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DDDB attorney cites failure to plan, evasion of law, misrepresentation of Coney option

The criticisms of the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) keep piling on, as some of the harshest responses were filed just before the deadline yesterday set by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) lawyer Jeffrey Baker, a veteran of state land use tussles, wrote that government entities failed to plan for the site. Also, he charged, the agency misdescribed the project under the law, ignored key evidence about the potential for an arena in Coney Island, conducted a flimsy blight study, and proceeded in a biased manner.

Failure to plan

Baker's charges set the stage for a challenge to the exercise of eminent domain, since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year in the Kelo case suggests that eminent domain to support redevelopment can pass muster only if derives from a democratically arrived at plan.

The state cites the longstanding presence of the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area (ATURA), but Bake…

Is the 8% AY scaleback a "concession"?

Again, we see evidence that reporters new to the Atlantic Yards story get key details wrong. Yesterday's Times "Public Lives" profile of the Municipal Art Society's Kent Barwick stated:
Now, with the planning commission publicly on board for Atlantic Yards, based on the developer’s acceptance of the commission’s suggestion to reduce its 8.7 million square foot project by 8 percent, a concession Mr. Barwick dismisses as a nonconcession, the society has aligned itself with several community groups and declared Atlantic Yards an unfit addition to the borough.

Why does the Times characterize it as a concession rather than a tactic? After all, the Times hadn't used the term before. Also, Brooklyn beat reporter Nicholas Confessore had reported the day before--in the voice of the newspaper, rather than attributing it to a critic, the new reduction only brings the project back to the original size proposed in 2003.

Brownstoner commented (typos and all):
Regardles of whether…

Is ESDC violating open government laws? State official is suspicious

Can the Empire State Development Corporation get away with not releasing its fiscal impact study regarding the Atlantic Yards project? A state official tells the Village Voice: probably not.

Neil de Mause writes:
ESDC's disdain for public disclosure is nothing new—others who've tried to file FOIL requests for agency documents say it can often take months just to get a reply. (The law requires a response within five business days.) But it's especially troublesome in this case, where the only evidence for the project's estimated public costs ($545 million) and benefits ($1.945 billion) is the state agency's assertion that, well, we know what we're talking about, and you'll just have to trust us.

In this case, says Robert Freedman of the state Committee on Open Government, which oversees the Freedom of Information Law, the ESDC's reasoning "is a partial response, and in my opinion in all likelihood it is at least partially wrong." While the law doe…

CBN says AY environmental review so flawed it shouldn't be approved

At 1 pm today, just a half day before the close of the comment period regarding the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN) plans to deliver a detailed and harsh set of criticisms to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

Said CBN co-chair Therese Urban in a statement, "It is CBN’s hope that the comments of our consultants and community members will be carefully studied by the ESDC and government officials in considering the many, glaring shortcomings of the DEIS. Due to the number and profound nature of the errors and shortcomings of the DEIS, CBN does not believe the current DEIS can be approved.
(Emphasis in original)

CBN, a coalition of some 40 community groups active in Community Boards 2, 3, 6, and 8, gained $230,000 in discretionary appropriations from city and state officials to hire experts to respond to the massive DEIS, which was issued July 18.

CBN is officially neutral on the Atlantic Yards pl…

Another FOI Law request ignored; call for comment period extension

Others apparently have been trying to figure out how the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) reached its $1.4 billion estimate for the Atlantic Yards project. And others, like me, have been stymied.

From a letter sent today by Jeff Baker, attorney for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn:
On August 31, 2006, I submitted a FOIL [Freedom of Information Law] request to ESDC requesting a copy of the independent economic impact analysis” referenced on page 29 of the General Project Plan. In a letter dated September 8, 2006, Antovk Pidedjian, the ESDC Records Access Officer, acknowledged my request and said he would respond as to whether it would be granted within ten business days of his letter. As of today, there has not been any response.

Ten business days after Sept. 8 would be Sept. 22.

The letter argues that if the ESDC had followed the law and left the public comment period open until Oct. 18 instead of Sept. 29, additional comments could be prepared, including those on the materi…

ESDC stonewalls FOI Law request, won't release fiscal impact study

So much for getting my hopes up about the Empire State Development Corporation's belated willingness to respond to my Freedom of Information Law request.

I refined my request and said my priority was a copy of the "independent economic impact analysis" in the General Project Plan (section G). This analysis states that there would be a $1.4 billion net gain in tax revenues from this project, but I've already pointed out that there seem to be enormous holes in it.

The response I got yesterday from the ESDC:
ESDC has reviewed your request for additional documentation with respect to the financial analysis performed by ESDC. At this time there are no additional documents that are subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Law.
It is possible that additional information will be compiled and made available at a later date. If additional information is prepared for release to the public - ESDC will certainly make the same available to you.


