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The Brooklyn Paper

As Brooklyn residents and elected and appointed officials digest the news that developer Bruce Ratner wants to build a colossal, $2.5 billion residential and commercial complex at Atlantic Terminal that would house his newly acquired New Jersey Nets, a far less publicized major rezoning plan that would pack Downtown Brooklyn with sweeping skyscrapers is rolling full steam ahead.

And facing the two largest development projects in the borough’s history, some Brooklynites are fuming that the two projects are not being considered jointly.

The Downtown Plan, a major push by the city and state to retain back-office space in New York City, and keep corporations from fleeing to New Jersey and abroad, would make way for at least 6.7 million square feet of office space and almost 1 million square feet of retail space as well as some residential development.

But while that plan courses through the rigorous city land use review process, the neighboring Frank Gehry-designed Atlantic Yards project — Ratner’s colossal, $2.5 billion residential and commercial buildup centered around a 19,000-seat arena to house the Nets — will likely skirt city review.

“You can’t look at each of these projects in an isolated manner, we need to look at all of this as one development, they are intrinsically connected,” said Councilwoman Letitia James, an outspoken opponent of the arena complex whose district includes portions of both plans.

Together the two plans could add an additional 14 million square feet of development in the greater Downtown Brooklyn area and would require the taking of approximately 15 acres of private land by eminent domain, a power of the state to claim property that is either deemed blighted or is slated for projects deemed to be for the public good.

For months, the city has refused to field questions about Ratner’s Atlantic Yards at public meetings relating to the Downtown Plan, a move that has outraged a number of residents and community board members.

“It’s the big elephant that nobody will talk about,” said Patti Hagan, a member of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition, an anti-arena neighborhood group that planned to pack a scheduled meeting of Community Board 2 last Wednesday at which the board was set to vote on the Downtown Plan with hundreds of detractors.

Those protests were aborted when the meeting, scheduled on Wednesday, were postponed due to the snowstorm.

The vote has been rescheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 3, at 6 pm, in the auditorium of Brooklyn Technical High School, at DeKalb Avenue and Fort Greene Place. Hagan said her group would be there in force.

Just days after Ratner announced his $300 million purchase of the Nets, on Friday, Jan. 23, the Department of City Planning reversed itself and agreed to a supplemental scoping session for the arena plan’s environmental impact study, taking into consideration the nearly 8 million-square-foot build-out of the Atlantic Yards with regards to the Downtown Plan.

That session will be held on Monday, Feb. 23, at Brooklyn Borough Hall, at 6 pm. The meeting will come after the community board has released its decision on the Downtown Plan as required by the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) timeframe.

Brian Ketcham, an engineer with Community Consulting Services, a non-profit organization that studies traffic and transportation impacts, called City Planning’s public meeting too little, too late.

“It’s a huge disappointment,” said Ketcham. “We think they should stop the [ULURP] process and go back to the drawing board and do a full-scale traffic analysis.”

Ketcham, who has gone head to head with the city over traffic concerns related to the Downtown Plan for months, wants city planners to look at all of the development planned for Downtown Brooklyn and the surrounding neighborhoods.

According to Ketcham, the Downtown rezoning alone will bring an additional 17,000 cars and 95,000 subway riders each day.

The Downtown Plan and Atlantic Yards are just one part of the massive developments that will form “the new Brooklyn,” a phrase Ratner has used to describe the mega-construction going on in his adopted borough.

Factor in all of the development planned to rise in the surrounding neighborhoods and you are looking at 115,000 cars and 430,000 subway riders each day, Ketcham said.

• • •

The “new Brooklyn” would include:

•Atlantic Terminal — Ratner’s 770,000-square-foot office tower and mall atop the Atlantic Avenue subway station. Target, Outback Steak House and Chuck E. Cheese are scheduled to open in the mall, which is tentatively scheduled for completion in May. Office space would be anchored by the Bank of New York.

•Brooklyn Bridge Park — a 1.5-mile commercial and recreational development along the waterfront from Pier 6 at Atlantic Avenue to just past the Manhattan Bridge that would include a hotel.

•BAM Cultural District – a 14-block mixed-use cultural district in Fort Greene, including housing, retail and artist space.

•Fairway — a massive supermarket being built in a 19th-century warehouse at the end of Van Brunt Street in Red Hook.

