Arena will burden Brooklyn
Planning, transportation and budget experts say developer Bruce Ratner’s
proposed Atlantic Yards basketball arena, housing and office skyscraper
project could overburden transit lines, clog streets with traffic and
reduce pedestrian access.
Addressing concerns from residents whose neighborhoods border the planned
urban renewal project — which would emanate from the intersection
of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, the nexus of Boerum Hill, Fort Greene,
Park Slope and Prospect Heights — representatives of the Regional
Plan Association, Independent Budget Office and the City University of
New York formed the panel of experts at a meeting hosted by the Boerum
Hill Association on April 5 at St. Cyril’s Belarusan Church at 401
And what did the community hear? Basically, that they’re in for a
long ride. Or at the very least a long commute home, whether on the subway,
the Long Island Rail Road or driving.
George Sweeting, deputy director of the Independent Budget Office (IBO),
noted early on that, along with the $200 million that has been offered
to the developer by the city and state for the project, Ratner’s
Forest City Ratner Companies would also be eligible for tax exemptions
by the city.
“Depending on what he’s eligible for, he won’t pay taxes
for anywhere from 16 to 24 years,” said Sweeting, who clarified that
any other developer would be eligible for the same breaks.
He also pointed out the sale of city land to Forest City Ratner for $1.
Doug Turetsky, a spokesman for the IBO, told The Brooklyn Papers that
the agency is working feverishly to finish a report on the effects Atlantic
Yards would have on the surrounding neighborhoods. He said it should be
completed by the end of the month.
“How [does the IBO] figure out the cost of those city streets? And
if they’re only a dollar, how can I get one?” Jon Crow, a resident
of Boerum Hill, asked Sweeting,
“There is a value — one can come up with value for that transaction,”
Sweeting answered and further explained that the agency usually looks
at the value of the street to the city’s commerce and by other sales
in an area of similar publicly used property.
Dr. Robert E. Paaswell, director of the City University of New York Urban
Transportation Research Center, said the arena’s planned development
site was ideal by any developer’s standards simply because it was
so close to a massive network of public transportation.
“If any of you were a major developer and you looked at a subway
map without knowing anything about the area, you’d say, ‘Wow,
that’s a great place to put something!’”
The Atlantic Terminal subway and commuter rail hub, also at Atlantic and
Flatbush avenues, hosts the B, D, M, N, Q, R, 2, 3, 4 and 5 lines as well
as the Long Island Rail Road.
But, without committing himself to talking about Ratner’s project
specifically, Paaswell said, “In any major development being put
in an area that’s already quite accessible, by building there, what
you’re going to be doing is decreasing the generating capacity of
And, he added, increased vehicular traffic was inevitable, to which many
members of the audience groaned.
“The interesting thing about basketball games is they start in the
early evenings,” Paaswell said. “You’re going to probably
find that when somebody does a traffic analysis that when people get out
of work [the streets would be full]. Whether you like it or not, people
coming from New Jersey will drive. The question is, will they be fighting
with you for street space?”
He also cited the need for a “truck strategy,” and added, “People
like to use the streets to drive to different events in Brooklyn. What
will be the effects of that on parking?”
The third panelist, Alex Marshall, a former journalist who is a senior
planner for the Regional Plan Association, said he was surprised by the
street closings in the Ratner plan, which would include Fifth Avenue between
Pacific Street and Atlantic Avenue; Pacific Street between Flatbush and
Sixth avenues; and Pacific Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues.
“One question I asked when I saw the proposal was why are they eliminating
streets in the plan? Streets provide access,” Marshall said.
“When you eliminate a street, you eliminate a lot,” he added.
“I guess I would ask, is that a sign of disrespect to an urban realm
Susan Metz, one of the many residents of Prospect Heights in the audience
asked how, if at all, the community could effect change in the designs.
“I think if you scream loud enough you can effect change,” said
Jim Vogel, of Boerum Hill, asked about the role the Department of City
Planning might have, if not in the design for the arena itself, then in
the larger scheme of development in the area.
Paaswell answered the question skeptically. An Upper West Sider, he opposes
the Jets stadium plan and said “the Department of City Planning will
tell you that they’re planning every borough,” he said. “The
real question is, what are they planning against, and what are their objectives?”
Marshall was more optimistic. “It’s a democracy,” he said.
“It’s our own fault if we don’t like what’s being
done; we need to talk to our elected officials.”
But Sweeting observed that elected officials sometimes wield gargantuan
“The Downtown Brooklyn Plan was almost entirely done by City Planning,
and it is elected officials that have given us this,” he said. “And
elected officials have given to bypass local zoning laws. But it doesn’t
happen totally without input.”
To that, Jo Ann Simon, who moderated the audience questions, murmured
loud enough for all to hear, “Thank you, Robert Moses.”
©2005 Community News Group