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Activists to Forest City Ratner: Build faster

Public advocate: Slow Atlantic Yards construction messes up area’s ‘racial composition’

The Brooklyn Paper

Public Advocate Letitia James says that developer Forest City Ratner needs to hurry up and build Atlantic Yards before the surrounding area gets any richer and whiter.

The pol, who made her name as a Fort Greene councilwoman railing against the idea of the mega-development at Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, is now worried that the glacial pace of construction will mean that the so-called “affordable” apartments in the towers that could now be built as long as two decades from now will be far pricier than if they were finished today. That would mean the displacement of many in the middle class, predominately African-American neighborhood, James said.

“What I wanted then and what I want now is more affordable housing — to stem the tide of gentrification which is having an adverse impact on the balance, the racial composition, of Downtown Brooklyn,” James said an April 30 hearing on a new environmental impact report from the developer.

The remark was one of many from some of the same people who were demanding that Atlantic Yards not be allowed to rise an inch above the ground and are now calling on Forest City to build it as quickly as possible.

Delays of the mega-development at Flatbush and Atlantic avenues have pushed its expected completion date, which was originally supposed to be 2016, so far into the future that a court ruled an early study of the project’s impact on the surrounding neighborhood is no longer valid.

Original opponents of the project, where currently just the Barclays Center is completed and one of 15 planned high-rises are under construction, argue that the longer it takes, the more damage it does to the community. A revised study by Forest City leaves open the possibility that the project could take a whopping two more decades, wrapping up in 2035, which original project foes say is way too long because of the disruption the construction will cause and the assumption that the longer each tower takes to open its doors, the higher the cost of the next set of so-called “affordable” apartments will be.

“Unquestionably, this extended construction will put an unnecessary and unfair strain on the community,” James said at the hearing.

The developer blames legal opposition to the project for the delays and the global economic crisis that began in 2008 made matters worse, according to a rep.

“We were held up for years with lawsuits,” said Ashley Cotton, a spokeswoman for Forest City Ratner. “You can’t build when there’s threats of litigation. And then the financial crisis happened.”

The state Empire State Development Corporation, which approved the original plan for the project, okayed an updated version in 2009 that set a drop-dead date of 2025 for completion of the below-market-rate housing promised as part of a so-called “community benefits agreement.” After the update, a coalition of activist groups called Brooklyn Speaks filed another lawsuit claiming that the delays would have a detrimental impact on the surrounding neighborhoods because it would take longer for the cheap digs to be built and that the developer should be required to write up a new impact statement.

The courts agreed.

But the new study, released in March, found that extending the construction timeline even further to 2035 would not change what effect the gargantuan undertaking would have on neighbors.

The extended construction period, “would not result in significant adverse impacts due to indirect residential displacement,” the report states, without a hint of irony.

Activists say that is a bunch of hooey, arguing that the neighborhood is already changing and that the low-rent units are needed now, before the circa-2006 residents are totally pushed out.

“The people that were here when the project was first approved will have already been displaced by the time it’s completed,” said Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee.

The argument is not purely speculative. The price of the below-market-rate rentals is tied to the neighborhood median income, which is rising with the completion of fancy residential skyscrapers Downtown and which new luxury apartments in each Atlantic Yards tower would drive up if they were completed piecemeal.

Brooklyn Speaks asked the state to hire multiple developers to get the building done faster, but Forest City’s new document argues that would not work because the project was approved with the company’s name on it.

“The FCRC affiliates’ existing rights under the numerous agreements they now have with the agencies would affect the feasibility of this alternative,” the report says. “The process required to implement the multiple developer alternative would be extremely time consuming, and its outcome would be uncertain.”

The developer apparently does not foresee any problems along those lines with the Chinese-government-owned company Greenland buying a seven-tenths stake in the complex.

“We see it as a total joint venture,” said Cotton. “We have the local knowledge and expertise. They can’t do it without us.”

Forest City Ratner insists it is doing all it can to get Atlantic Yards built as quickly as possible and that the 2035 date is purely hypothetical.

“Forest City is, and remains, fully committed to completing the Atlantic Yards projects as expeditiously as possible,” said Jane Marshall, a senior vice president at the company, at the hearing. “This 25-year outside date was never viewed by Forest City as a proposed construction schedule, but as a date by which we fail. We have always intended to complete the project much, much sooner than that.”

The mega-developer said that the cash it is getting from China is going to pick up the pace dramatically.

“The infusion of capital and the impatience of our partner is a huge shot in the arm,” Cotton said.

The company also notes that it hopes to break ground on three new buildings constituting 900 units within the next year. These buildings will be constructed using traditional methods, not the modular design the company has touted as a way to get things built faster, which it is using to build the 32-story B2 tower on Dean Street.

