Today was the final public hearing on the highly controversial plans for Atlantic Yards, a proposed 22-acre mixed-use development in Brooklyn. To its champions, the project represents revitalization, job growth, and tax revenue; to opponents, the massive injection is a bad idea poorly executed, signifying nothing less than the destruction of the borough.
In June, the hobbling economy forced developer Bruce Ratner to replace Atlantic Yards’ master planner Frank Gehry with Kansas City, Mo. firm Ellerbe Becket. In the scant few renderings that have been made public, the firm's proposed replacement arena shows all the charm of an airplane hangar.
Yesterday, around a hundred members of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) protested before the start of a two-day public hearing on the modified plan (the forum was held in Brooklyn’s Metrotech Center, an earlier Ratner development). The group stood a few feet away from about a dozen unionized construction workers who support the project.
I spoke with Julia Walker, who lives near the project site. She fears that the development would overcrowd her neighborhood’s transit and school systems. “I own property in the community, and I would love to see it developed further. But from an architectural standpoint, I think the project should fit the nature of the community. I don’t think it should be some outrageous bull**** from Mars.”
A legal notice announcing the public hearings explained that the forum's purpose was first and foremost “to consider (a) the Modified General Project Plan ("MGPP") for the Atlantic Yards.” The only problem was that there was no modified general plan to consider. There were no models or renderings; site plans displayed in the auditorium’s lobby were a full three years old. This absurdity did not go unnoticed by the local politicians and residents speaking in opposition to the project.
Atlantic Yards may break ground in months. Its developer will receive a generous loan from the Metropolitan Transit Authority (owner of the project’s eponymous yards) and over $200 million in city subsidies. But we simply don’t know what it will look like or what it will consist of. What is clear is that Ratner hopes to use the awesome power of eminent domain to acquire a huge amount of real estate and build an arena for his basketball team.
So why hold the final public hearing today? Why not give Ellerbe Becket enough time to produce the best design it can, and allow the community to weigh in afterwards? The answer, as is usually the case with these things, is money. Ratner must float a bond before the year’s end to qualify for the massive tax credits he needs to finance the project. Without the tax breaks, plans for Atlantic Yards will likely capsize.
Geoff Zink, who attended yesterday’s hearing to oppose the project, noted that he’s “not opposed to development with a 21st century view.” Zink observed that, “in New York City in general and Brooklyn specifically, there is a texture to the architectural landscape. A 22-acre single developer project is like a hole in that texture. I’d much prefer to have development on that site done by many developers who adhere to city zoning laws (because this is a State project, all city laws get overridden), and to have architecture on a block-by-block basis that matches the context of the surrounding neighborhoods.”
On the other side, a unionized tile setter named Joe Gelo thought that the protestors were standing in the way of progress: “Every neighborhood I’ve ever lived in has changed. So should this neighborhood.” Gelo believed the project would provide jobs in the construction industry. A construction worker standing nearby said, “We have faith in Mr. Ratner.”
An eminent domain lawsuit against the developer will be argued in appeals court on October 14. Stay tuned.
[Author's note: this post has been edited. The original version included a sentence reading, in part: "what is clear is that Ratner will be able to use ...the awesome power of eminent domain..."
Dan Goldstein of DDDB corrects, "NY State's highest court is going to determine whether or not Ratner can get the state to use eminent domain for him. meaning, it is not clear at all." Also, in the original version, Geoff Zink's first name is misspelled "Jeff".]