A border dispute is brewing over which community board should have the privilege of holding the Atlantic Yards mega-development within its boundaries.
The panel overseeing Downtown and Fort Greene made the first offensive when it voted 22–7–2 on Wednesday night to rejigger the district boundaries so that all of the mega-development is within its grip, which would end the project’s years as the famous Three Corners of Brooklyn, where it is possible to stand in community boards 2, 6, and 8 at once. In pitching the idea, which would simplify who picks up the trash and sweeps the streets at the planned 16-tower town centered around Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, leadership from Fort Greene’s Community Board 2 insisted that the move was to make government more efficient, not to bogart the right to have a say over the project.
“This is not a land grab,” said board 2 chairwoman Shirley McRae, who voted against the measure. “I don’t want this to be misinterpreted.”
The three boards’ boundaries converge on Sixth Avenue and Pacific Street, behind the Barclays Center. The arena itself is split between community boards 2 and 6 and a portion of the planned residential development, which a Chinese-government-owned developer plans to finance, falls within Prospect Heights’ board 8, a member of which says it is the rightful arbiter of the compound.
“Future residents of Atlantic Yards are going to consider themselves residents of Prospect Heights,” said Gib Veconi, a member of Community Board 8’s housing committee. “You need to respect neighborhood boundaries.”
Aside from their advisory duties on land use issues, the appointed community boards are also the conduit for residents to communicate with city agencies about services such as trash-pickup, street-sweeping, and policing. The three boards all weighed in during the early phases of the project, and they all get preferential treatment when it comes to job training programs and affordable housing tied to the plan.
The process surrounding the city approval of the hot-button complex, which Forest City once promised to have completed by 2016, but which now has no public deadline, familiarized the boards with each other, one bureaucratic stalwart said.
“We share interests because we share borders,” said Craig Hammerman, district manager for Community Board 6. “Atlantic Yards has brought us together.”
But now that the three boards have gotten a taste of the complex, none is eager to part with it. The community boards used to share boundaries with the local police precincts, as is common citywide, but the police department changed precinct lines in 2012 ahead of the Barclays Center’s grand opening, giving Prospect Heights’ 78th Precinct full responsibility for the arena, and Community Board 2 is against following suit because to do so would be to lose its sway over the development, McRae said.
“The board members feel very passionately about the promises that were made with Atlantic Yards,” said McRae after the meeting. “They want to ensure those promises are kept.”
Robert Perris, the panel’s one full-time employee, tasked with administrating the sometimes-unwieldy volunteer body, says he does not care which group ends up in charge, so long as it is just one.
“It’s inefficient for three different district managers to be managing one development site,” said Robert Perris, board 2’s district manager, explaining that as the 32-story B2 tower rises and an additional 15 loom in theory, the problem can only worsen. “With each successive building it becomes more of an issue.”
The city charter provides an opportunity to redraw the lines every 10 years and the latest window is rapidly closing.
Mayor DeBlasio would have to submit a proposal for changes to the districts by May 1 and Perris and Hammerman both said the city is unlikely to make any changes unless all three boards agree.
Board 2 is the only one to take an official stance so far.
McRae stressed that despite her board’s bold annexation bid, it is open to working with its neighbors.
“What needs to happen, is for all three boards to come together,” she said.