MAKE IT SMALLER Marty downsizes his support for Ratner

Marty downsizes his support for Ratner

The Brooklyn Paper
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Borough President Marty Markowitz has urged that developer Bruce Ratner downsize his Atlantic Yards mega-development, a project vigorously supported by Markowitz since 2003.

“We do have to scale down this project,” Markowtiz said during a debate Monday among Markowitz and three challengers seeking his job in the November election.

“There is no question, in terms of the project, in terms of the housing, and in terms of the buildings, it is time for all of us to join together to work cooperatively and downscale the project and to make it more reflective of the needs and aspirations of those of the environment it’s in.”

His comments came after two of Markowitz’s rivals voiced their opposition to the way in which Ratner’s bid to erect skyscrapers, high-rise housing and a sports arena was being handled.

Markowitz is the Democratic Party nominee. He did not face a challenge in the September primary.

The debate, sponsored by the Fort Greene Association, was held at Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, a few blocks from the Atlantic Yards site.

Green Party candidate Gloria Mattera, said she didn’t approve of threatening homeowners with the use of eminent domain for private gain. Reform Party and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Popkin charged collusion between elected officials and private-party interests in the project.

Attorney Theodore Alatsas, running on the Republican and Conservative ballots, supports the project.

A wave of applause followed Markowitz’s call for the downscaling.

The borough president has long been an outspoken advocate of bringing a pro-sports team to Brooklyn and has not faltered in his support for Ratner’s larger project, would be built east of the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

“I was as surprised as probably everybody in the room; I don’t think I’d ever heard those words uttered by him,” said Fort Greene Association Chairman Phillip Kellogg following Markowitz’s comments. “I’m not sure how much credibility it has at this point in the process.

“I’d be very curious to know what specifics he has in mind, if he’s going to follow through, and what demands he’s going to make as borough president at this point in the process,” Kellogg said.

Markowtiz declined to elaborate on his statement when asked to do so by The Brooklyn Papers immediately after the debate.

“Here’s what I’m saying: I’m calling on the developer, now that the Atlantic Yards have been sold, now it’s the time to review and downscale this project,” said Markowitz in a vestibule behind the church.

“That’s it, that doesn’t mean the arena — all that has to stay, of course,” he said. “But to downscale it in a way that will be a little less dense and that will work better for the community.”

Asked if he would specify what should be scaled back, Markowitz said, “No, absolutely not.”

“What I’m saying is, downscale means, less than what is proposed right now,” he said.

He declined to say whether that applied to the number of buildings, number of apartments or to the height and density of the skyscrapers and high-rises Ratner has proposed.

Pushed further, the borough president said of Ratner’s plan: “Whatever he has proposed, I’m calling for less than that. That alone has to be part of the environmental negotiations, but you heard me tonight say ‘downscale,’ right out front, you heard me say downscale.”

Said Kellogg, “I don’t think anybody should be allowed to throw out a comment like that at this stage in the game and have it go unchallenged. Without specifics it has the potential to be window dressing.”

Still, the decision to come out against the hulking size of the project was seen by some audience members as a hopeful attempt to address the community’s concerns.

The Committee of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN), which encompasses roughly 24 community organizations including the Fort Greene Association, Boerum Hill Association, Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, Fifth Avenue Committee, New York Preservation Alliance, and a local chapter of the Sierra’s Club, began as an attempt by Markowitz to unify groups of longstanding neighborhood organizations in the state-level review of the project.

Their co-chair, Paul Palazzo, said that while the umbrella group had “no comment regarding the pro or cons of the project,” it was helpful to have Markowitz take in the concerns his group has been airing since its first unofficial meeting, almost one year ago at Borough Hall.

“We are encouraged by the borough president’s remark to the effect that he does understand the project does have some significant environmental impacts for the surrounding neighborho­ods,” Palazzo said.

“We urge the borough president to make the process as transparent as possible. One of the ways he can do that is by engaging the CBN fully in its participation with the Brooklyn Borough Board.

“We haven’t heard the exact words form his mouth yet, which we would appreciate,” he said. “The neighborhoods that form the organization — which he brought together — would appreciate a formal acknowledgement and endorsement.”

Councilwoman Letitia James, an opponent of the project in whose district it is planned, said she was glad Markowitz was finally speaking for her community.

“I’m happy that he recognizes that this project is totally out of scale with this brownstone community,” she said.

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