BrooklynSpeaks statement on the Draft Scope of Work for the Atlantic Yards SEIS

On Thursday, March 14, 2013,  public comments on the Draft Scope of Work for the Atlantic Yards Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement were due to the Empire State Development Corporation. A statement from the BrooklynSpeaks sponsors follows, as does a link to BrooklynSpeaks' full response.

The BrooklynSpeaks sponsors appreciate the opportunity to respond to the Draft Scope of Work for the Atlantic Yards Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). We note that the need for a SEIS was cited prior to the approval of the 2009 MGPP, not only by our organizations but by nearly every local elected official representing the neighborhoods surrounding the Atlantic Yards project. We sincerely regret that litigation was required to compel the study anticipated by the draft scope, but look forward to working constructively with the ESDC to ensure that the SEIS it prepares will be a new starting point from which the stated objectives of the Atlantic Yards project can be achieved on a timely basis, through a transparent process with public accountability.

As its core deliverable, the SEIS must reconcile the stated purpose of the Atlantic Yards project to eliminate purported blight, with the 2009 MGPP’s potential of extending the exact same blight some 15 years past the timeframe given for completion of the Atlantic Yards project at the time of its approval in 2006. In the absence of such reconciliation, we find these two positions antithetical, particularly given that a pattern of investment and organic development had already been established in the area within the project footprint prior to Atlantic Yards’ 2006 approval. It will not be enough for the SEIS to conclude that construction impacts are not greater over 25 years than they otherwise would be over 10 years. The Atlantic Yards project itself was approved to address a blight condition so onerous that hundreds of millions of dollars of direct and indirect government aid, zoning overrides and the use of eminent domain all were apparently justified. There would appear to be some public interest in such blighted conditions being remediated in a timely fashion, and the SEIS should determine whether delaying the completion of the project supports that interest.

But to the extent the SEIS nevertheless should conclude that extending project construction by nearly a generation would not create additional adverse impact to local communities, it must be prepared to explain how commitments to protect air quality, limit construction noise, manage contention for on-street parking between construction workers and residents, and control the use of residential streets by construction vehicles will be enforced. Violations of these commitments during the construction of the Barclays Center arena were well documented not only by residents but also by the ESDC’s own environmental monitor, leading an independent environmental engineer to conclude that ESDC and the City of New York in effect allowed Forest City Ratner to break project commitments and City law with impunity. Why should the public believe later phases of the Atlantic Yards project will be different?  This question must be answered thoroughly and with candor.

Nor is it sufficient for the SEIS to limit its scope of analysis to Atlantic Yards’ second phase footprint. Current project agreements allow the development of features of Phase I, including building B1 and the entire Site 5, to extend beyond the originally-approved 10-year time frame. Analyses involving the impacts of construction on transportation and pedestrian circulation must be revisited for the entire project site based upon current conditions and existing plans.

The SEIS must also assess the time value of economic development and affordable housing benefits ascribed to the Atlantic Yards project. Would thousands of affordable apartments delivered fifteen years late really be as effective in terms of preserving socioeconomic diversity in the study area as if they were delivered on the originally approved schedule? And what would the delay in adding tens of thousands of residents mean to the development of businesses in Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, Park Slope and Boerum Hill?

What about the “temporary” open space impact cited in the draft scope of work? The build year guidelines in the CEQR Technical Manual would suggest that an interim build year based on the contractual obligation to complete Phase I in 12 years be considered as a point at which the open space impact must be mitigated—with or without the Phase II buildings.

The BrooklynSpeaks sponsors believe that when all of the above impacts are considered together, they indicate that an alternative plan for the development of Phase II of the Atlantic Yards project must be evaluated. This alternative plan should focus on the opportunity to restore the original 10-year construction plan by dividing the Phase II site among multiple development teams through a competitive bidding process. Had ESDC not withheld disclosure of the change in project schedule in 2009 in order to avoid a SEIS, exploring this alternative would have made good sense at the time. With intense development activity in downtown Brooklyn today, it is no longer a matter of simple good sense, it is imperative that it be explored in order to realize the stated goals of the Atlantic Yards project.

BrooklynSpeaks' full response to the Draft Scope of Work may be downloaded here.