Experts: Arena will burden Brooklyn

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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 Atlantic Ave.

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 that.”

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 of people?”

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 Marshall.

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 powers.

“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.”

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