Company executives would not confirm that Forest City is seeking to sell its stake in the Brooklyn Nets Franchise, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.

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Reader Feedback

Me from Bay Ridge says:
So sick of blacks thinking all white people are rich.
May 1, 4:02 pm
Gib Veconi from Prospect Heights says:
The financial crisis Ms. Cotton mentioned happened in 2008. Since then, more than 8,000 apartments have been completed or are under construction in downtown Brooklyn. On the other hand, Atlantic Yards hasn't produced a single unit, affordable or not, even though Forest City has had no legal impediment from doing so.
May 1, 4:05 pm
Barry from Flatbush says:
Most poor folks are white. Most gentrifiers around Barclays are white, but oddly, not poor. What gives?
May 1, 4:17 pm
The Duke from Flatbush says:
You reap what you sow. Holding up the development for so many years has consequences. The arena will have a horseshoe shape for hockey, and the rest of the development will now take decades to complete. Go thank DDDB for making this happen.
May 1, 4:34 pm
Norman Oder from Brooklyn says:
More comprehensive coverage, with video, here:
http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2014/05/at-hearing-on-environmental-review-some.html
May 1, 4:48 pm
Ken from ph says:
OMG you all need to get a LIFE!

Following every fart of Bruce Ratner and Atlantic Yards. And this Norman Oder character has some sick OBSESSION with the project, throwing away your life reporting on this nonsense. Get out into the WORLD and stop being such sissy NIMBY'S!

It's because of YOU, this process is slow!
May 1, 4:54 pm
Sissy Nimby's says:
Sounds like an a cappella group.

Yours, Ken, would be Heads In the Sand, of course.
May 1, 5:39 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Ken, how about the fact that Ratner had made a promise that he now has to keep? Now that he got his way, the new strategy is to now hold him accountable for what he will do. Let's not forget that he was known for manipulating a lot of minority groups such as ACORN and even one that he created such as BUILD to believe everything he said and push for the project when it was still a drawing only to be lied to. Of course, that's Ratner for you, and those that believed him were nothing but his pawns. I'm glad that we have people like Oder stating what's really going on. As for Tish James herself, when she was a council member of this district, she was actually opposed to this project, and she knew that the promises were unrealistic then as they are now. On a side note, those that opposed the project weren't NIMBYs especially if the project was being planned on where they live hence not living with it.
May 1, 6:52 pm
Rich from Fort Greene says:
HILARIOUS. She fights the project ever getting off the ground, helping to slow it's construction and now she wants it built faster! This woman can have her cake and eat it too. Maybe if the project hadn't gotten delayed so much (during which the economy went to hell) maybe everything would have been built by now. I guess her flipping sides on a development issue shouldn't come as a surprise, since she has a long history of acting like this. It just matters where the check is coming from today... spineless.
May 1, 7:05 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Here is a refresher course for anyone who feels as if they were living under a rock on this. The only reason why Ratner got his way was because he had friends in high places like Governor Pataki, who he went to college with. If this had to go through ULURP only, it would have been defeated right there and the neighborhood wouldn't have been torn down. Instead, he got to use SEQRA to sidestep all of this. Again, the new strategy is now holding Ratner accountable for all his promises especially since he got his way, and the timeline shows how little will be done in the near future. As for the delays, they weren't because of the opposition, they occurred by either Ratner himself or the ESDC, who helped get around all zoning laws for him to have it done. More importantly, this project is a product of eminent domain abuse and corporate welfare, but I guess to some, they will always believe that the end will justify the means no matter what is being used just as long as they get what they want in the end.
May 1, 7:27 pm
jay from nyc says:
People fought like hell in every which way they could to stop this project and or slow it down, that is reality, and fine, thats why things don't get developed very much in Brooklyn and why we have all this substandard garbage housing, but for Letita James to play the race card is repugnant and totally uncalled for and without out any kid of basis, in fact, SHE is being a racist and needs to apologize for these outrageous comments.
If the NBA can kick an owner out for making racists comments then we should get to kick a public official out for making racist comments.
May 1, 7:49 pm
Will from PH says:
Gib Veconi is right. DDDB almost did FC a favor by delaying the project. The right to develop there is more valuable than ever. Developers are tripping over themselves to develop every available square foot in Central Brooklyn. If FC can't do it, because they botched the modular prototype or whatever, they should sell to someone who can. Really, the idea of Mary Anne Gilmartin blaming the 2008 financial crisis is ridiculous.

