Wednesday, July 19, 2006

ESDC to Brooklyn Opponents: Drop Dead

The fix is in and the clock is ticking. With its vote on Atlantic Yards yesterday, release of the 15-inch thick Draft Environmental Impact Statement and scheduling of what is likely to be the only significant public hearing on the plan for August 23, the doggiest of the dog days of summer, the Empire State Development Corporation announced full speed ahead on Atlantic Yards planning.

The public comment period on the plan will run for 60 days and it will be up to lawyers, environmental experts and others to pour through a document that, in effect, says that the biggest development project in Brooklyn history will have not have a significantly overwhelming negative impact on public services or traffic, will not swamp sewage treatment plants, will not put upward pressure on rents and won't significantly degrade quality of life.

Yes, the environmental impact document does admit "significant adverse impacts" on cultural resources, traffic, and noise, as well as construction impacts, but it argues that the provision of housing, improving railroad facilities, and "enhancing the vitality of the Atlantic Terminal area" outweigh the negatives. On WNYC yesterday evening, newscaster Amy Eddings asked reporter Andrea Bernstein, more than once, to explain how a project so massive in scale would, in effect, be a ghost. Forest City Ratner's James Stuckey's response: the impacts are manageable because of all the work to mitigate them.

The most cogent early analysis of the DEIS belongs to Norman Oder, who begins the long process of digging into the massive document today via his article in his Atlantic Yards Report.

What is clear is the cost of Atlantic Yards has now swollen to $4.2 billion from an original estimate of $2.5 billion and that New York State taxpayers will ultimately bear direct and indirect costs of up to $2 billion.

In the end, yesterday was either the day the New York power structure backing the Atlantic Yards project--and its 16 highrises and basketball arena--trotted out the coffin in preparation for closing the lid and nailing it shut (a "slam dunk" as the New York Post calls it) or merely the first round in a historic fight to stop the biggest development project in the borough's history. It will fall to a bright planner or historian who is only in grade school today to write the story a generation from now.

For the time being, it's safe to say that in voting for the Atlantic Yards project and in setting a hearing date of August 23, the Empire State Development Corporation signaled that it is in control of the rules of the game and that it doesn't care much either for public appearances or for an open public debate over the merits of the Atlantic Yards project. (There will be public forum in September too.)

The goal seems simple: To get Atlantic Yards approved before a new governor can come along and change anything. (Call it the Fait Accompli School of Urban Development, with Brooklyn serving as its primary laboratory.) It is no accident that the timetable for the project anticipates completion of Phase I of Atlantic Yards by 2009, which also happens to be year of New York's next municipal election. If, for the sake of argument, the next mayor opposes Atlantic Yards, he or she will have to contend with the same dilemma faced by Corey Booker in Newark, whose predecessor left him with an arena that cannot be stopped without huge public cost.

That having been said, the real battle--which opponents have long understood--will be the litigation that surrounds the process and the methods used to approve, finance and build the Atlantic Yards project. Their goal will be to slow the project at every turn in the hope of stalling for so long that an anti-Yards public official takes office and kills it. Or that they go before a panel of judges that finally rules against Atlantic Yards on eminent domain or other grounds. In the end, it may not be public outrage that kills the project, it could be a jurist ruling on a legalism that most average people won't even understand.

The battle has now started in earnest.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great points, but does anyone know if any newspaper, public official has ever questioned why SO MUCH land and power is being given to one man, to one company? He's already got metrotech and the hideous atlantic mall...I can't help but think that underneath it all is good old fasioned bribery.

10:20 PM  
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