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08.24.2006
A Brawl in Brooklyn
Public Hearing for Atlantic Yards project stirs anger, not consensus

On August 23, a public hearing on Forest City Ratner's 22-acre Atlantic Yards proposal lasted over seven hours, and in its bitter tone, showed that positions for and against the project have hardened.

Technically, the hearing disposed of the Empire State Development Corporation's obligation to consider the project's effect on local life. If New York City had assembled the land in question, as it did for rezoning Williamsburg/Greenpoint and rebuilding Yankee Stadium, four public hearings and a 120-day review would have preceded a vote by the City Council. But the state used eminent domain to speed developer Bruce Ratner's project. Under the state's streamlined review, the public got 66 days to review a 2,000-page draft statement, which was released on July 18th, and one chance to comment on it. Opponents asked for a longer review period, saying it could generate consensus on a plan that would create jobs without distorting neighborhood scale.

Consensus seemed remote at the hearing. Project opponents chastised the ESDC's draft environmental impact statement for counting a glass room with ticket windows as open space, and proposing a limousine drop-off lane instead of pushing for rapid-transit buses. They also claimed the process was unfair because many Brooklynites are enjoying the last gasp of summer vacationn in August. Go to the Hamptons!! someone yelled. You don't have to live near it!! opponents called when supporters praised the project at the microphone.

But many supporters do live near the project. The Reverend Herbert Daughtry, who heads a national group called House of the Lord Churches, negotiated the community benefits agreementt with Forest City Ratner, and said his parishioners had played a role in the designn by securing commitments for the social-service sites.

Politicians called for moderation. Borough President Marty Markowitz, who supports Ratner, urged ESDC to keep buildings smaller than the Williamsburg Savings Bank tower. Council-member David Yassky, over boos, urged the state agency to reduce the scale,, include a traffic plan, and enforce the social-services agreement. Otherwise, Yassky warned, the state runs an unacceptable riskk of spoiling a chance to bring jobs because pressure will buildd to oppose the entire project.

Pratt Institute for Community Development director Brad Lander regretted the scarcity of constructive discussion. If you're listening above the din, you could hear an interesting laundry list of changes,, he said before the hearing. But this will be totally lost in the pro-con histrionics..

Indeed, architect Frank Gehry and landscaper Laurie Olin never came up in testimony: the two sides focused on the project's ancillary effect rather than its design. Standing on Jay Street after his testimony, Reverend Daughtry considered whether he would endorse shorter buildings and a smaller footprint so long as the community benefits agreement stayed. I don't know,, he told AN. I would have to look at it and see what that means.. But the state has no obligation to heed anything from the hearing. When asked what the meeting would yield, local Tri-State Transportation Council coordinator Teresa Toro answered: Nothing..

Alec Appelbaum

Alec Appelbaum