And Tish James is a jerk. Someone should remind her that she is supposed to advocate for everyone, not just her own ethnic group.
May 1, 10:03 pm
Mr C from Crooklyn says:
Not all whites are rich but they do act with an air of being privileged. Whats wrong with a racially diverse brooklyn. Brooklyn will certainly lose all its flavor if it goes all white, yuppie, hipster etc.
May 2, 9:40 am
FlipOutNYC from Bushwick says:
I hate to say that Black people always think they are being discriminated but they are the one who discriminate other races. Letitia James shouldn't make a remarks that the neighborhood is getting Richer and Whiter. It is a racist remarks because not all blacks are poor. There are many other races are living in the neighborhood. This tell me that she is serving her own race and not fighting for others.
May 2, 10:35 am
bkmanhatman from nubrucklyn says:
Despite her railing against the development, there has to be more housing stock and that includes affordable housing stock that needs to be built.
And not all poor or hipster is white either Letitia.
May 2, 11:37 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I take it some are still living under a rock on this. Tish James never played the race card when fighting this project. If anyone did it was Ratner, especially when he used a number of black groups to just repeat what his cronies already said and even disrupt public hearings on others that opposed. If you don't believe me, then go over to Counter Punch and read what Bruce Levine had to say about that. James supported DDDB who is predominately white, and her district is very culturally diverse. Ironically, it was blacks that grilled her the most before any other race, because many of them were part of groups that were supporting Ratner primarily due to the donations that he could easily cancel if they refused. FUREE was one of the few major black groups to see through the project, and they to got grilled for their positions. BTW, Tish James along with many other opposing groups did support affordable housing and even better jobs through a project known as UNITY that was much more inclusive than what Ratner wanted, plus it involved much more affordable housing, better job promises, would only build on the rail yards themselves, wouldn't use any taxpayer dollars or eminent domain, could be built on a more realistic timeline, involved developers that would actually work with the community rather than against them, and would be divided into several plots rather than just giving it to one person.
May 2, 5:06 pm
jay from nyc says:
Tal good god did you read the fing article? She came out and played the race card, just now, according to BP. TRY READING.
May 2, 6:43 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Jay, gentrification has very little to do with race. It's just that the majority of those who live in gentrified neighborhoods happen to be white. This doesn't rule out any other groups from being there. However, this doesn't rule out Ratner using the race card to get his project pushed through, which you seem to turn a blind eye to.
May 2, 7:16 pm
jay from nyc says:
clearly you do not seem to read this article Tal, if you did you would see that BP reports the public advocate of NYC played the race card this week. If you don't want to acknowledge that, its your problem.
May 2, 7:21 pm
Mom from Clinton Hill says:
This project was a joke from the beginning at still is. Hard to read any quotes by FCRC and take them seriously. Don't forget the project got fasttracked and never went through ULURP. Yet they blame the nonsensical "public review" process that did happen for the delay. Ha!
May 2, 7:40 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Mom, for statement like that is the reason why we have media watchdogs like Norman Oder with the Atlantic Yards Report to mention what is really going on here.
May 2, 9:44 pm
Ian from Williamsburg says:
So exhausting hearing bureaucrats interject themselves in every development with their demands for social engineering. This is what makes development so expensive and slow in NYC and is keeping prices high for the majority of us that need to pay market rates. Letitia is an obstructionist rather than creator.
May 3, 7:55 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Knowing the bias expressed by the editor and comments, I suggest you read the Atlantic Yards Report for the real story on this unless you probably have connections with Ratner.
May 3, 4:38 pm
Pickles from Flatbush says:
She's a shameless racist.
May 4, 7:45 am
GH from Fort Greene says:
The perpetuation of “race” as an issue- is unfortunate evidence of the residue from the USA being founded on genocide and deviant oppression. For hundreds of years these actions were programmatically (through brainwashing) justified in the hearts and minds of the perpetrators to shift the focus from their inhumanity to that of their victims. Think rape victim blamed for rape. We have evolved to a degree since the days of legal subjugation; however as in any filthy mess that has lingered for a long time – more than cursory attention is necessary to truly wipe it clean. Too many minds today are still oblivious of their own cerebral construction. This idea that a “race card” exists, and that it is an arbitrary and unfair product of minority manipulation predictably reeks of the similar substance that produced oppressive justification to begin with – and as such should also be the target of our evolutionary cleansing. Think racism and hatred are non-issues today? Just read internet comments. Yes, of course you will encounter numerous comments from mentally ill racists – but more telling is what’s missing: the focused and determined condemnation of hate by the outraged. Racism will only end when the opinion of the now silent majority of decent people is wholly deafening.
May 4, 7:21 pm
John from Long Island says:
Build Them With Union Workers
May 5, 6:27 pm

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