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Forest City agrees to build discounted housing quicker

Green giant: Developer Forest City Ratner and its Chinese-government partner will build a green roof on top of the Barclays Center that will help muffle noise from big-ticket events.
Forest City Ratner

The lower-cost apartments in Atlantic Yards have to get built sooner thanks to a deal between activists and developer Forest City Ratner.

The landmark agreement, announced on June 27, mandates that Forest City speed up construction of the mega-development, prioritize building below-market-rate housing, and create a body to oversee the project. Under the deal, the developer could face stiff fines if it fails to hold up its end of the bargain. Gov. Cuomo called the accord a victory for everyone.

“This agreement is a win for the state and most importantly for Brooklyn residents who will finally begin to see affordable buildings being constructed in their neighborhoods,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Of course, Forest City originally said the 15-tower town would be completed in 2016. The developer has blamed construction delays on the many lawsuits it has faced. As part of the latest pact, the activist coalition BrooklynSpeaks agreed to drop its litigation against Forest City and the state.

“This is great for us,” said Ashley Cotton, a spokeswoman for the company, claiming it had been fighting 35 lawsuits.

The 2,250 “affordable” apartments the developer planned to build with its Chinese-government-owned partner Greenland, will have to be completed by 2025, a decade sooner than Forest City’s latest projected deadline.

To fast-track the cheap digs, the builders will make the next two high-rises entirely below market-rate, per the deal, resulting in 590 units. Construction on the first 299 apartments has to start by the end of the year, and the rest by June of next year, the deal states.

Failure to start on time will get Forest City slapped with $10 million in fines, a summary letter describing the agreement states. And if all the lower-cost apartments aren’t built by 2025, the state will charge the developer $2,000 per month for each apartment it is short, per the agreement summary.

The penalty provisions give the deal teeth, community group members said.

“We think these are some pretty strong remedies,” said Gib Veconi, a member of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council and a signatory on the deal.

The terms are supposed to be enforced by a new watchdog group called the Atlantic Yards Development Corporation, which will include members appointed by the governor and Mayor DeBlasio. Money collected from the penalties is supposed to be put toward building cheap homes in the surrounding neighborhoods.

“The money would go towards mitigating the effects of those failed commitments,” Veconi said.

Community groups have long pushed for Forest City to accelerate the below-market piece of the project, claiming that current residents who would qualify for low-cost apartments will have been pushed out by rising rents by the time the whole thing is finished.

Veconi said moving up the timeline should be a big help.

“This is really going to help relieve some of the pressures of displacement,” he said.

The deal summary authored by the state does not mention Greenland, which is buying a 70-percent stake in the mega-development, except in the section where activists agree not to sue over currently existing project conditions.

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

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