Community groups will soon file a lawsuit challenging the state’s approval of a modified plan for the Atlantic Yards project, arguing that the Empire State Development Corporation accepted skewed data and failed to meaningfully engage the public during its review of the controversial plan, this paper has learned.
The lawsuit, which has not yet been filed, will argue that Forest City Ratner’s revised project was approved in September without appropriate documentation and data, specifically an alleged under-reporting of traffic impacts. A supplemental environmental impact statement will therefore be warranted, as the project has fundamentally changed in scope, according to Gib Veconi, a member of the Prospect Heights Development Council, one of the plaintiffs in the suit.
Last week Veconi successfully urged the Park Slope Civic Council to agree to be co-plaintiffs on the suit, which is being organized by the umbrella group Brooklyn Speaks. The Manhattan-based Urban Environmental Law Center is expected to represent the plaintiffs.
PSCC President Ken Freeman said his group has been trying to work with the developer to improve the existing project, rather than kill it. “It is with a heavy heart that we are forced to admit that nearly three years later, all our efforts have been in vain. The project has changed significantly for the worse in that time, and our efforts have yielded no concessions.”
Developer Forest City Ratner has said the hope is to have the entire project, which includes a basketball arena and 16 office and residential towers, complete in 10 years, but has conceded it could take as long as a quarter century to finish the job. In the modified general project plan approved in September, the ESDC gave its blessing toRatner’s acquisition of the eight-acre site above the railyards at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, while the remaining 14 acres — where the majority of the below market rate housing and open space was envisioned — would be built eventually.
“The strong likelihood at this point is that an arena will be built, the surrounding area will be condemned and razed into parking lots, and most low income housing on the site is decades away,” Freeman continued. “The PSCC has decided to sue to draw attention to the fact that even reasonable organizations who tried to work with the developer and the ESDC have been shut out and rejected. Frankly, we have been left with no alternative but to have our day in court in an effort to force improvements to the project.”
Veconi said the participation of the Park Slope Civic and other groups like the Pratt Area Community Council and Boerum Hill Association sends a message “that purposeful opposition to the project is not limited to a tiny group of people,” he said an entire list of co-plaintiffs will be released soon.
“The ESDC has effectively approved one project but agreed to a different one. The approved project has an arena, 16 apartment buildings, eight acres of open space and 2,200 units of affordable housing. The project they agreed to has an arena, one building and a parking lot.”
ESDC downstate director of public affairs Elizabeth Mitchell said she couldn’t comment on pending litigation. She said the agency has held a series of public meetings that have engaged the public. “I want to be clear that we have great respect for the opinions of the community and have been willing participants in the process along with Forest City Ratner Companies,” she said.“I think that any large developmentproject of this kind will have its proponents and opponents, but we are mandated by the state to have an open public and legal process in which to bring beneficial development to the state, and we believe Atlantic Yards, like any complex project, reflects the state’s best interest.”
Assemblymember James Brennan disagreed. “The state government overrode New York City land use law so the City Council couldn’t vote on the project,” he told the civic council at its Oct. 1 meeting. “We have basically been met with a stone wall.” He said the leadership of the state legislature is just as culpable, essentially walking “lockstep” with Ratner. At press time, the developer had no comment about the prospective suit.