Today’s news:

Members: Ratner owns CBs

The Brooklyn Paper

Members of the community boards that encompass developer Bruce Ratner’s planned Atlantic Yards complex condemned their respective chairpersons Wednesday. They charged that, wittingly or not, the board chairs have allowed the developer to co-opt the boards without having reviewed his plans.

On the steps of City Hall Wednesday, members of the anti-Atlantic Yards group Develop-Don’t Destroy Brooklyn were joined by elected officials and members of Community Boards 2, 6 and 8 to condemn the process by which the board chairpersons have allowed Ratner representatives to present his plans for a basketball arena, office skyscrapers and apartment high-rises that would emanate from the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues.

Lou Sones, a member of CB6, recalled a recent land use committee meeting where Forest City Ratner Vice President James Stuckey was allowed to make a presentation about Atlantic yards that was “unannounced and unscheduled.”

Instead of having Stuckey take questions, said Sones, the co-chair of the committee tried to adjourn the meeting after Stuckey’s presentation.

“When the other co-chair moved to allow for discussion, Jerry Armer, the chairman of the board — who happens by the way to work for the Metrotech BID, which is a Forest City Ratner project — threatened publicly to take the other co-chair off the committee, fire him and kick him off the board,” Sones charged from the City Hall steps.

“At the board meeting two weeks ago when a representative for [Congressman] Major Owens wanted to make a statement that reflected [an anti-Atlantic Yards stance], she was not allowed to make the statement by Jerry Armer,” said Sones. “However, David Yassky [a supporter of the arena plan] was allowed to talk for 10 minutes about the Ratner project.

“There is dirt in the milk,” said Sones. “It’s one-sided, it’s unfair.”

Asked to comment on the charges leveled against him outside City Hall, Armer said, “I can’t say anything about that. I wasn’t there.”

Kenneth Diamondstone, a member of CB2, said he thought that Chairwoman Shirley McRae and district manager Robert Perris had unwittingly endorsed the Forest City Ratner plan just by participating in negotiations for a community benefits agreement without notifying the full board.

“I am disappointed that our leadership, without board approval, negotiated in closed-door meetings that I think lent the board’s name to the plan,” Diamondstone said.

Members of CB2 first found out about the closed-door talks from a report in The Brooklyn Papers, and then afterwards in an announcement by McRae. Among those participating in the talks were McRae, Perris, Armer, CB8 Chairman Robert Matthews and CB6 District Manager Craig Hammerman.

“An ad-hoc process has begun to form,” said Develop-Don’t Destroy spokesman Daniel Goldstein at the City Hall event, referring to the CBA negotiations, which he said appeared to be in lieu of the city land use review process.

He charged that Stuckey has been given ample opportunity to speak at community board meetings over the past month, where opponents have been silenced or hastily brushed off.

“The chairpersons of community boards 2, 6 and 8 have abetted Mr. Ratner in railroading [the boards],” he said.

“As if railroading were not bad enough, we have come to learn that since January of 2004, Forest City Ratner has spent substantial sums of money lobbying their leadership,” Goldstein further charged, presenting a printout indicating lobbying efforts by Ratner that were, in part, targeted toward the community boards.

The single-page printout from the Web site of the New York State Temporary Commission on Lobbying indicated that $32,074 had been paid by Forest City Ratner to his public relations firm, Geto & Demilly Inc., for lobbying efforts related to the Atlantic Yards project. The report listed community boards 2, 6 and 8 as recipients of the efforts, as well as the city’s Economic Development Corporation.

When a reporter pointed out that such lobbying is legal, Goldstein fumed, “You can hire lobbyists, but the community boards are there to work for the representative community, not to sit with a lobbying firm that is pushing a project for the developer. And how fair and unbiased can they be when they’ve been lobbied behind closed doors by that developer? The community only gets to do it out in public, but we’ve barely been able to do that.”

Contacted after the press conference, the district managers for CB2 and CB6 both said that no meetings were held in private with lobbyists.

Hammerman said CB6 is waiting to see whether the process for public comment on the plans will go through the city or state-level review process, at which time the board will review the plans in detail.

“We’re trying our best to make sure everyone is educated and that the board preserves its options for commenting,” he told The Papers.

Joyce Baumgarten, a spokeswoman for Ratner with the firm of Geto & Demilly, told The Brooklyn Papers, “we’ve been to committee meetings and we’ve been to full board meetings.” Individuals, she said, were not entertained or otherwise lobbied.

Prospect Heights Councilwoman Letitia James, the leading anti-Atlantic Yards elected official, called for more details about financing, infrastructure costs, and other concerns to her community. Before introducing CB8 member Bill Batson, the councilwoman boasted the support of the NAACP in a planned boycott of Ratner’s Atlantic Terminal shopping mall on the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 26.

“[Community boards] were designed for the very purpose of a big development like this,” Batson said, “but yet we’re being asked to take more time to consider changing a street name than we are to consider changing the skyline of our borough.”

He charged that CB8 has been “propagandized” by Ratner while dissenters have been shut out.

“There are a lot of people who have come to our boards to talk to us about the project, but there’s nobody who’s concerned about that project who’s been invited in,” Batson said.

Reached for comment about the press conference, Bruce Bender, an executive vice president for Forest City Ratner, focused his ire at Councilwoman James.

“Does Tish James ever have something positive to say about anything?” Bender asked. “She’s quickly becoming a one-note gadfly out of touch with her constituents.”

“Now she’s against the community boards, too,” Bender said.

Sones said that whether the plan went through a state review or came before the boards under a city process, the point was moot, charging that the boards themselves are “corrupt.”

“It’s an organization that’s not allowing for free speech about very community-oriented projects,” said Sones. “They are non-community boards, they are boards that are not truly representing what all the community feels.”

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