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Atlantic antics! Yards hearing goes haywire!

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Last night’s public hearing about the recent changes to the Atlantic Yards proposal that gave would-be developer Bruce Ratner sweeter terms degenerated into mayhem as supporters and opponents shouted at each other and the state panel overseeing the stalled megaproject.

The meeting unleashed years of built-up frustration from people on both sides of the issue who long ago made up their minds on the merits of the basketball arena and 16-skyscraper development planned for Prospect Heights.

Union workers heckled anyone who asked questions critical of the project and eventually broke into stentorian chants of “Build it now!” and “Union jobs!” that brought the informational hearing to a standstill.

Eventually, the workers marched out en masse.

Opponents of project, which currently calls for the arena and one to four towers around it, also sporadically jeered the representatives from Forest City Ratner and the Empire State Development Corporation for evading some questions about the project’s status.

The meeting, held by Community Boards 2, 6 and 8, was organized because the changes approved last month allow Forest City to build the project at a slower pace, pay the Metropolitan Transportation Authority less money up front to build for development rights to a smaller portion of the railyards at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, and to make less-costly railyard renovations than initially promised.

In the one substantive moment in the hearing, MaryAnne Gilmartin, executive vice president of Forest City Ratner, told the panel that the company has already spent more than $500 million on Atlantic Yards and will build the entire $4.9-billion development.

“Some have said that the housing won’t get built,” she said, referring to the stretched-out construction timetable. “I assure you that it will. … We are motivated by our required return hurdles to build, and build expeditiou­sly.”

Critics were disappointed that the company did not offer any renderings for the arena, which is now being drafte by a Midwest architecture firm after Ratner fired Frank Gehry, whose innovative design was one of the project’s initial selling points.

The state, meanwhile, dismissed a report by the city’s Independent Budget Office that said the basketball arena would in fact be a net loss for taxpayers, rather than the promised generator of revenues.

“Own analysis [covers] the entire project,” said Steve Matlin, counsel at the ESDC. “Our calculation determined that it would be a significant benefit to the city and state.”

Two more venting sessions are scheduled for next week. In anticipation of more fireworks, the ESDC posted to its Web site on Wednesday a document called, “Protocol for Public Hearing on the

2009 Modified General Project Plan for the Atlantic Yards Project.”

It stipulates that “any attendee who disrupts the proceedings will be escorted off the premises.”

It also asks that written comments can be submitted via e-mail at atlanticyards@empire.state.ny.us, or via snailm mail to the Empire State Development Corporation, 633 Third Ave., New York, NY 10017. Attention: Steve Matlin, Senior Counsel

Empire State Development Corporation hearing on the revised Atlantic Yards project, NYC College of Technology [285 Jay St., between Tillary and Johnson streets in Downtown, (212) 803-3740], July 29 and 30 at 2-5 pm and 6-8 pm.

Updated 12:03 pm, July 24, 2009: Story was updated to include more comments.
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Reader Feedback

judah spechal from bed-stuy says:
It's a bore reading or commenting about this project.
July 23, 2009, 11:33 am
sam from downtown says:
it wasn't a hearing. and you shouldn't call it a hearing or compare it to the hearings that will take place next week. it was a non-event, event that FCR and ESDC put on to pretend they are going some extra-legal, extra mile to be forthcoming with the public.
July 23, 2009, 12:20 pm
Norman Oder says:
More coverage, plus video:
http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2009/07/esdc-fcr-face-answer-evade-tough.html
July 23, 2009, 12:55 pm
Rob from Park Slope says:
Since space will likely be at a premium at the next hearing, perhaps first preference should be given to Kings County residents?

I suspect this won't be done because the planners know themselves that nearly all, if not 100%, of the opponents live in Brooklyn, whereas many of the proponents, especially the vocal members of the carpenters union, actually live in places such as Haverstraw, Hicksville, and Ronkonkoma. Their claims to Brooklyn are little more than their father's old stickball games in Canarsie in the 50's prior to their grandparents flight to the suburbs.

At the next hearing, the opponents should be unafraid to turn the tables right back on the proponents yelling "go home" and tell them they're the ones who should remove themselves from a discussion about the community that their families abandoned decades ago.

I've lived here over a decade and owned property here nearly as long. My children go to school here. We're committed to this community. Can someone from the construction union please tell me how many more years before I'm allowed a say in the stewardship of my community? Or am I just expected to pay my property taxes, fund their jobs, and keep my mouth shut?
July 23, 2009, 1:25 pm
Blazin B from Brooklyn says:
BUILD IT NOW !!!!!!!!!!!!

more jobs = better economy = better lives

but those who dont want it built are mostly well off middle and upper class....
July 23, 2009, 1:58 pm
al pankin from downtown says:
this is all a bunch of smoke and bull. if this development was underway after all these years brooklyn would have something other than an empty pit
maybe what the opponets really want is another ebbets field housing development.
the brooklyn dogers should have been playing in this spot fifty years ago.
maybe some of these folks love to come to meetings and have no other life.
July 23, 2009, 2:26 pm
Rob from Park Slope says:
@Blazin B

I assume you understand that the plan as currently designed is to produce housing (luxury condos) and a place of entertainment (a basketball arena) for the "well off middle and upper class." The jobs the community will be left with after the construction is done will be minimum wage jobs selling wine and sushi to 28 year old bankers from Goldman and Morgan Stanley. You get that, right? There's very little the community will get once this thing is up.

