Fightin’ Eleventh candidates weigh in on Yards

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Two candidates for the 11th congressional district — which includes parts of Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill, Park Slope and Prospect Heights — support Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yard mega-development, two oppose it. Here’s what they said in a debate last week in the offices of The Brooklyn Papers.

State Sen. Carl Andrews (D–Crown Heights): I support the project. There’s no such thing as a perfect plan [but] the [affordable] housing component is something I’m very excited about. The economic development, the jobs that it brings, that’s another thing I’m excited about.

City Councilwoman Yvette Clarke (D–Crown Heights): I support the project [because] the benefits outweigh the burdens. As it is today, my observation is that the process has been completely legal. The developer has been very sensitive to the community’s concerns; he moved and budged. I’ve never witnessed that with any developers in the city of New York. I doubt Donald Trump would have ever conceded anything with respect to community concerns … The economic opportunities here are multiple — it has a ripple effect … For entrepreneurs, there’s an opportunity to expand either through contracting opportunities or just their vision of what their business — retail or whatever — can bring. Am I completely happy about [Atlantic Yards]? No. But what I do know is that here, the benefits outweigh the burdens.

Chris Owens (D): I oppose the project primarily because democracy has been stripped out of this — and that creates a foundation that you can’t go back from. In terms of benefits outweighing the costs: there is not that much housing. What we have instead is a potential ripple effect that will displace poor, working-class, middle-class people from this borough for years. And then there are the promises that have been made. We were told originally that there were going to be 10,000 construction jobs. But then they said, “Oh wait — it’s not 10,000 construction jobs, it’s 10,000 job-years.” That’s really 1,000 jobs for 10 years. There’s a big difference. And I haven’t even gotten into the traffic and the environmental stuff.

City Councilman David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights): I do not support the project. It’s way too big, it needs to be brought down significantly. I’d like to see a project go forward, but it must be done right. And that means considerably smaller and with real attention to the traffic problems that will envelope these neighborhoods. And I disagree with Councilwoman Clarke that there’s been ongoing response. The project on the table now is bigger — more square feet — than originally proposed. So rather than shrinking, it’s growing. And there has been absolutely zero attention paid to the traffic, despite [the] literally dozens of intersections that will be permanently affected.

Clarke (rebuttal): We’re in a crisis for affordable housing! And I see this as a possible catalyst and a precedent for how we move forward in terms of development in this town, and making sure that affordable housing is a component of every development that takes place. Luxury housing has been reigning supreme. And to say that there are only 1,000 construction jobs per year — that’s 1,000 more than we have now!

Owens (rebuttal): The Councilwoman misinterprets my point. Of course the thousand jobs matter, and I want to see 1,000 jobs — and more — but I think the developer has been consistently misleading. Anyone can develop affordable housing and commercial space. This project is not the only option.

Andrews (rebuttal): I think as an elected official, what I have to do is get the constituents into this discussion. One of the things that you have to do is hold the developer accountable and encourage them to build more housing … for low-income senior citizens. When the senior citizens’ rent goes up, their social security doesn’t go up. Their pension plans don’t go up.

Yassky (rebuttal): Councilwoman Clarke’s right that there are genuine benefits that could be achieved here. It’s such a shame that the developer has been intransigent and that the governor has been completely absent. A responsible governor would say, “We want to see the development, we want to see an arena, we want to see housing. We just don’t want to see it at this gigantic scale, and we don’t want to see it done without any traffic mitigation.”

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