CB2 clarifies role in Ratner arena fight

The Brooklyn Paper
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In response to pressure from community members, politicians and the press, community boards 2, 6 and 8 publicly announced their involvement in negotiations for a community benefits agreement with developer Bruce Ratner over his planned Atlantic Yards basketball arena, office tower and housing complex.

Those negotiations, held privately and without notification of the full community boards, have carried on for the past 10 weeks.

All three of the boards fall within or neighbor the area that will be directly affected by Ratner’s proposal, which in addition to creating a home for his recently purchased New Jersey Nets basketball team includes 17 high- rise buildings including a 4,500-unit housing complex, and three soaring office skyscrapers emanating from the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues and stretching into Prospect Heights. At Wednesday’s Community Board 2 meeting, board chairwoman Shirley McRae announced her involvement — first reported in The Brooklyn Papers — after handing itemized outlines of the topics being negotiated in the closed-door sessions exclusively to committee members who sit in advisory roles on the board.

“By now everyone knows that the community board members from boards 2, 6, and 8 have been meeting with other community members and Forest City Ratner,” said McRae at the monthly meeting held at the Alliance of Resident Theaters (ART/NY) at 138 South Oxford St. in Fort Greene.

The community room on the second floor of the old building was filled with residents, and several stood at the back of the room or sat on the floor. Those who had copies of the double-sided, one-page draft agreement outline inspected it carefully; those who did not get a copy looked on with someone else.

“There were some pointed accusations of the proposed task force for this CBA — in some of the local papers,” McRae said.

“This community board is bound by City Charter to work on the behalf of this community,” she said, and read directly from the charter.

“I’m trying not to be emotional, because I’m hearing some stuff about the committee who are supposedly sitting around this board, and it’s hard not to get upset,” McRae said.

“It was not our plan all along to bring this to our constituents except when we had something that we could show,” said McRae.

One longstanding CB2 member, Ed Carter, expressed dismay that the issue had not been announced to the board earlier in the process, but said he was glad they finally did. “I want [the board] to bring something comprehensive to Mr. Ratner, and any of the developers from now on,” he said.

“We’re doing this so both community board members and non-community board people with have an opportunity to have input to this discussion,” McRae said, adding that after committee members reviewed it with their neighbors they would bring back ideas to be incorporated at the next monthly meeting, scheduled for Nov. 10.

Ratner officials have estimated a completion date for the community benefits agreement of Nov. 1. But while McRae pointed out some of the bulleted topics listed on the draft CBA outline, people asked around for any extra copies.

Among them was City Councilwoman Letitia James.

An ardent Atlantic Yards opponent who represents Prospect Heights, Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, James was one of the people left without the first publicly released draft of the community benefits agreement for the Atlantic Yards project.

James had to photocopy one of the Land Use committee member’s sheets in the downstairs offices of ART/NY.

The crude outline divided agreements into five categories: Housing, Job Development, Small Business Development, Community Facilities and Oversight. Among those, some were more detailed than others.

The housing section listed commitments by Ratner to provide approximately 2,000 affordable units, in banded tiers. “30 percent will be affordable” and “20 percent will be low income” detailed the descriptions. Senior housing was committed at 10 percent of the total units. “Affordable condos” was also listed, and a “community priority list,” to give local residents priority in the new housing based on their ZIP codes.

For jobs, the outline emphasized a project labor agreement negotiated with trade unions assuring that for every four journeymen hired a trainee position would also be hired, and priority for that hiring would be given based on ZIP code.

“Forest City Ratner agrees to ensure at least 35 percent minority and women on the project,” the draft reads.

Other bulleted items without detail were listed as ‘Job Training — Construction’ and ‘Job Training — Commercial Tenants.’

The most detailed part of the agreement was for “Small Business Development.” As part of a minority and women business enterprises initiative, contractors are committed to include 20 percent minority-owned and 10 percent women-owned businesses on the project, the document states.

The draft also commits to working with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and local merchant associations to “ensure that local businesses are given priority when it comes to providing services and goods to the project.”

The document further calls for Forest City Ratner to work with local lending institutions to develop financing packages for local small businesses and merchants to ensure they have “the financial capability to benefit from the project,” and states that there will be a program in place to encourage the hiring of minorities and women.

Craig Hammerman, district manager of Community Board 6, said that all community board members in his district received copies of the CBA drafts at their monthly meeting held at St. Peter/St. Paul Church at 190 Court St., also on Wednesday.

“We asked our board members to review the outline and get back to us with their comments by the end of the month,” he said.

He emphasized that the board chairs’ negotiations with Ratner did not conflict with a statement released last month by all three community boards urging Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to require the project be reviewed under the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), rather than the less-stringent state review process.

“If there’s a process going on, the community board should play an advisory role, or the process will continue and we will have lost any opportunity to weigh in,” Hammerman said.

He added that the ULURP requests had gone unanswered by both the mayor and governor.

James, who said she had wanted to stay at the CB2 meeting for the open comment portion finally left after waiting for two hours.

“Where’s the ULURP? Where is the term legally binding? Where is the monitoring mechanism?” she asked rhetorically referring to the draft CBA.

Gesturing to the outline in her hand, she said, “all of the language in here is not acceptable to me. This draft of the CBA is nothing more than a draft, and again, I recite my position that this project is not a done deal.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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