The opponents are not against development (hence why one of the leading opposition groups calls itself "Develop, Don't Destroy"). Opponents want smart, thoughtful development that engages the community in the development and building process and in turn accures back to the community substanially long-term benefits. Had the MTA accepted the Extell bid ($50M higher than Ratner's) and Unity Plan years ago, this project could have been well on the way to completion and could have been an engine of growth in the bad economy. Have you reviewed the Extell bid? Have you taken a look at the Unity Plan? Or are you a sheep just blindly accepting that what Ratner, ACORN, and Markowitz are feeding you must be true? Wake up - it's B.S.

Opponents no more like the fact that there is this a gaping space between Fort Greene and Prospect Heights than proponents do. We just don't want a bad plan that will leave little long term benefit to the local Brooklyn community.
July 23, 2009, 2:38 pm
M to the I from Brooklyn says:
Compromise. Why don't we build the arena and then demolish it and then build it again and demolish it again forever. That way we will have long-term jobs and won't have to deal with the impacts of this terrible project.
July 23, 2009, 4:11 pm
BKEveryday from Brooklyn says:
Wow, why can't people be civil? It's just ridiculous that people on Community Boards and then just regular citizens can't have civilized debates. There ARE indeed bigger issues than this project, people shouldn't feel the need to get so heated about it, regardless of what side you're on.
July 23, 2009, 11:25 pm
Rob from Park Slope says:
@BKEveryday

The void of civility is almost entirely one-sided, as evidence by the last two hearings. Have you checked out the videos at http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/ ? Check out the first video where a bunch of proponents shout down folks asking questions with "Go home! Go home!"

The opponents live here in Brooklyn too. In fact, I'd assert that the percentage of opponents who live in Brooklyn is much higher than the percentage of proponents. Why are they denied a voice?
July 24, 2009, 10:28 am
Urb from Outside says:
I'm so surprised that a gigantic, monolithic development is stalling.

If the alternate proposal - running a standard street grid through the property and using individual lots to build smaller mixed-use buildings - had been chosen, it'd probably be underway already and would be a better development than the monolithic '70s throwback towers-in-the-park design they came up with.
July 24, 2009, 10:42 am
BKEveryday from Brooklyn says:
@ Rob

It's possible that at this meeting the proponents of the project were far more disruptive, but you're making a vast, and fairly untrue generalization about the discourse regarding the project. I was at a meeting not that long ago where, after opponents held the floor for about 80 percent of the time, a proponent who was speaking was stopped by a number of disruptive opponents. I say this because I think both sides have been evenly uncivil and that should stop. People should be able to disagree without shouting, no?
July 24, 2009, 1:11 pm
sam from downtown says:
BKEverday. can you be more specific about a public meeting where opponents held the floor for 80 percent of the time and then shut down proponents?

I don't think you can name it, because no such thing has ever happened.

both sides have not been "evenly uncivil." The majority of the proponent at this meeting, the Senate hearing and the 2006 EIS hearing were there specifically to disrupt the meetings rather than speak to the relevant issue for which the hearings/meetings were called.
July 24, 2009, 3:20 pm
BKEveryday from Brooklyn says:
There was indeed a meeting that was disrupted overwhelmingly by opponents of the plan. To say that the opponents are being far more civil is just ridiculous considering they have planned and held numerous protests right outside the hearings, chanting their "Develop don't destroy" slogans. I'm pretty apathetic when it comes to the plan. But really, am I wrong to say that it's ridiculous that ANYBODY - whether for or against the plan - gets so heated about it and can't simply disagree and debate without shouting. If you're attacking me for saying that, you're really just proving my point and making your side look petulant and juvenile.
July 24, 2009, 6:10 pm
Fourth Estate from DUMBO says:
Yet another switch aroo project from a developer. For the union's I hear you, you want jobs, but has the developer even hinted that he will hire you? Seems to me, with all the inflatable rats propping up around brooklyn, you are all being used by yet another developer. But I for one am for it, simply because Councilwoman James, who stuck her nose into the dock st project, is against it.
July 24, 2009, 9:11 pm
Peter from Fort Greene says:
BKE, I've been an opponent of this project for a long time and I've been at peaceful protests where supporters have spit on people and threatened to "kick your a**!" To lump both parties into the same mentality is unfair. An opportunity for civil discussion would be nice but unfortunately that opportunity was never offered since the inception of this project.
July 25, 2009, 7:38 am
Raul from Prospect Heights says:
Excuse me if I don't have much sympathy for the pro-Ratner thugs. About two months ago they put a bullhorn up to my 9 month-old baby's ear.

I will give them credit for successfully changing the terms of the debate. They state clearly that they don't want any more debate about the project. So they disrupt hearings and information sessions, and reporters swallow their bait.

Most of the articles cover the "drama" or the conflict between the two sides. The difficult questions get drowned out. What are the subsidies per job created? What are the subsidies per unit built? Why is there no rendering of the project? WHO CARES when it's so much more entertaining to talk about a yelling match.

The ESDC failed to answer basic questions about the project, which I think is what they want. The pro-Ratner thugs provided the cover for the lack of transparency.

By the way, if you want to see for yourself the pro-Ratner protesters from this Community Board meeting, click here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGKRttfJcAo
July 25, 2009, 4:35 pm

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