Slope Group Calls For Arena Transparency

 

By Joe Maniscalco

 

May 9, 2005

A small neighborhood civic group, coming off a victory in its first-ever battle, is now hoping to have a big impact on the development of the Atlantic Yards Project.

Park Slope Neighbors, a group formed last year in response to Commerce Bank's bid to install a drive-thru window at a branch on Fifth Avenue, says that the public needs greater input in the planning of Atlantic Yards and they're calling on local elected officials to "get off the fence."

"[Borough President] Marty [Markowitz] has a clear point of view on the Atlantic Yards Project , everybody else has really not taken a clear position on it," said Eric McClure, Atlantic Yards Campaign Coordinator, Park Slope Neighbors.

The group launched a petition on its web site last week urging City Council Members Bill de Blasio, David Yassky, Assembly Members Joan Millman, Jim Brennan and State Senator Carl Andrews to define their stance.

"Frankly, I think that politicians are the only ones who don't have a clear point of view on how they feel about this," said McClure.

Forest City Ratner Companies' $2.5-billion development plan seeks to build an 18,000-seat arena and 17 high-rise towers in an area between the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues eastward to Vanderbilt Avenue, between Atlantic Avenue and Dean Street.

In all, the plan would create two million square feet of office space, 4,500 apartments, and more than 300,000 square feet of retail space.

"If this were to go through as planned it would be the biggest development in Brooklyn in more than a quarter of a century, and yet there really hasn't been much opportunity for the public to be involved in planning for this thing," said McClure.

Council Member Letitia James, the most vocal opponent of the plan, called on her colleagues to "defend the institution of the City Council so that we are not relegated to spectators in the largest project in this district in three decades."

State involvement in the project means that the plan is not subject to the City's normal Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

"Obviously, the more communities become aware of the facts involving Atlantic Yards, the more informed Brooklynites become, the more voices in the campaign for transparency, for community involvement and government oversight, the better the plan will be," she said.

According to McClure, even residents not living in the immediate vicinity of the proposed Atlantic Yards development need to ask hard questions.

"We think that the public needs to be more involved and our elected officials need to ensure and call for that," he said. "There are things like competitive bidding for the rail yards that we think are very important."

Especially when straphangers are continually being asked to shell out more at the turnstile and fare box.

"The MTA is really strapped for cash, they're asking riders to pay more money for it, and yet they've got these great jewels like the Atlantic Rail Yards and Hudson Rail Yards that they don't seem to be going out there to get full market value for," said McClure.

Forest City Ratner Companies argues that it has been including the public in the development process.

"Forest City Ratner has held numerous meetings over the last year with community groups, community leaders, community boards and elected officials and will continue to do so," said Spokesperson Johanna Flattery. "From the start we've said that this project will be inclusive and that remains our goal."

In addition, Flattery said that Forest City Ratner was working with numerous community groups on a Community Benefits Agreement that would deliver housing, jobs and other amenities for the community.

"This agreement with the community will be unprecedented and the first of its kind in New York," she said.

Park Slope Neighbors will be out on the streets this weekend collecting signatures for their petition.