Big turnout for public hearing on
Faced with deciding the future of Downtown Brooklyn, the City Planning
Commission heard more than eight hours of often-passionate testimony on
Wednesday from both supporters and opponents of the city’s urban
Alternating between traffic and parking concerns, worry that corporations
will continue to flea the city if office space is not created downtown,
concern over the likely condemnation of seven acres of private property,
and the need to preserve historic structures, the testimony stretched
from 10 am into the early evening.
The City Planning Commission, which moved its monthly meeting from its
Lower Manhattan headquarters to an auditorium at the New York College
of Technology to accommodate the flood of concerned residents, merchants
and officials, was shy one member, Richard Eaddy, who recused himself
from deliberations over the plan.
Asked why the commissioner recused himself, City Planning spokeswoman
Rachaele Raynoff issued a statement saying: “A commissioner may recuse
himself if there could be a potential conflict without publicly disclosing
the reason, as Commissioner Eaddy did.”
But how the testimony registered with the panel won’t be known until
May 10 when the commission is due to make its recommendation on the 22
independent actions — including the possible condemnation of 130
residential units and 100 businesses — contained in the massive Uniform
Land Use Review Procedure application for the Downtown Brooklyn Plan.
“We believe that Downtown Brooklyn is a gold mine, but this plan
treats it like tin — that just doesn’t make sense,” said
Jo Anne Simon, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Coalition, which has
pulled together several neighborhood associations for critical analysis
of the plan.
Most Brooklyn officials, including City Council members Letitia James
and David Yassky, say they support the plan, in principal, but have concerns
about particular aspects of it. Speaking to reporters outside the college
Wednesday and to the commissioners inside, James recommended that the
southernmost plot of land in the plan area, one that dovetails with developer
Bruce Ratner’s planned Atlantic Yards arena-and-office-tower development,
be removed from the Downtown Plan application.
That plot, at Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, would house the dominant
structure in Ratner’s Frank Gehry-designed plan for a professional
basketball arena and 13 residential and commercial towers stretching east
into Prospect Heights.
“Council members, the borough president and community members are
on the same page, but there are still parking and traffic changes that
need to be looked at, and at businesses in the area, as far as the impact
this will have on them,” James said of the Downtown Plan.
If approved by the City Planning Commission, the plan would next be voted
on by the City Council. James said that she and Yassky have already begun
meeting with the council’s Brooklyn delegation to discuss the massive
The plan would pave the way for 6.7 million square feet of office space,
1 million square feet of retail, 1,000 units of housing and 2,400 new
It would also create 8,000 temporary construction jobs and 18,000 permanent
jobs, said Josh Sirefman, president of the Economic Development Corporation,
the plan’s sponsor.
Carolyn Konheim, a traffic analyst and chairwoman of the private Community
Consulting Services firm, submitted testimony in which she charged that
a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement released this month was
insufficient in gauging the effect both the Downtown Plan and the Ratner
plan would have on traffic and parking in the area.
More than 17,000 extra cars, 95,000 additional subway riders and 21,000
more bus riders are expected to be drawn to the area, according to the
original impact statement.
Konheim also testified that Brooklyn-bound subway ridership would grow
25 percent by 2012, but that information, she said, was ignored in the
revised impact statement.
“These developers are living in an hermetically sealed room that
doesn’t have real life in it, real people, so that they design these
projects that are from outer space,” said Patti Hagan, president
of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition, an anti-arena plan neighborhood
group. “They should be designing from their observations from urban
life. There is no place for Brooklyn in their plan.”
Community Board 2, which had first crack at the plan, in February, failed
to make a recommendation because many of its members were confused by
its complexities and the way voting on the plan was set up by the board’s
Borough President Marty Markowitz approved the Downtown Plan earlier this
month with recommendations, including that some of the businesses threatened
with condemnation should be spared.
“The city has already acted on some of Marty’s recommendations,”
Sharon Toomer, a spokeswoman for Markowitz. “For instance, they’ve
moved up funding for traffic-calming projects in the Downtown Brooklyn
area. Marty’s recommendations were concrete.”
Among the properties Markowitz asked to be spared is the Institute of
Design and Construction, a 57-year-old college that 25 years ago narrowly
escaped another case of eminent domain when Ratner developed the Metrotech
office complex downtown.
“First there was Metrotech, then the Downtown Brooklyn Plan and now
the arena project,” said Vincent Battista, president of the school.
“Each follows the same deceptive pattern of deceiving the community
with respect to jobs, job training, housing, improved infrastructure and
fair compensation to those who stand to lose their businesses or homes
through the arrogant misuse of the power of eminent domain.”
On several occasions during Wednesday’s hearing the commissioners’
questions were well received by audience members for their critical nature.
One of the commissioners, Irwin Cantor, drew cheers when he asked Michael
Burke, director of the Downtown Brooklyn Council, whether he considered
the plan inevitable.
“Did you ever stop to think that total acceptance of your plan is
not necessarily the right thing?” he asked to rousing applause.
“They were patient, I thought that was very good of them, and I think
they were fair,” said Battista.
©2004 Community News Group