In 2009, the state agency that oversees the Atlantic Yards project, Empire State Development (ESD), gave developer Forest City Ratner Companies 25 years to build out the project instead of the originally planned ten years. A state judge then required the new environmental review, accusing ESDC of misleading the public.
ESD has released the DSEIS, and the changes written in the draft involve cutting required parking spaces for the housing complex from 3,670 to 2,896 or as low as 1,200 and moving a bulk of the project — 208,000 square feet — from phase one to phase two of construction.
The complexes, which are to consist of 16 towers, have been promised to include 2,250 subsidized housing units among 6,430 apartments.
With affordable housing becoming an issue in the city at the forefront of many residents’ and elected officials’ minds, the news of pushing construction back even further on the housing complexes frustrated many of the attendees at the public hearing.
The hearing opened with the Director of Atlantic Yards Paula Roy explaining the changes outlined in the draft. Then Jane Marshall, senior vice president of Forest City, spoke to the public and tried to ease their concerns.
“The main point that I want to make to ESD and the public at large is that Forest City is and remains fully committed to completing the Atlantic Yards project as expeditiously as possible.”
But the public had heard that before, and person after person got up and spoke over the course of the five-hour-long hearing, calling for faster construction and asking for an oversight committee, as Forest City is currently the only developer with no outside oversight.
Others expressed disbelief and anger over the recent announcement from Forest City that they plan to sell 70 percent of the remaining project to Greenland Group, a company owned by the Chinese government.
Public Advocate Letitia James could not keep from raising her voice as she delved into a speech outlining her many frustrations with the project and the lack of a proper response from elected officials.
“Frankly, it is outrageous that a project that has received hundreds of millions of your tax dollars, with the expectation that residential construction and affordable housing would be built, could so easily relinquish control to a foreign government,” James said.
“As a community, we ask for what every developing community wants: a voice in the process. A reasonable expectation of public accountability that your government is responsive to your felt needs, for promised public benefits,” she added. “Where is government at a time when individuals are living doubling up or tripling up and we’ve got an affordable housing crisis? Where is government? Where are all of the promised benefits? I apologize if I get angry, but this project really is a case study of how not to do development anywhere in this country.“
Others complained about the treatment of the community during construction, like Jenna Stern, who has lived with her family on Dean Street for over 20 years.
Stern has had to call 311 and even 911 to report on noise and light violations, air pollution, illegally parked cars and idling trucks. She worries over the effects that the extended construction will have on her community.
“What it boils down to, for me, is this: a fundamental lack of respect for our neighborhood,” Stern said.
A number of construction workers from Atlantic Yards came and spoke about the benefits of the project, speaking from talking points given to them by Forest City.
Each worker, such as Vivia Morgan, who spoke on behalf of the Building and Construction Trade Council (BCTC), asked for one thing that even the critics of Atlantic Yards, who are desperately waiting for the work to be completed and for the promised affordable housing to become available, could agree with: uninterrupted construction.
“It is critical that we do not put any more constraints on this project,” Morgan said. “It is time to take a step back. Let the developers build and the construction workers work.”
She and others called for the expedited review of the DSEIS, so that work on the project could continue once again.
However, some elected officials have called for an extended public review period of the over 1,200-page DSEIS, which was released on March 28. Currently, ESD is accepting public comment until May 12, 45 days after the draft release.
At that point, they have promised to take into consideration all public comment and opinion before deciding on approval of the DSEIS and continuing work on the Atlantic Yards.