Tish: Scrap skyscraper site from Downtown Plan

The Brooklyn Paper
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City Councilwoman Letitia James is calling on the city to remove from its massive rezoning plan for Downtown Brooklyn a small plot of land that is also a key element in developer Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards arena and office tower plan.

The site, on the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, is the only parcel of land included in both plans, and it is where Ratner would build the tallest of his Frank Gehry-designed office skyscrapers. That has raised the ire of James, other elected officials and opponents of the arena plan who believe that the two plans should either be looked at as one or as completely separate.

James made her statements at Wednesday’s public hearing on the Downtown Brooklyn Plan before the City Planning Commission.

“It should be completely stricken from the record,” James said at the March 24 hearing at the New York City College of Technology.

The item in question, No. 19 in the massive Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) application for the Downtown Plan, is a submission by the Department of Housing and Preservation and Development that seeks to “facilitate residential development on Site 6A and development of a public library and other community facility use with below-grade parking on Site 20.”

James said she only wants mention of site 6A, a triangular plot on the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, to be stricken. She said she supports development of the public arts library and what was announced this week as a $22 million, 299-seat, Frank Gehry-designed theater, both of which would be built near Ashland Place and Lafayette Avenue.

She had originally called for both the Altlantic Yards and the Downtown plans to be considered as one, citing that both developments would affect traffic downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods. The Department of City Planning issued an amended environmental impact statement this month, which studied the traffic impacts of the Downtown Plan assuming the building of Ratner’s arena and office and residential tower complex but it came too late for review by the community board and borough president.

The first-term councilwoman, who represents Fort Greene and Prospect Heights, said she supports most of the Downtown Plan, but has criticized portions of it that would condemn seven acres of land, including 130 residential units and 100 businesses.

In contrast, she has vocally opposed the Ratner Atlantic Yards plan, which would span 28 acres and include a 17,000-seat basketball arena, and 13 commercial and residential towers. A key element of that plan is also the condemnation of property by the state.

“The Williamsburgh Savings Bank, to me, is the edge of Downtown Brooklyn, that’s where those towers should end, and where the downtown residential community begins,” said James. “That’s why I oppose the [Atlantic Yards] plan entirely. It would overwhelm the residents here.”

Asked about the councilwoman’s suggestion to sever all links between the two plans, Greg Atkins, chief of staff for Borough President Marty Markowitz, said his boss does not support such a recommendation.

“I understand the councilwoman’s concerns to split the two plans up,” said Atkins, who gave testimony at the public hearing. “But since the ULURP was really meant for the public library and the arena project was going to be done for a state agency, the two projects are essentially separated and unrelated.”

But Downtown and Brooklyn Heights Councilman David Yassky, who also spoke at the public hearing, told The Brooklyn Papers on Friday that he supports evaluating the plans separately.

“My position is that the Downtown Brooklyn Development Plan should be, and is, absolutely separate from the arena plan,” said Yassky. “Anything that’s in the Downtown Brooklyn land use action that relates to the arena development should be taken out and kept separate because they’re two very different proposals and need to be evaluated separately.”

Updated 2:30 am, October 2, 2013
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