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Group has alternative to Ratner’s Atlantic Yards mega-development

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A coalition of community-based urban planners will unveil a new alternative to Bruce Ratner’s state-approved, already-under-construction Atlantic Yards mega-project on Monday, calling it the last best hope for sensible development on the controversial Prospect Heights site.

Planners behind the so-called “Unity” proposal say they were motivated to devise an alternative to Atlantic Yards by two concerns: that pending lawsuits — and the downturn in the real-estate market — make Ratner’s $4-billion project “not a done deal,” and that “there are better ways to build” on the site, said planner Marshall Brown, a former Fort Greene resident and architecture professor at the University of Cincinnati.

“Other supposedly ‘done deals’ — like the Jets stadium on the West Side and all the Columbus Circle projects before the Time-Warner Center — didn’t get built, so we need to be ready with an alternative,” Brown said. “Otherwise, we’ll be left with acres of empty land for decades.”

Brown said he and his fellow planners — former Planning Commissioner Ron Shiffman and Hunter College professor Tom Angotti — are mostly concerned that Ratner will only build the first phase of his project (the arena and several skyscrapers at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues) and then lose interest, run out of money, or give in to the declining market.

“But even if he builds the entire project, it’s going to take 20 years,” Brown said. “During that time, there will be many opportunities to influence what actually gets built. And we have a community-backed proposal ready to go.”

The “Unity” plan — which despite its common-ground-implying name, actually stands for “Understand­ing, Imagining and Transforming the Yards” — is the result of a series of public workshops and design sessions in April.

The resulting project would have 1,500 units — far fewer than Ratner’s 6,430 — with 60 percent reserved as “affordable,” far more than Ratner’s 35 percent.

And since the Unity plan would only be built on the Vanderbilt Yards, it would occupy just eight acres and require no condemnation. Ratner’s project covers 22 acres and would have the state seize private property via eminent domain.

The tallest building in the Unity plan would be “just under 400” feet, said Brown — and it would be at the eastern end of the site. Ratner would put his tallest building, the 511-foot Miss Brooklyn tower, at the already-busy corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.

“Ours is a simple and effective strategy,” Brown said. “The Atlantic-Flatbush intersection is already very congested. But Vanderbilt and Atlantic is underdeveloped. Our idea would create more density there and relieve congestion at the Flatbush Avenue end of the site.”

Brown called that “the definition of transit-oriented development”: “You don’t need to put the tallest buildings right on top of the transit hub at this site because the entire site is near the transit hub.”

Forest City Ratner did not answer a request to comment on the Unity Plan. The Empire State Development Corporation, which is overseeing the project, also declined to comment.

‘Unity’ vs. Ratner

The latest incarnation of a community-based “Unity” Plan for the Atlantic Yards site will be publicly unveiled next week — but The Brooklyn Paper got a sneak peak at a draft. Here’s how it compares to Bruce Ratner’s proposal.

Unity plan

Footprint: Eight acres
Total housing units (percent “affordable”): 1,500 (60 percent)
Tallest building: Less than 400 feet
Amount of open space: 4.5 acres
Basketball arena? No arena.
Requires condemnation of private property? No.

Ratner plan

Footprint: 22 acres
Total housing units (percent “affordable”): 6,430 (35 percent)
Tallest building: 511 feet (“Miss Brooklyn”)
Amount of open space: Eight acres
Basketball arena? 18,000-seat arena.
Requires condemnation of private property? Yes.

The “Unity” Plan will be presented publicly on Monday, Sept. 24 at the Soapbox Gallery (636 Dean St., between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues), 6 pm.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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