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Atlantic antics! A week of Yards hearings did little to change things

Battle lines: Supporters and opponents of Atlantic Yards had dueling rallies before and during Wednesdays hearings about the stalled project.
The Brooklyn Paper / Mike Short

They’ve said it before — and they said it again.

Supporters and opponents of the embattled Atlantic Yards project clashed at two public hearings this Wednesday and an information session last Wednesday, rehashing familiar arguments over the controversial mega-project in the wake of a new proposal that would give developer Bruce Ratner sweeter terms.

The July 29 hearing at the New York Technical College on Jay Street wasn’t as uproarious as the June 22 session, where years of built-up frustration erupted from project boosters and foes who long ago made up their minds on the merits of the basketball arena and the 16-skyscraper development planned for Prospect Heights.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t without excitement.

More than 50 project opponents as well as a who’s who of politicians and City Council candidates rallied outside the hearing, demanding the project be halted in the wake of changes approved last month that would allow Forest City to build the project at a slower pace, pay the Metropolitan Transportation Authority less money up front 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.

“The end is near. It’s time to put the proposed Atlantic Yards development out of its misery,” said Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Fort Greene).

Meanwhile, about a dozen supporters of the project — who were later joined at the hearing by a larger bloc of Atlantic Yards backers — held up signs and chanted: “You can’t stop the progress.”

Inside the hearing, Daniel Goldstein, who is not only the spokesman for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, but a homeowner in the footprint of the proposed Nets basketball arena, was the center of attention.

The outspoken project opponent replaced maps of the project site with his own posters emblazoned with large question marks next to the words “Atlantic Yards Site Plan and Renderings” and “Atlantic Yards Cost Benefit Analysis.”

Two Atlantic Yards opponents — Sarah Wenk (left) and Gilly Youner — turned their back on Borough President Markowitz during his testimony at Wednesday’s Atlantic Yards hearing.
The Brooklyn Paper / Ben Muessig

“We are here to comment on a project with no rendering, no site plan, no nothing. It’s ludicrous. It’s a farce. It’s a sham process for a sham project,” said Goldstein, whose comments were met with cheers and boos.

When a booster of the project accused “a small group of people” of delaying a public benefit for a larger faction of supporters, Goldstein interrupted, shouting, “We’re not a small group of people! We have thousands of people with us!”

After the outburst, police escorted Goldstein out of the auditorium, though they permitted him to return moments later.

Borough President Markowitz touted Atlantic Yards as a way to put Brooklynites to work, eliciting applause from some, and heckling from others. At least two project opponents turned their backs to the Beep as he spoke.

There were fewer interruptions than at last week’s informational session held by Community Boards 2, 6 and 8. At that meeting, a crowd of union workers heckled critics of the project and eventually brought the meeting to a standstill with stentorian chants of “Build it now!” and “Union jobs!”

The $4.9-billion mega-project has been stalled by the downturn in the economy as well as Ratner’s inability to find commercial tenants for the project’s signature skyscraper, the now-tabled “Miss Brooklyn” tower. Opponents say that the changes to the General Project Plan approved last month require another round of public review. Critics say that the project should not go forward without at least renderings that would allow the public to see what Ratner envisions now that starchitect Frank Gehry, the designer whose inclusion in the project was one of its initial selling points, is no longer on the case.

His firm has been replaced by Ellerbe Becket, whose initial designs have shown a generic basketball arena that some liken to an airport hanger.

Supporters say that the entire project, when completed by 2019, will create jobs and economic development. But the modified general project plan now only calls for Ratner to build the arena and up to four buildings around it. Land for the so-called Phase II is not currently being acquired.

Last week's informational meeting was even more heated.
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan

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