has one of three votes. (Ratner and Ranucci had previously contrib…

A Ratner-related contribution to Roger Green

Assemblyman Roger Green's underfunded and unsuccessful run for the 10th Congressional District nomination, as noted, seemed at the end aimed more at fellow challenger Charles Barron, an Atlantic Yards opponent, than incumbent Edolphus Town, a fellow Atlantic Yards supporter.

Green was deeply involved in the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement and has spoken enthusiastically for the project. So maybe it's not surprising that campaign disclosure forms show additional ties to developer Forest City Ratner. Green got $2000 on 7/27/06 from FCR executive Gary Lieberman, who also owns a piece of the Nets.

Reduce the project? ESDC says density works for Times Square

How big should Atlantic Yards be? Numerous individuals, organizations, and elected officials told the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), in response to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), that the project should be reduced drastically.

And three Assemblymembers just asked Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to delay and modify the project, in part because of "extreme density."

In the Final EIS, however, the ESDC gave very little quarter--and suggested that, because areas like Times Square and Penn Station support high density development, so should the area around Atlantic Terminal.

The difference, however, is that most of the high-density development touted is commercial, not residential, and neither of those areas are as close to rowhouse residential districts like the Atlantic Yards site.
(Photo + simulation of Dean Street view by Jonathan Barkey)

Note that it's not unlikely that developer Forest City Ratner is ready for another reduction in the plan. Aft…

MSG employee warns of rowdy fans, noise; ESDC says crowd noise "not... major"

An interesting, if anonymous, nugget of commentary emerged from the multitudinous comments filed in response to the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and included in the Final EIS. A ten-year employee of Madison Square Garden warned urgently about noise, rowdy patrons, garbage, and gridlock. (Click to enlarge)

The writer, who said he could not give his name, because, "like contracts that are signed with Bruce Ratner, there are speech restrictions included in the contracts with MSG." (The latter is unconfirmed, but there is a record of Ratner gag orders.)

He warned that, after events with younger crowds, drunk patrons crowd the street and carelessly strew garbage. They also treat the streats like they own them, he said, and are quite loud:
In the end, on any number of occasions, it's just one big party in the streets...
The proposed Nets Arena is surrounded by dense residential neighborhoods. What can the residents expect before and after events? Ther…

To the NY Times Public Editor: examine the 8% AY cutback

[Update: I got a late-morning response from Public Editor Byron Calame that reminded me that he deals with complaints only after readers are dissatisfied with responses from the editors who handled the story. I responded that I had already informed the editors of the overlooked information.]

Dear Mr. Calame:

The Times has failed to report on new information that essentially demolishes the premise of the lead story published September 5.


On that day, the lead story—the most important piece of news in the world for a day—was headlined “Developer Is Said To Plan Cutback In Yards Project.” The deck said: “A Response To Criticism.”

The article, which suggested that developer Forest City Ratner would cut the proposed Atlantic Yards project by six to eight percent, was irresponsible in its execution and thus in its placement.

The article omitted a salient piece of information: the reduction contemplated would bring the project’s size, in square footage, back to the amount announced in December 2…

HPD foils FOIL (after four months), won't reveal affordable housing subsidies

How much would the city offer in subsidies for the affordable housing in the Atlantic Yards plan?

It's a reasonable question, because the project would not simply "provide 2,250 low-, moderate-, and middle-income rental apartments," as stated in a Crain's poll that's been trumpeted as depicting support for Atlantic Yards, but taxpayers would pay for that housing.

By knowing the city subsidies, we might be able to compare the affordable housing planned for Atlantic Yards with affordable housing elsewhere. After all, that's what Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff did when he said the Queens West project was a better deal than trying to maintain Stuyvesant Town.

Also, the city subsidies are part of a package of subsidies and public costs, yet unknown, that three Assemblymembers cited as necessary to evaluate the project.

FOIL filed

After trying unsuccessfully to get answers via the press office of the city's Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD), on…

Brennan, Millman, Robinson ask Silver to delay, modify AY project

Three Assemblymembers representing districts near the proposed Atlantic Yards project have asked Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for “substantial modifications to the Project and a delay in approval until those modifications are achieved." Silver is one of three controlling votes on the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), which should get the project later this month, after approval by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

Assemblyman Jim Brennan and Assemblymembers Joan Millman and Annette Robinson sent the three-page letter on November 22 to Silver, a fellow Democrat. The speaker, who has expressed support for Atlantic Yards, has said he would consider the opinions of representatives in Brooklyn.

