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Many problems with Atlantic Yards

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The 73-day public comment period for Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project ended after we went to press last week — and the Sept. 29 deadline brought about a flurry of reports, analyses and submissions from project opponents and supporters.

Below are summaries of some key points of disagreement between opponents of Atlantic Yards and the Empire State Development Corporation, the state agency which is expected to approve the 16-tower, residential, arena, hotel and office space development.

We asked the ESDC to comment on the opponents’ specific objections, but the agency issued a general statement, saying it would “take into consideration all recommendations and comments received regarding the Atlantic Yards project.”

See editor’s note about last week’s coverage.

The project’s hidden costs

The state analysis of the Atlantic Yards project ignored hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs to taxpayers, including property-tax exemptions, sales tax exemptions, tax-exempt financing, publicly financed infrastructure improvements, taxpayer-furnished affordable-housing subsidies and mortgage recording tax exemptions for developer Bruce Ratner, according to an analysis commissioned by a coalition of Brooklyn neighborhood groups.

According to the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, the shortfall in the state’s draft environmental impact statement amounts to more than $600 million in unreported public costs.

And that’s not including $138 million to build new schools to handle the current “insufficient capacity” that’s acknowledged by the DEIS.

In addition, the analysis said the state didn’t even bother to put a price tag on “qualitative” impacts of the project, such as traffic, shadows and increased air pollution. The CBN said those costs would equal $76 million.

An analysis by Community Board 2 echoed the CBN finding, calling the state’s economic numbers for the project “insufficie­ntly proven.”

“The type of financial information necessary for public evaluation [of the state’s rosy economic scenario] is not included in the general project plan and DEIS,” the CB2 report read. — Ariella Cohen

Even the Beep sees flaws

Last week, Borough President Markowitz, a strong supporter of the project, said he was concerned that the project could displace existing residents of Prospect Heights.

“The draft environmental impact statement analysis of neighborhood income levels uses medians and averages and thus fails to accurately show the distributions on either side of middle,” the project’s biggest booster said.

Testimony submitted by South Brooklyn Legal Services, which is representing many soon-to-be-displaced tenants, questioned the project’s role in further gentrifying the surrounding area.

The group claimed that despite the 2,250 units of below-market-rate housing, the project would actually cause a 6-percent drop in the proportion of households earning between $29,069 and $35,450 and a 16-percent decrease in the proportion of households earning between $42,540 and $70,900. The proportion of households earning more than $113,440 would more than double. — Ariella Cohen

Bruce’s green acre

The big news last week was a city request that Bruce Ratner cut the size of three Atlantic Yards skyscrapers by 28-44 percent.

But lost in the shuffle was another demand by the City Planning Commission: that Ratner add one acre of open public space to the project, which currently includes seven acres of publicly accessible greenery.

Here’s one possible reason why few New Yorkers noticed the demand for an additional acre: Few New Yorkers know what an acre even is.

As any farmboy knows, an acre is 4,840 square yards. By comparison, a football field, a common measurement of area during the fall months, is 6,400 square yards.

A quick review of the Parks Department’s emerald empire reveals that even small playgrounds are more than a piddling little acre. For example, Clumber Corner, which is a mound of grass near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in DUMBO, is 1.46 acres; the tiny Bartel-Pritchard Square in Park Slope is 1.71 acres; Dean Playground in Prospect Heights is 1.3 acres; Carroll Park in Carroll Gardens is 1.87 acres; Russell Pederson Playground in Bay Ridge is 1.43 acres; and Dyker Heights Playground is 1.18 acres.

And Gotham Gazette recently pointed out that putting 15,000 residents into the Atlantic Yards project would actually reduce, per capita, the overall greenspace in the surrounding neighborhood — even with the Planning Commission’s gorgeous new acre.

Currently, there are .28 acres of public parkland per thousand people in the half-mile area around Atlantic Yards. If the project is built, that ratio drops to to .15 acres per thousand people.

So much for “land spreadin’ out so far and wide,” as Eddie Albert sang in the “Green Acres” theme song.

Keep Manhattan, just give us that countryside. — Gersh Kuntzman

Group: City said Coney was best

The state agency overseeing the Atlantic Yards project failed to consider alternative proposals — as required — and skewed the development process in favor of Forest City Ratner, a community group said last week.

Just before the close of the public-comment period last week, Jeff Baker — an attorney for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn — said the state’s draft environmental impact statement also “audaciously ignored” prior discussion of Coney Island as the city’s “preferred location” for an arena.

“Empire State Development Corporation … consciously mischaracterized the ability to locate the arena there,” Baker said.

His testimony also accused the ESDC of dismissing as flawed a development plan produced by Extell.

If Extell’s plan was flawed, Baker said, it was only because the state denied Extell information it needed to prepare its proposal until shortly before the proposals were due.

“[ESDC’s] analysis of the Extell plan… reflects the predisposition to assist FCR,” wrote Baker.

He claimed that FCR had sole access to MTA property and documents months before Extell had a chance to see them. — Christie Rizk

Little open space

Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project will result in less, not more, open space per person in a community already underserved by park and recreational land, several community groups said last week.

The area already suffers from “an extreme deficiency of open space in the study areas,” according to the state’s draft environmental impact statement.

But the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods argued that Atlantic Yards’ seven acres of open space — coupled with the projected 15,000 new residents — will actually be a net loss for the community.

“Open-space ratios per resident … will be decreased,” the CBN said in its report.

In addition, the CBN and others complained that the Atlantic Yards greenspace is configured as front lawns for Ratner’s buildings, not as parkland or recreation space — much like Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan.

“Public spaces in proximity to large residential buildings usually [don’t function as parkland],” the CBN wrote in its criticism of the DEIS, which was submitted to the Empire State Development Corporation last week.

Despite Ratner’s assurances that the public space would be open to all, the CBN argued that they will be imprisoned in a “superblock of buildings,” walled off from broader public use.

Community Board 2, which covers Fort Green, Clinton Hill, Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO, is also outraged at the lack of open space, calling the seven acres “essentially a large back-yard patio … fragmented, mostly hardscaped and physically laid-out as accessory spaces to the residential buildings.”

The board especially scoffed at the notion that a one-quarter-acre plot of land in the center of the project has been dubbed the “main lawn.”

“That [it’s] called the ‘main lawn’ borders on absurdity,” the board said. — Christie Rizk

By numbers

The public comment period on the Atlantic Yards project ended last week and the Empire State Development Corporation is sifting through thousands of pages of submissions from the public. Here’s how it all went down:

• 1 — Number of “public hearings”

• 2 — Number of “community forums”

• 15 — Number of hours of the hearing and the forums combined

• 201 — Number of people who publicly testified

• 712 — Number of pages of transcript they generated

• 99 — Number of pro-project speakers

• 88 — Number of anti-project speakers

• 4 — Number of speakers described by state officials as “neutral or indecipher­able.”

Illustrations by Sylvan Migdal

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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