Some of our elected represe…

The Times gets the scaleback right, but what about the housing commitment?

The New York Times, in an article today headlined Atlantic Yards Developer Accepts 8% Reduction in Project, reports:
The developer of the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn said yesterday that the company would support changes proposed by the city planning commission earlier this week, including an 8 percent reduction in the project’s size, additional public space and changes to the designs of several buildings.

The headline could just as easily have said:
Atlantic Yards Cut Brings Project Back to Square One

Indeed, five paragraphs later, some context that the Times had left out of Tuesday's coverage:
The company’s agreement was to some extent preordained: yesterday’s formal recommendations followed months of discussion. Moreover, the new reduction only brings the project back to the original size proposed in 2003. Critics and supporters of the project have called for it to be shrunk between a third and a half.
(Emphasis added)

The Daily News reported:
Critics called the cuts meaningless …

AY Phase I down to 550 affordable units; more criticism from Tish James

According to a letter released today by the City Planning Commission summarizing the recommendations discussed at Monday's meeting, the number of affordable housing units in Phase 1 of Atlantic Yards, due by 2010, would be 550, not 600 as mentioned Monday.

My article in this week's Brooklyn Downtown Star about that meeting adds some new quotes from City Councilmember Letitia James. She was not pleased:
"I thought some of the comments from Regina [Myer, head of the Department of City Planning's Brooklyn office] were a little over the top. I think [DCP commissioner] Amanda Burden served as a spokesperson for Forest City Ratner, and judge and jury. The fact that they wanted to respect the Williamsburgh bank but did nothing to cut back on Miss Brooklyn is sort of a contradiction. There was no discussion of the overall policy issues, whether the city should be relinquishing its power to state, with a project of this size. They were just tinkering around the fringe."

Also…

At City Planning, 8% scaleback surfaces, Phase 2 not guaranteed, and challenges ignored

Here’s the news from yesterday’s first-ever Department of City Planning (DCP) public meeting on Atlantic Yards:
--the City Planning Commission (CPC) seeks an eight percent scaleback in the project, with reductions in the heights of three buildings and the width of another
--most cuts will be in market-rate units, but the number of affordable units might shrink
--the CPC would like open space to increase one acre
--city officials admit they have no assurances that Phase 2 (est. 2016) of the project would be built on time, if at all, thus jeopardizing planned open space and most of the affordable housing
--some 30% of the housing in Phase 1 (est. 2010) would be affordable, a somewhat larger amount than suggested in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)
--the commissioners have no interest in dicey planning issues like the creation of superblocks, inaccessible public space, and an enormous surface parking lot
--the commissioners have some interest in issues like affordable housing and…

BrooklynSpeaks principals say it's about strategy

Yesterday, the day after the BrooklynSpeaks web site finally launched, backers of the project spoke at a press conference in Brooklyn--less than an hour after the City Planning Commission, in its only review of the project, essentially ignored many of the flaws in Atlantic Yards pointed out by BrooklynSpeaks, including interim surface parking and open space that looks more like the backyards of buildings.

While the site developers, led by the Municipal Art Society (MAS) and eight other groups, aim to get concerned Brookynites to send letters to public officials, many questions yesterday regarded the groups and their goals. Recently the Boerum Hill Association (BHA) issued a tough set of principles regarding the project, including no use of eminent domain, but BrooklynSpeaks accepts the arena and mentions eminent domain only as a concern that some have expressed.

"Each of our groups has things we feel strongly about," said the BHA's Sue Wolfe, indicating that she didn't…

BrooklynSpeaks, tougher than hinted, calls for major changes

Now that the BrooklynSpeaks web site has been unveiled, after a two-day delay, the message from the Municipal Art Society (MAS) and the civic groups behind the effort is tougher than hinted:
Tell the decision-makers today that the plan must be substantially changed or rejected. If New Yorkers speak up, we can achieve a better plan for New York.

The project principles draw significantly from the MAS's guidelines announced in June:
1. Respect and integrate with surrounding neighborhoods
2. Include a transportation plan that works
3. Include affordable housing that meets the community’s needs
4. Involve the public in a meaningful way


Not having seen the actual principles, Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco likely was too welcoming, telling the Times that the developer was “pleased to see that these groups want to talk about ways" to improve the project. Does FCR really want to see the project cut in half--a potential change not mentioned in the Times article?

In my piece reacting…

Crain's editor offers weak defense of poll

In his column this week, headlined An Objective View of Atlantic Yards, Crain's New York Business editor Greg David offers a weak defense of the deceptive poll the weekly sponsored last month. He writes:
Many have complained that the questions could have been worded to bring about a different result. That would be true if either Atlantic Yards opponents or Forest City had a chance to influence the poll. Opponents of Atlantic Yards are trying to shoot the messenger because the message is unpalatable.

