MGPP legal challenge: Questions and answers

On November 19, 2009, several of the BrooklynSpeaks sponsor organizations filed suit against the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and Forest City Ratner Companies (FCR) seeking to reverse ESDC's approval of the Atlantic Yards Modified General Project Plan (MGPP). Common questions about the suit are asked and answered in this article.

Q: Who are the plaintiffs?
A: The plaintiffs are civic and merchant associations, affordable housing organizations, and elected officials serving the neighborhood surrounding the project. We have studied Atlantic Yards since its announcement six years ago, and find that the public benefits, including the creation of local jobs and affordable housing, are unlikely to be realized as claimed by the project sponsors, while the impacts of Atlantic Yards are likely to be worse than what has been disclosed.

Q: Why are you suing the ESDC and FCR?
A: Our organizations have expressed concern about the design and environmental impacts of the Atlantic Yards project since its announcement in 2003. Working together over the past three years, we have tried constructively to engage the ESDC to address these concerns, and to provide a degree of oversight commensurate with the scale of the proposed development. Unfortunately, we have concluded that the ESDC is unwilling to involve the local community or its elected representatives in a meaningful way in decision-making on Atlantic Yards. The agency has left us no option other than to pursue legal action.

Q: What will be accomplished by preparing a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS)?
A: When the ESDC board voted on the Atlantic Yards modified general project plan (MGPP), it approved one project, but in fact agreed to a different project. The project approved included 16 residential and commercial buildings, open space, affordable housing and community facilities. However, the ESDC effectively agreed to allow Forest City Ratner (FCR) to build only an arena, a parking lot and perhaps one additional building. It may be decades before the “approved” project is completed, if in fact it is ever completed. In the meantime, the agreed-upon project will have devastating impacts on our community—including creating the type of blight conditions that Atlantic Yards was supposed to eliminate. The ESDC has an obligation to assess the impacts of the project to which it has agreed and to disclose them to the public.

Q: Why do you believe the ESDC has delegated its oversight responsibility on the project to FCR?
A: Over the past years, we have experienced a pattern of the ESDC committing to oversight measures and to providing transparency to the public and its elected representatives, then failing to follow through. When approving the modified plan, ESDC made crucial determinations about the environmental impact of the project without having full information on the new arena proposal, and relied on the developer's assertion that future changes would comply with the previous project's design guidelines. The MGPP would further allow the developer to control the project build out schedule without any remedies for delays beyond the proposed 2019 end date. ESDC's abrogation of these basic oversight responsibilities is unacceptable for a project that will receive exceptional direct and indirect subsidies, zoning overrides, and the ability to acquire property through eminent domain.

Q: Why are you still fighting now that construction has started?
A: This is a critical juncture for Atlantic Yards. The ESDC’s approval of the MGPP significantly relaxes the obligations of the developer, Forest City Ratner. If the MGPP is allowed to stand, the public will lose any opportunity to have influence over the future of the 22-acre site over the decades it is expected to be under development.