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September 3, 2006

Nothing is uncontested with development project in Brooklyn

AP, via NY Newsday
By Desmond O. Butler

This update on Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards plan begins with the curtain rising on the recent public hearing.

"Fair and balanced" coverage ping-pongs back and forth with quotes from project critic City Councilmember Letitia James, project manager Forest City Ratner Atlantic Yards Development Group President Jim Stuckey, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn spokesperson and footprint homeowner Daniel Goldstein and ACORN's Bertha Lewis.

Like most coverage, what the article doesn't mention is that much of the "vocal constituency squarely in support of the developer" is rallied by groups who have received financial support from the developer or stands to benefit financially from the project.


UPDATE: The article is no longer available on line. Full text after the jump.

Nothing is uncontested with development project in Brooklyn By DESMOND O. BUTLER Associated Press Writer

September 3, 2006, 2:28 PM EDT

NEW YORK -- The tension over a project that would reshape Brooklyn with an NBA arena, office towers and thousands of apartments was quite evident at a recent hearing on the project.

A state senator stood up and endorsed the project, but was shouted down by a woman in the audience who opposes the plan. The woman was immediately engulfed in boos and jeers by an audience that included construction workers, affordable housing advocates and teenagers dressed in NBA jerseys. It was just one of many heated encounters in a hearing that dragged on for seven hours.

<A TARGET="top" HREF="http://ad.doubleclick.net/click%3Bh=v8/3467/3/0/%2a/h%3B45701811%3B0-0%3B0%3B12927808%3B4307-300/250%3B18127454/18145349/1%3B%3B%7Esscs%3D%3fhttp://www.newsday.com/other/special/ny-artinstructionform,0,3995880.customform"><IMG SRC="http://m1.2mdn.net/1242042/spacer.gif" BORDER=0></A> &lt;A TARGET="top" HREF="http://ad.doubleclick.net/click%3Bh=v7/3455/3/0/%2a/t%3B45835968%3B0-0%3B0%3B12927808%3B4307-300/250%3B18145241/18163136/1%3B%3B%7Esscs%3D%3fhttp://www.newsday.com/other/special/ny-kingqualsplash2,0,4815447.htmlstory"&gt;&lt;IMG SRC="http://m1.2mdn.net/1225116/kingQualcube.jpg" BORDER=0&gt;&lt;/A&gt; Supporters say the hearing illustrated the breadth of an extraordinary local coalition in favor of the plan _ a group that believes the poor and middle class will benefit through jobs and affordable housing promised by the developer.

But for opponents, the hearing _ along with the boos against the opponent _ was indicative of what they believe is a cozy, stage-managed public review process.

"The fix was in from the start," says City Council Member, Letitia James, one of the few New York public officials opposed to the project.

The $4.2 billion Atlantic Yards project, to be built over a rail yard, was designed by star architect Frank Gehry. It includes an 18,000-seat stadium, 606,000 square feet of office space, 6,860 units of housing, retail space and a hotel in 16 towers ranging from 19 to 58 stories. The arena would become the home to the New Jersey Nets, owned by the developer, bringing a major professional sports team back to Brooklyn for the first time since the Brooklyn Dodgers left in 1957.

The developer, Bruce Ratner, believes the project will breathe life into a void etched by the large rail yards. He has agreed to make substantial environmental improvements to the neighborhood _ recently declared blighted by the state _ and turn seven acres of the project into publicly accessible space groomed by an award-winning landscape architect.

"This project guarantees the growth of Brooklyn for the future," said Jim Stuckey, executive vice president of Forest City Ratner.

Opponents say the biggest blight is on the horizon.

"Atlantic Yards is inconsistent with the character of the community," says James, whose constituents include some people living in the proposed footprints of the project. "It's out of scale."

At the moment, two of the proposed towers would rival the nearby 34-story Williamsburgh Savings Bank, which at 512 feet has loomed in near isolation as the tallest building in Brooklyn since it was built in 1929. A tower dubbed "Miss Brooklyn" by Gehry will reach 620 feet in current plans.

The scale and striking design, with undulating, glass towers of varying size and angles, would transform the image of predominantly low-rise and brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods. Opponents say it will create a traffic nightmare.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of the opposition has emerged from neighborhoods both bordering on the project _ and if it proceeds, underneath it.

One vocal opponent has been Daniel Goldstein, the sole remaining condo-owner in a building within the plan's footprint.

Forest City has been buying up land and buildings with offers above market rate. It says it now owns or controls 93 percent of the condos and co-ops in the footprint _ all but five units _ and the majority of the rest of the real estate.

In early 2004, Goldstein and other owners helped start Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, an organization he says has grown to include 21 community groups, more than 2,000 donors and 700 volunteers. Members, including a handful of celebrities, have dissected the developer's plans, proposed alternatives, published copious critiques in print and blogs, protested loudly against eminent domain seizures and threatened litigation.

"We want to see development over the rail yards that is in a reasonable scale for the existing community and we are against using eminent domain for a project like this," says Goldstein.

He suggests the basketball arena be built elsewhere, perhaps Coney Island.

But supporters of the project think the opposition is distinctly local and fueled by transplanted Manhattanites. Developers have the backing of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki and the vast majority of the City Council, state Assembly and Senate.

They also have a key partner in ACORN _ the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now _ a national advocate for low- and middle-income urban families that focuses on issues like lowering crime, improving schools and affordable housing.

ACORN _ not an obvious bedfellow for the developer _ saw an opportunity in the project, said Bertha Lewis, executive director of ACORN New York. The group agreed to support the plan _ with the weight of its 40,000 active members in New York _ in exchange for a community benefits agreement that includes integrating affordable housing into Atlantic Yards.

Under the deal, 50 percent of the 4,500 rental apartments proposed would go to people within five income brackets starting at $21,270 per family of four and capping out at $113,440. Those apartments would be integrated so that low-income families and market-rate renters would live side by side.

"The elevator has to work for everyone," Lewis says. She says that if the deal can set a template for other developments, it might mitigate the plight of poor people, who have watched Brooklyn improve only to be priced out.

"This deal is a benefit not only to our members but in the neighborhood in general, for the folks who have lived here in Brooklyn for 20, 30 years," she says.

The deal brought a big, vocal constituency squarely in support of the developer. As evidenced by the hearing and packed informational meetings on the affordable housing units, ACORN has convinced a lot of people that jobs and affordable housing offset the downside raised in the environmental impact study, including traffic and the use of eminent domain to seize property.

The project awaits the end of a 60-day comment period on the environmental review before a state agency overseeing the project could approve and send it for final consideration to the Public Authorities Control Board, controlled by the governor.

Even with swift approval, the fight over Atlantic Yards is likely to spill into the courts.

But Forest City believes the Brooklyn Nets will be playing basketball in the new arena by 2009.

Posted by lumi at September 3, 2006 7:16 PM