He also has begun a public feud with ESDC Charles Gargano, who just yesterday moved Atlantic Yards toward a December 8 approval. He also may want to let incoming Gov. Eliot Spitzer, also a Democrat who supports the project, reevaluate the plan, when Spitzer replaces Gov. …

FEIS reissued for December showdown; Gargano says speed not atypical

Twelve days after they determined the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) complete—and just one week after numerous comments were found missing—the board of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) met and certified a revised FEIS, setting up a December 8 approval.

What went wrong? ESDC Chairman Charles Gargano said the omission of 148 comments—with about 1600 already accounted for—was inadvertent. His explanation was hardly exhaustive, blaming some “very large” comments and others “sent to the wrong person,” but he emphasized the agency’s responsiveness to the news.

Indeed, staffers worked weekends to finish the job, something Gargano asserted is not an extraordinary measure. “We have done that many times, worked weekends, over the 12 years that I’ve been here, on many projects,” he said.

Did the FEIS change? “Not substantially,” said Gargano, deeming them “mostly questions that had been asked previously.”

(To find the list of most comments left out, go to p…

Gehry's working on “Atlantic Center overbuild” (for 2000+ residents); ESDC punts

Though city officials haven't said so publicly, newly released documents show they’ve examined plans by Forest City Ratner for three new towers over the developer’s much-derided Atlantic Center mall--and Atlantic Yards architect Frank Gehry has it as part of his assignment.

(A photo of last year's model (right), published by the Courier-Life chain, showed three towers.)

Apparently the developer, Gehry, and the city see the "Atlantic Center overbuild" as intertwined with the neighboring Atlantic Yards project. However, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), in its Atlantic Yards review, has shrugged off questions about Atlantic Center, which could add 2000+ new residents across the street.

A hint of the plan came in a public statement 1/7/06 from Gehry, who said "there are some 20 buildings to be built, and the client insisted that I do them all. When he came to me, he said, 'I know you're going to try and bring all your friends in to do all the bu…

The Times practices "rowback": Atlantic Yards (finally) is not a rezoning

An article in the New York Times today, headlined Bloomberg Administration Is Developing Land Use Plan to Accommodate Future Populations, states, in part:
City officials declined to publicly elaborate on their proposals in advance of the advisory board’s announcement. But some of its goals were foreshadowed by two of the largest rezoning revisions in city history — of the Brooklyn waterfront in Greenpoint and Williamsburg and the Far West Side of Manhattan — both driven by Mr. Doctoroff.
The two major zoning changes, coupled with other development proposals, including the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, were aimed at revitalizing underutilized land for economic development and expanding the city’s property tax base.

Note that the Atlantic Yards project is not lumped in with the rezoning efforts. This serves as an implicit acknowledgement, if not a correction, of previous misleading language.

A 1/2/06 Metro section news analysis that contained this passage regarding Mayor Bloomberg: .…

Marty (in Brooklyn!!) continues AY dance of avoidance

In April, I pointed out how Atlantic Yards was conspicuously absent from issues of Borough President Marty Markowitz's Brooklyn!! (subtitled "Where New York City Begins"), the tabloid promotional vehicle for Brooklyn and all things Marty.

The Fall/Winter issue arrived yesterday, and there was hardly a word about Atlantic Yards, even after perhaps the year's most tumultuous public event regarding Brooklyn, the August 23 public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Yes, we know that Brooklyn!! is mostly about feel-good stuff like Brooklyn's holiday lights, the inaugural Brooklyn Book Festival, and readers' Favorite Waitpersons.

But if Brooklyn!! is going to tell us about the new Aviator Sports and Recreation Center at Floyd Bennett Field, or new hotels around Downtown Brooklyn, or new designs for the New York Aquarium at Coney Island, well, why not a word about the borough's biggest development project?

