Settlement forces Atlantic Yards developers to build quickly
by Jess Berry
Jun 30, 2014 | 774 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Atlantic Yards project has been a point of frustration, controversy and contention for nearly a decade, and a recent agreement between the BrooklynSpeaks coalition and Atlantic Yards developers continues that trend, even if it is seen as a step in the right direction.

Last Friday, June 27, BrooklynSpeaks, a coalition of civic associations, community-based organizations and advocacy groups concerned about the future of Atlantic Yards, announced that it had reached a “landmark settlement” with developers Forest City Ratner Corporation (FCRC) and the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

The highlights of the agreement include the completion of all 2,250 affordable apartment by May 2025, ten years ahead of when government documents previously allowed, and the start of construction of at least 590 of those apartments within 12 months.

However, while those who signed the agreement are claiming that now the project will be completed ten years ahead of schedule, the truth is that the Atlantic Yards developers promised a ten-year build-out back in 2006 and 2009 when project approvals were pending.

Penalties will be given if FCRC fails to deliver on the new deadlines: liquidated damages of $2,000 per month for each affordable housing unit will be charged.

In addition, construction will have to begin on two more buildings by June 2015. Currently, only the first of 15 proposed residential towers is under construction.

“Today, we are putting the development of Atlantic Yards on the fast track and expediting the construction of thousands of units of affordable housing in Brooklyn,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “This agreement is a win for the state and most importantly for Brooklyn residents who will finally begin to see affordable buildings being constructed in their neighborhoods.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio has invested heavily in the project in order to ensure affordable housing. While his administration invested $11.6 million in the first building for 182 affordable housing units, the new agreement has his administration investing $11.75 million in each of the next two buildings, which will consist entirely of affordable housing units — 600 units for each building.

“We are determined to jumpstart affordable housing at Atlantic Yards,” de Blasio said. “And we are proud to have worked with Governor Cuomo and the coalition that’s joined together in this community to get this project moving in real time.”

Another aspect of the agreement is the creation of an ESDC subsidiary to monitor compliance with all of the project commitments, called the Atlantic Yards Community Develop Corporation (CDC).

The board will be made up of 14 members, nine of which will be appointed by the governor. The mayor, Brooklyn borough president and other elected officials will appoint the remaining five.

ESDC President, CEO and Commissioner Kenneth Adams called the agreement “a major breakthrough” now that “the community will have an enhanced role.”

An oversight committee has long been a desire for community residents who have been affected by this project. Noise complaints, complaints of construction work starting as early as six a.m. and complaints of illegal street blockages due to construction have abounded since the start of the project.

The Fifth Avenue Committee, part of the BrooklynSpeaks initiative, was pleased with the final result of the settlement.

“This agreement between the BrooklynSpeaks community groups, local residents, New York State and Forest City is an important step at a crucial phase in Atlantic Yards’ development,” Executive Director Michelle de la Uz said. “It will help ensure that inclusion, transparency and public accountability are part of the project moving forward.”

Not all community members felt the same way. For some, the fact that the committee has no say in final decisions and is “insufficiently defined” leaves them wary of its effectiveness.

The Atlantic Yards CDC board is advisory and all decision-making will continue to stay with the ESDC board, whose members are appointed by the governor.

The Dean Street Block Association, a member of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, which was working as part of BrooklynSpeaks, dropped out of the council when they felt their needs were not being met through the decided-upon advisory board.

Members of the Dean Street Block Association wanted an impartial, environmental on-site monitor to keep records of site conditions. Currently, on-site monitoring is organized by the developer.

“The oversight regime created as a product of the 5th Avenue Committee and BrooklynSpeaks agreement is not adequate to the concerns our block association members and their neighbors raise,” president of the Dean Street Block Association Rhona Hetsrony said.

“There is no one with any knowledge of Atlantic Yards who would expect an unsecured promise of future performance to be fulfilled, when so many promises haven’t been met already,” she added. “The history of Atlantic Yards is that the devil is in the details. What is delivered is rarely more than what is spelled out in written agreements.”

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