Ratner vows he’ll relocate tenants displaced by Nets

The Brooklyn Paper
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Officials with Forest City Ratner, the company that plans to build a basketball arena surrounded by office towers and a housing complex in Prospect Heights, say they will relocate any apartment renters the plan displaces.

But neither a company vice president nor a spokesperson would offer details of how the company might achieve that goal.

Speaking at a meeting with 200 concerned citizens June 3, James Stuckey, vice president of real estate developer Bruce Ratner’s company, said renters displaced by the construction of Atlantic Yards would have first priority in selecting housing in the new residential towers.

“We feel it is important to get the apartment buildings done first to bring those people back so they won’t be displaced,” he said at the meeting hosted by the neighborhood group BUILD, which has been working to get a community benefits agreement from Ratner.

Stuckey did not say when construction of the residential towers would begin in relation to the overall project, which first seeks to build a 620-foot, Frank Gehry-designed office tower and a basketball arena at roughly the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues. He also did not say how long apartment dwellers would be left without apartments waiting for the new ones to be completed.

Many residents in attendance felt that Forest City Ratner’s plans, and Stuckey’s presentation, were at best vague. “They literally answer each question, but they couldn’t or wouldn’t be specific,” said Erica Skitich, who lives on Atlantic Avenue, directly across from the proposed site. “You can make anything sound better with generaliti­es.”

Beth Davidson, a spokeswoman for Forest City Ratner told The Brooklyn Papers that the company hopes to begin construction next year. In the meantime, she said, the company plans to work with renters to find them comparable housing in the neighborhood.
“Our goal is to make the impact on residents as low as possible,” said Davidson.

Prospect Heights Councilwoman Letitia James, an ardent opponent of the arena plan, remained skeptical after the meeting. “The housing is not a priority for them, the arena is,” said James. “If the arena goes forward the housing should go forward on the same track.”

At the meeting, Stuckey also implied that property owners, who face the threat of state condemnation of their property under the plan, would be taken care of. “We don’t want to displace anyone,” he said. “We have come up with plans to either carve out the area or purchase buildings.”

He did not comment on whether or not the company would still seek eminent domain takings of property.

Already several homeowners have sought out compensation for the their property, Stuckey said, referring to deals being worked out with condominium owners at 24 Atlantic Ave. and 475 Dean St.

“Forest City Ratner is doing everything to minimize the need for condemnati­on,” said Davidson, later remarking that the architects have already gone through three dozen new schemes for the site. One of their aims, she said, is to prevent the displacement of residents.

The $2.5 billion Atlantic Yards project would build 2.4 million square feet of new office and retail space, approximately 4,500 units of housing and an arena to house Ratner’s New Jersey Nets, whose purchase is nearing completion.

Stuckey also announced that Forest City Ratner is working with ommunity groups to establish a community benefits agreement that would guarantee jobs for the local workforce, retail and office space for community business owners and construction contracts for minority and women contractors.

“In the past, we have done all the things we accomplished without a community benefits agreement,” said Stuckey. “We live and work in the community and they take our word. But we agree it is important.”

Marie Louis, first vice president of BUILD, said the two sides are closest on an agreement over affordable housing. She called that portion of the community benefits agreement “historic” because it might provide for 50 percent of the housing built to be based on the median income level of the community.

“What is important about the housing piece is that the median income is based on the income of this area,” she said. “Those are two key revolutionary pieces of the housing agreement.”

Ratner has pledged to provide 20 percent low-income and 30 percent “moderate income” housing.

James insisted that if such an agreement were established, it would have to include what she called a “laundry list of issues” such as more affordable housing, franchise agreements for minority- and women-run businesses and an investment into public schools, parks and law enforcement.

“We are not there yet because it’s too early. They still have some hurdles to overcome,” the councilwoman said. “The devil is in the details and they are not giving us details.”

Daniel Goldstein, a member of the anti-arena group Develop Don’t Destroy-Brooklyn, questioned Forest City Ratner’s timing of the meeting, saying, “If they were really committed to the community, then why didn’t they have this meeting six months ago?”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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