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State OKs Ratner’s ‘impact’

Critics cry foul

The Brooklyn Paper
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Racing to give their approval to Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards mega-development before Gov. George Pataki leaves office Dec. 31, state officials have certified the project’s final environmental impact statement. There must be ten days between the certification and the final approval vote by the Empire State Development Corporation.

The document certified on Wednesday by the ESDC outlined an eight-million-square-foot development — a project that is the same size as the first plan unveiled by Forest City Ratner in 2004, but 8-percent smaller than the plan put forth in a draft impact study this summer.

The changes made nearly mirror those recommended by the City Planning Commission at the close of the public comment period in September.

“The state heard the voice of [city officials],” said Jasper Goldman, a spokesman for the Municipal Arts Society. “But no one else seems to have been listened to — especially not the communities that called for better-designed open space, a workable traffic plan, a bigger reduction in scale and more affordable housing.”

Lending credence to Goldman’s complaints is another document released this week by Atlantic Yards Report blogger Norman Oder. The document, a chart presented by the developer to City Planning in January, laid out reductions in scale and building size nearly identical to those in the final impact study, indicating that the developer himself suggested the changes that the city and the state later recommended and approved.

“We’ve been played,” said Oder, who obtained the document through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Such meetings between developers and the city’s planners are routine, according to Ron Shiffman, a former City Planning Commissioner. “But typical doesn’t mean healthy,” he said.

Shiffman said that the reductions in scale appeared to bear no relation to the financial necessities of the project, creating questions about how much smaller the project could be while still remaining economically feasible.

“We are still missing the financial information that would show how much the project could shrink while remaining profitable,” he said.

Among the modifications to the publicly subsidized $4.3-billion housing, office and arena complex is a 100-foot shearing of a 350-foot building planned for a site on Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, across the street from the primary Atlantic Yards site (where there is now a P.C. Richards and a Modell’s). City Planning had recommended the change because of fears that the new building would block the Williamsburgh Savings Bank building.

The state also inserted a school into the plan, to be built during the second phase of construction. It is anticipated that the city would pay for the school.

Gov. Pataki has supported the Prospect Heights Xanadu since Ratner, a friend of his from law school, first proposed it. In the three years since, opponents of the project have accused the ESDC of rushing through state approvals before Pataki leaves office on Jan. 1. ESDC Chairman Charles Gargano denied that notion on Wednesday.

“We are trying to get projects done,” Gargano told reporters. “Should we delay them because we are towards the end of the administration? Of course not. We should treat projects in their normal course.”

Governor-elect Elliot Spitzer also supports Atlantic Yards.

Correction: In the front page article ’State OKs Ratner’s Impact’ that ran in the 11/18/2006 issue of the Brooklyn Papers, it was reported incorrectly that the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Atlantic Yards was approved. Rather, the document was certified and still must pass through one vote by the Empire State Development Corporation. There must be ten days between the certification and the final approval vote.

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