•Empire Stores Shopping Mall —modeled on Chelsea Market, a 400,000-square-foot shopping complex abutting Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park in DUMBO, to open in 2007.

•Park Slope Rezoning — the up-zoning of Fourth Avenue to allow for 12-story buildings between Warren and 15th streets.

•Lowe’s — a big-box home improvement center being built by Ratner on the former U.S. Postal Service site in Gowanus at 12th Street and Second Avenue.

•Whole Foods — a 42,000-square-foot organic foods supermarket to be built on Third Avenue at Third Street with up to 220 parking spaces. It would open in 2005.

•85 Jay St.— four-tower Watchtower Society residential complex in DUMBO on one of the largest undeveloped plots of land in the city.

•Ikea — proposed Swedish furnishings giant store planned for the end of Columbia Street at the old New York Shipyards site in Red Hook.

•Pier 7 — just south of Atlantic Avenue, the city is negotiating with Carnival Cruise Lines to turn it into a cruise ship dock.

•Piers 8-12 — the city and Port Authority are studying future use of the Carroll Gardens and Red Hook piers that could bring residential and commercial development.

• • •

“We should be thrilled in so many ways that development is coming to Brooklyn,” said Borough President Marty Markowitz, a vocal proponent of Ratner’s acquisition of the Nets and of Atlantic Yards, the Downtown Plan and future growth in the borough.

“In Brooklyn, we wear everything on our sleeves, and I’m no different,” said Markowitz, adding, “I believe the arena is the most exciting opportunity we’ve had in decades. The arena will become the center of family life in Brooklyn. At the same time, it will preserve the quality of life of the neighborhoods that abut it.”

Markowitz has for three years been pushing to get Brooklyn a professional sports team.

But Tom Angotti, of Windsor Terrace, a professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College, has his doubts.

“The Atlantic Yards plan by itself is a major undertaking. If you add to that the BAM expansion, the downtown expansion, the development around Fulton Mall, you’re talking about some substantial change,” said Angotti, who worked in the Brooklyn office of City Planning in the early ’90s.

“They haven’t addressed the question of what the impact will be on existing housing surrounding neighborhoods,” said Agnotti. “It undoubtedly will jack up rents and could very well force out more people than the new housing accommodates.”

• • •

As part of the arena plan, Ratner plans to construct 4,500 units of housing, although he has not delineated how much of that would be affordable housing. The downtown plan makes way for 1,000 units of housing.

At the same time, both plans require taking private land for private development.

The Downtown Plan would seize seven acres of privately owned land and would displace 100 units of housing and 130 commercial units, according to City Planning.

For the past month and a half, Community Board 2 — which received the 700-plus page application just before the December holiday season — had to hold committee hearings, host a public hearing and vote. Board members have been asking the city to slow down the review process so they can adequately consider the more than 20 independent actions included in the plan.

But under the City Charter, the board has just 60 days to vote on the plan before it goes on to the borough president, City Planning Commission, City Council and then on to the mayor.

While the supplemental Atlantic Yards information will be made available in several months, both the community board and borough president will have to vote on the Downtown Plan without it.

“The board has to vote on the Downtown Brooklyn Plan handicapped or not,” said CB2 District Manager Robert Perris.

“The [ULURP ] clock is the same for one relatively simple application or a series of 22 interwoven applications. We have the same 60 days no mater what, maybe the ULURP clock needs to be revised,” said Perris

The Downtown Plan’s 22 actions include rezoning, and extensions of urban renewal areas that will allow the state to condemn property.

Responding to the loss of 21,000 city jobs to New Jersey in the 1990s, the Bloomberg administration along with the Downtown Brooklyn Council spent more than a year and a half creating the comprehensive plan, the details of which were announced last April.

The mayor has pledged to fund the $100 million in infrastructure improvements and construction over the next 10 years, with much of it coming in the first few years, but the project would still be largely dependent on market conditions and the ability to lure businesses and developers.

“People are afraid of change,” said Michael Burke, executive director of the Downtown Brooklyn Council, who says the plan will secure downtown’s place as the third largest commercial district in New York City after Midtown Manhattan and Wall Street.

“To protect residents and businesses we have to evaluate this new construction collectively, not individually,” said Evan Thies, a spokesman for Downtown Councilman David Yassky.

But the key question on the minds of most residents is traffic.

Said Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association and a CB2 Land Use committee member, “We’ll drown in cars.”

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