[An eagle-eyed reader informs me of the six…

As protesters warn of gridlock, Ratner’s security guards call the cops

They carried signs like “Atlantic Yards: Where Traffic Comes to Die” and “Atlantic Yards Gridlock Solution: Add More Cars.” Yesterday, they kept crossing the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, from 2 pm to 3:30 pm, warning drivers and pedestrians of the coming gridlock should the Atlantic Yards plan go forward—and, actually, even if it doesn’t.

(Photos by Jonathan Barkey.)

In the protest called “Merry Gridlock,” some 15 volunteers from the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN) helped escort seniors and those with carriages--and handed sheets with diagrams of gridlocked intersections to those they encountered on foot or stopped at traffic lights.

The message: "Tell the city and the state to FIX THE TRAFFIC FIRST!" (One solution could be congestion pricing.)

They also attracted the attention of three security guards from the Atlantic Center/Atlantic Terminal mall complex, owned by Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner. First, the guards told two sign-carriers …

Congestion pricing re-emerges on the public agenda

One solution to the inevitable and so far unmitigatible traffic problems in Downtown Brooklyn and environs might be congestion pricing, which would cause those driving to Manhattan via Brooklyn to think twice if they had to pay for the privilege.

BrooklynSpeaks says that the Atlantic Yards proposal “offers no real plan to avoid gridlock or improve subway and bus service” and recommends, among other things, that the developer and the city “implement roadway pricing to relieve traffic congestion in and around downtown Brooklyn.” The Empire State Development Corporation says that’s not on the agenda as of now--but it might emerge.

Indeed, both business groups and transportation progressives have begun to push for congestion pricing. In an article yesterday headlined Bigger Push for Charging Drivers Who Use the Busiest Streets, the New York Times reported how the Partnership for New York City, which includes major businesses, is bouncing back from an effort a year ago, in which a congestion…

Looking at Spitzer's transition team and AY

On November 16, Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer announced 13 policy advisory committees to help guide transition efforts. And, should the issue of Atlantic Yards arise, there's no shortage of experts and advocates--from across the spectrum--who could lend their voices to the debate.

Note that participating on a committee does not necessarily mean that the committee will touch on Atlantic Yards. Also, of course, there are many more committee members with no overt connection to Atlantic Yards.

Here are the ones I could identify.

Arts, Culture and Revitalization

Kent Barwick is president of the Municipal Art Society, which has criticized the Atlantic Yards plan and also helped found BrooklynSpeaks, a coalition that seeks to change the project signficantly.

Economic Development

Richard Kahan, former CEO of the New York State Urban Development Corporation (now the Empire State Development Corporation) and chairman of the Battery Park City Authority, has classified Atlantic Yards among “top-do…

Final EIS delayed only until Monday

So much for a quiet Thanksgiving weekend. Consultants working on the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which had to be revised to incorporate comments that were missed in the first version released November 15, will have it ready for a 9 a.m. meeting Monday of the board of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the agency confirmed.

The board again will be asked "to determine that the FEIS is complete," and again will say so. Clearly, that's just a formality. We can't expect the board to actually compare the lengthy document at hand with, for example, the comments submitted. (Apparently, according to the Brooklyn Papers, some of those comments not included came from Prospect Heights resident Raul Rothblatt.)

The board can't act to approve the project for at least ten days, until December 7, when it also will sign off on the environmental review and the approve the use of eminent domain.

Endgame delays?

Then Atlantic Yards would go …

Eminent domain case gets day in court; public use, legislative process at issue

It was just a status conference, the first skirmish in a legal war, but two lines of argument emerged yesterday as lawyers in the case known as Goldstein v. Pataki, which challenges the use of eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards project, met in federal court in Downtown Brooklyn.

On the one hand, the plaintiffs (property owner Daniel Goldstein and nine others, owners and tenants, threatened with eminent domain) will be pressed to argue that the Atlantic Yards project would provide too little public use to meet the legal standard.

On the other, the defendants (Empire State Development Corporation, developer Forest City Ratner, and city and state officials including Governor George Pataki) must stretch to contend that the project was in fact considered by a legislative body, as evolving eminent domain law seems to require.

The parties were there to address two issues: a motion by the defendants to dismiss the case, and a request by the plaintiffs for discovery, the legal process under w…