The "objective" housing question

As I pointed out, the question about affordable housing was worded thusly:
The project will provide 2,250 low-, moderate-, and middle-income rental apartments. Is this a very important benefit, an important benefit, not an important benefit or no benefit at all?

Despite David's statement that Forest City did not formally influence the poll, the phrase "the project will provide" echoes the developer's syntax. The Atlantic Yards w…

Times's AY Op-Art more questionable than funny

So, was Bruce McCall's Op-Art piece (Six-to-Eight percent Solutions) in yesterday's New York Times a backhanded defense of Frank Gehry's Atlantic Yards design as presented or a suggestion that a six to eight percent cut would be meaningless and even self-defeating?

I've heard both arguments and, actually, am not sure what he was after other than a springboard for some whimsical treatments of imaginary past downsizings.

I still find his premise questionable. First, it assumes the project is a done deal--and Atlantic Yards still must get state approval at two levels, and survive a court challenge.

Second, the piece doesn't make sense; there's no real comparison between a finished project (like the Eiffel Tower), and a design, and McCall doesn't acknowledge that a six to eight percent cut would bring Atlantic Yards essentially back to its original proposed size. (Oops, maybe he only read one of the two Times stories.)

Perhaps most importantly, the Times devote…

ESDC finally acknowledges Freedom of Information Law request

So maybe it was worth it for me to comment publicly at the Sept. 12 Atlantic Yards community forum regarding the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) failure to acknowledge my Freedom of Information Law request. I sent the ESDC a letter on July 26, and the agency should have responded within five business days.

I sent a follow-up letter in late August, as well. Both were ignored until I raised the issue in my testimony Sept. 12. On Tuesday I received, via email, a copy of a letter (above) mailed to me. (Click to enlarge)

The ESDC's response blamed "an inadvertent mistake" and promised a response to my request in ten days. Agencies, however, do have discretion over what they can share in response to such requests, so it'll be interesting to see the response.

How did Ratner get to build a downtown Brooklyn tower? The state won't say

So Forest City Ratner will build a $186-million Renzo Piano-designed tower at a site owned by the City University of New York's College of Technology bounded by Jay, Johnston, and Tillary streets. That site now includes the Klitgord Auditorium, where the Atlantic Yards public hearing and community forums were held.

The building would be about 1 million square feet--almost as big as Miss Brooklyn, the largest building in the Atlantic Yards plan--which suggests it could be 50 to 60 stories tall. It will include classrooms, luxury condos, and some affordable housing.

While the size of the development is apparently as of right, given the recent rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn, other questions remain. However, as the Brooklyn Papers reported, the state won't release details about the finances or the bid process:
The state will finance the CUNY portion of the development, while underwriting Ratner’s construction through bonds.
Ratner won the development rights in competition with one othe…

Brooklyn Speaks to modify AY project--but which Brooklyn?

Essentially acknowledging that the Atlantic Yards project is a done deal, even before the most significant criticisms of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) emerge, several community groups in Brooklyn have lined up with the Municipal Art Society (MAS) to seek changes to the scale and design of the development. A new web site will be unveiled Saturday, BrooklynSpeaks.net.

As the New York Times reports today, in an article headlined Brooklyn Group to Propose Changes to Yards Project:
The group will prescribe substantial reductions in the project’s size and an increase in the percentage of subsidized housing allotted to poor families, among other changes, but will not take a position against eminent domain.
The groups, including the Pratt Area Community Council, the Municipal Art Society, the Boerum Hill Association and the Park Slope Civic Council, will unveil the proposed changes on a new Web site, BrooklynSpeaks.net, on Saturday, with less than a week until a state-mandated…

Getting our money’s worth with Atlantic Yards? Few care, and here’s why

Who can oppose economic development, projects that bring--as Atlantic Yards proponents say--jobs, housing, and opportunity? But when major governmental subsidies are involved, the question gets more complicated. As former state Comptroller Carl McCall put it on Monday, “Somewhere along the way, someone has to say, ‘Are we getting our money’s worth?’”

The question hasn’t really been answered regarding the AY plan, but it’s not clear that anyone—besides a few civic groups and a journalist or two—is really asking. The panel discussion that McCall introduced, held at the Harvard Club by the Drum Major Institute, described a dysfunctional discourse in New York about such important civic issues. Reforms achieved in Minnesota, thanks to pressure from groups including unions, seem elusive here.

At the discussion, the most prolific journalistic defender of Atlantic Yards, Errol Louis of the Daily News, was chastised by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky for lacking a "principled response" to…