Pols and Activists Blast Atlantic Yards Project
July 30th, 2009
Opponents of the Atlantic Yards development plan in Brooklyn blasted it as a “sham project” and a “billion-dollar boondoggle” outside an Empire State Development Corporation public hearing on the project yesterday.
Chanting “hey hey, ho ho, Atlantic Yards has got to go,” and holding signs that read “Stop Atlantic Yards,” activists, elected officials and politicians forcefully called for a halt to Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards plan. Ratner, the chief executive for real-estate development company Forest City Ratner, is the current owner of the New Jersey Nets, a basketball team.
The 22-acre development plan calls for an arena for the Nets, as well as skyscrapers, offices and apartment buildings. In the works for six years, a crippled economy, lawsuits and community opposition have delayed the project considerably.
The plan is predicted to cost $4 billion, with $2 billion coming from taxpayers, according to a New York Post analysis.
Ratner’s “secret taxpayer funded back room deal, reliant on an abuse of eminent domain, out of scale development, and massive taxpayer subsidies, is aided and abetted by Gov. [David] Paterson and his puppets on” the Empire State Development Corporation, said Daniel Goldstein, spokesman for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the main group fighting the project.
The subject of the hearing yesterday was a “modified project plan” concerning “the plan to pursue eminent domain in two stages rather than one and Forest City Ratner’s revised deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for the Vanderbilt Yard,” according to Norman Oder, a blogger at Atlantic Yards Report.
Supporters of Atlantic Yards said that the development would bring jobs and affordable housing to Brooklyn. As the Daily News reported, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz testified at the hearing in support of Atlantic Yards.
“I still believe this is a project that will benefit Brooklyn for years to come. I believe those opposing it today will come to support it,” he said. “This is the right project in the right place and finally at the right time.
Critics of the massive development plan said that the public hearing was a farce because of the absence of a site plan, a cost-benefit analysis, an affordable housing plan and a police department security review.
As part of the deal, Forest City Ratner has pledged to include over 2,000 units of subsidized housing. But, according to Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, only 12 percent of the housing planned would be affordable to people making below $32,000, the median income in Brooklyn.
“It’s time to put the proposed Atlantic Yards project out of its misery. The end is near. It’s time to engage in smart and strategic development,” said Councilmember Letitia James, who represents the area where Atlantic Yards is planned to go. After reciting a litany of the city’s crises — “rising unemployment, overcrowded schools” and more — James asked, “with all of these issues, with all of these concerns, can someone please tell me why we are still considering the public financing of an arena for a private company?”
James has been a stalwart opponent of the development plan, and is now seeking re-election in her district against challengers who support Atlantic Yards.
A block away, construction workers and other supporters of the plan insisted that the plan would bring union jobs to Brooklyn. In apparent reference to James, Anthony Williamson, an auditor with the Local 79 construction workers’ union, said, “She’s got the nerve to stand up there and be against development. Something’s wrong with them.”
A press conference was held later in the afternoon with supporters of the development plan.
One of the most controversial aspects of the mega-development has been New York State’s use of eminent domain to acquire properties from owners who refused to sell.
“This project never should have been approved to begin with, and today, especially, it should be rejected right away because of the economic situation,” said Norman Siegel, long-time civil rights lawyer and current candidate for public advocate.
Siegel said that constitutionally, eminent domain could only be used for “public use,” and added that, “this project is classic developer driven… Hopefully, our New York State Court of Appeals will focus in on that at the end of October, and say constitutionally, Atlantic Yards is unconstitutional.”
Atlantic Yards critics have already been defeated several times by lower courts. In one case, the court dismissed a charge that officials did not conduct a proper environmental review. In another, they challenged the use of eminent domain in the project.By Alex Kane on July 30, 2009, 11:13 am
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