Pratt study cites ‘concern’ over Ratner’s arena plan

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A Pratt Institute study released this week revealed that 81.4 percent of polled residents in the Prospect Heights neighborhood were either “very concerned” or “concerned” about developer Bruce Ratner’s proposed Atlantic Yards project.

The study highlighted “very specific things that can be addressed by development,” according to one of the researchers.

“The neighborhood is not well represented in the process; that is an indicator to us that there are going to be some problems getting this through the community,” said Gibb Veconi, founder of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, an umbrella group for a handful of area neighborhood committees that enlisted the help of researchers from the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development (PICCED) to fund and complete the study.

“It’s hard to understand because people in the affected area are largely in support of development, and of the benefits being offered,” he said. But the neighbors appeared concerned that such issues as public education, street conditions, and security from crime, were not addressed by Ratner’s plan.

Ratner’s plan includes 17 high-rise buildings, a 19,000-seat basketball arena for his New Jersey Nets and soaring office towers as tall as 620 feet on 24 acres of public and private property emanating from the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues.

The survey, which polled 400 of the neighborhood’s 20,000 residents, did not focus on questions about the arena (which itself could hold the current population of Prospect Heights) but rather quality of life and other concerns, although it does address the arena plan significantly.

On Wednesday, the PICCED study was released to an audience of more than 100 residents who gathered at PS 9 on Underhill Avenue. A copy had not yet been made available to Forest City Ratner.

The school auditorium was filled with rapt listeners as Veconi introduced PICCED Director Brad Lander. A timeline of the Atlantic Yards plan’s history was read by Roz Parr, a member of the Prospect Heights Association.

Lander told an audience member that the demographic group covered in the study was a close representation of the community itself, which is made up of 51 percent black, 28 percent white, 14 percent Hispanic and 4 percent Asian residents, according to the 2000 Census that was cited in the study.

Lander added that he thought the various economic classes were represented “across the spectrum,” although the study showed 38 percent of the respondents earned more than $100,000 per year, and less than 12 percent earned less than $35,000, a drastic reversal of the average area income, which Bertha Lewis, director of ACORN NY identified as $28,000. The Corcoran Group estimates the area’s median income at $42,477.

Most respondents (224 of 412) completed the survey online, while the remainder were solicited to fill out the detailed, 26-question survey in busy areas of Prospect Heights, or received the study by mail.

About a quarter of the respondents had lived in the community for more than 10 years.

Major findings in the study showed, according to Veconi, that 74 percent of the respondents said they were concerned about taxpayer costs for the Atlantic Yards project, 73 percent were “very concerned” about the estimated impact of a 10-year construction plan (which has been projected by Forest City Ratner), and 63 percent said they were “very concerned” the development would be out of scale with the neighborhood.

Following the presentation by Lander and Veconi, state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery voiced opposition to the Ratner project, and encouraged the attendees to envision an alternative development on the site and to involve themselves in community organizing.

“The information contained in the survey we believe should be very relevant to any developer, and to any state agent who wants to develop in Prospect Heights,” said Montgomery.

Councilwoman Letitia James, who also represents Prospect Heights and has been the most vocal elected official opposing the arena plan, agreed, but said she would not advocate the project causing community divide.

“I see more and more a top-down review overlooking the people who will be most affected and impacted by this process,” James said. “However, I recognize that we need to stay together. It has divided this community by race, by economic status, by community board, by neighborhood, and I won’t put up with that.

Veconi disagreed.

“I don’t think it’s divided the community, but perhaps the developers have tried very hard to do that,” he said.

As people filed out of the meeting, Tyler Cohen, a member of the House of the Lord Church, in Boerum Hill, handed out flyers advertising a meeting this Wednesday.

“Rev. Daughtry under attack!” was italicized across either side of the flyer, which professed to tell “the truth about the $2.1 billion Atlantic Yard [sic] Development” and stated “clearly our community will reap enormous benefits from the agreement.”

The Rev. Herbert Daughtry, pastor of the House of the Lord Church, was brought into the negotiations for a community benefits agreement two weeks ago. He is one of several clergy who was invited, and the only one who accepted, to join in the negotiations.

Meanwhile Prospect Heights resident Marc Cohen said a lack of leadership would be the downfall of any attempt to fight the massive Ratner project.

“I just feel like the community’s not coming together. There’s too many independent constituents who are doing their own thing. Personally, I don’t even feel that there’s a strong leadership to confront the developer,” said the 15-year resident and father of three.

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