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No love for ‘UNITY’ from city, state

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City and state officials say they don’t intend to consider a community-based alternative development plan for the Prospect Heights site of Bruce Ratner’s controversial Atlantic Yards project that was unveiled this week.

The so-called UNITY proposal includes mostly affordable apartments, no arena and doesn’t require condemning land via eminent domain. But to be anything more than a few planners’ dream of ideal, community-driven development, support from city and state officials is necessary.

That support is not there.

“We remain committed to the vision set out in the General Project Plan approved for Atlantic Yards,” said Errol Cockfield, a spokesman for the Empire State Development Corporation, the lead agency on Atlantic Yards, which contains 16 towers, 6,430 units of housing, a 19,000-seat basketball arena, a hotel, and hundreds of thousands of square feet of office, retail and commercial space.

Cockfield declined to comment directly on the UNITY proposal, saying only that the agency is “open to hearing community concerns about the project.”

The city was similarly discouraging about the future of the grassroots plan. When asked whether the city would look at a plan other than Ratner’s, City Planning spokeswoman Rachaele Raynoff said only, “The city expects the Atlantic Yards plan to move forward.”

UNITY advocates say that the city and state’s ambivalence is to be expected — for now. They say that attitudes will only shift when the developer’s circumstances do, which they think could happen as a result of pending lawsuits or a downturn in the real-estate market (see The Explainer, left).

“Politicians are practical people so as the ground shifts under this particular project they will take a second look at this proposal,” said planner Marshall Brown, a former Fort Greene resident and architecture professor at the University of Cincinnati.

Brown said he and his fellow planners — former Planning Commissioner Ron Shiffman and Hunter College professor Tom Angotti — fear that Ratner will only build the first phase of his project (the arena and several skyscrapers at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues) and then lose interest, run out of money, or give in to the declining market.

Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Prospect Heights) said that she plans to push state officials to meet with her to discuss the proposal, which sprang out of a community planning process that began three years with the support of her office.

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Reader Feedback

Brian says:

Where were the UNITY plan supporters in say, 1989? Or 1992? Or 1978? I was here then and the area was a dump. Atlantic Yards is the first realistic proposal that's come along for this area since Robert Moses played keep-away from Walter O'Malley. I don't think the project is perfect, but it's better than what's there now and what HAS been there in the past. The UNITY people didn't come up with their "plan" until their rent-stabilized apartments and cozy lifestyle were both threatened by Atlantic Yards. It's not surprising there isn't much support for a last-minute, ad-hoc, plan created by a special-interest group.
Sept. 28, 2007, 6:52 pm

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