Advocacy

Since its launch in September of 2006, the BrooklynSpeaks initiative has sought to provide the people of Brooklyn and thier elected representatives a platform from which to demand change to and accountability from the Atlantic Yards project, helping to promote development at the site that works for Brooklyn and New York City.

More information about BrooklynSpeaks' advocacy efforts can be found in the stories that appear below.

Achieving accountability: The story of a settlement, and what happens next

Rezonings and large-scale redevelopment projects, even those with affordable housing components, tend to accelerate gentrification. That's why it's critical to ensure that affordable housing promised by developers in exchange for overrides and special approvals is delivered on a timely basis to meet the needs of populations now threatened with displacement.

In this video, advocates, attorneys and community members explain how the 25-year build out agreed by the State of New York in 2009 for Atlantic Yards' affordable apartments would have had a disparate impact on African American residents eligible for preference in the lotteries through which those apartments are to be awarded—and why a coalition was ready to fight to hold the project accountable to its original commitments. BrooklynSpeaks organizers talk about what was achieved through the recent settlement with the Empire State Development Corporation and Forest City Ratner, and what to expect next.

Community groups and local residents reach historic accord with New York State and developers of Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards Project

Agreement calls for delivery of 2,250 promised units of affordable housing ten years earlier than previously agreed; imposes penalties for failure to meet deadlines; creates tenant protection fund and special oversight subsidiary

Today, following weeks of intense negotiations, BrooklynSpeaks sponsor organizations and local residents announced they have reached a landmark settlement with Forest City Ratner Corporation (FCRC), the developer of the Atlantic Yards Project in Brooklyn, and the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), with the support of the City of New York. 

The accord, which includes a signed  agreement with ESDC and another with FCRC, ensures at least 590 units of promised affordable housing are started within the next 12 months and delivers 2,250 promised affordable housing units ten years earlier than previously agreed.  It also establishes an Atlantic Yards Tenant Protection Fund and penalties for failure to meet affordable housing milestones. The settlement will also result in the creation of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, a subsidiary of the ESDC charged with overseeing compliance with all project commitments.

Under the terms of the agreement, construction on the first of the affordable units will begin by the end of the year, and all affordable apartments must be completed by May 2025.

The terms include:

  • Completion of all 2,250 affordable apartments by May 2025 (with penalties for non-performance);
  • Start of construction of at least 590 affordable apartments within 12 months (with penalties for non-performance); and
  • Creation of an ESDC subsidiary, including locally-appointed directors, to monitor compliance with all project commitments.

In addition, through a complementary commitment by FCRC, the developer will make a contribution of $250,000 to establish the Atlantic Yards Tenant Protection Fund to provide eviction prevention services to members of the community vulnerable to displacement.

ESDC's DSEIS preserves Forest City's right to delay Atlantic Yards, ignores critical need for housing now

It is an outrage that ESDC has produced a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) for the Atlantic Yards project nearly five years after it was required. If properly prepared at the time of the 2009 Modified General Project Plan, it would have led to an informed discussion about the merits of the MGPP among policy makers, elected officials, community members and the board of the ESDC. ESDC waited eighteen months after the New York State Supreme Court ordered it to produce an SEIS before even releasing a draft scope of work for review. After submitting detailed comments on the draft scope a year ago, we were deeply disappointed to find in February of this year that ESDC dismissed our request that it reconcile the 15-year project delay to which it agreed in 2009 with the project’s goals of eliminating blight and providing what the 2006 FEIS accurately described as “much needed affordable housing.”[1] We were even more troubled to discover on March 28 that ESDC would allow only 45 days for public comments on the DSEIS—a period far shorter than it had allotted for comments on either the draft scope of work or the 2006 DEIS. Given the agency’s extended delay in complying with a court order to do what it was otherwise required to do under New York State law, ESDC’s refusal to grant our request for additional time to prepare a response demonstrates again the agency’s contempt for public participation in the Atlantic Yards process, contempt it has consistently displayed since the time it declared itself lead agency in September of 2005.

While not as long as would have been appropriate for a report of this size, our review has nevertheless made clear that ESDC has not taken the opportunity to meaningfully consider strategies that would directly address the 15-year project delay that necessitated this SEIS. Instead, in an effort to cement both Forest City Ratner’s position as sole developer and decision-maker at Atlantic Yards, as well as the firm’s right to wait up to 2035 or longer to make good on its commitments to provide affordable housing, the DSEIS attempts to recast Atlantic Yards as something nearly unrecognizable from the project that was described in previous documents leading up to its prior approvals.

Public Hearing on the Atlantic Yards DSEIS is your chance to demand promises will be kept

When: Wednesday April 30, 2014 from 5:30 PM. to 9:00 PM
Where: Long Island University, 75 DeKalb Avenue, Room HS107

In 2009, sponsors of BrooklynSpeaks filed suit against the New York State Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and Forest City Ratner Companies for their decision to allow the completion of the Atlantic Yards project to be delayed from 10 to 25 years. A State Supreme Court ruled in July 2011 that ESDC’s failure to study the effects of the 15-year delay on surrounding communities violated State environmental law.

Now, four and a half years after its illegal approval of the delayed project schedule, ESDC has issued a draft environmental report that claims waiting until 2035 to complete Atlantic Yards won’t be a big deal for our community.

Our neighbors in danger of being displaced through rising rents can’t wait a generation or more for Atlantic Yards to make good on its commitment to provide 2,250 affordable apartments. The community asked that the State consider bringing in other developers to speed up the project. Can’t be done, the State tells us.. In the meantime, Forest City just announced that the first building at the Atlantic Yards site will be delayed for yet another year—until the end of 2015.

Local residents haven’t forgotten the disruptions they suffered during construction of the Barclays Center arena, either—disruptions that were supposed to be relieved through environmental commitments by Forest City that ESDC failed to enforce. ESDC says it’s learned from past mistakes, but we’ve heard that before. Should we have to take a chance on the agency’s utter inability to look out for the community’s interests for another two decades?

Atlantic Yards is the only large State project where decisions are made by a board of political appointees with no local members. It’s time to use this opportunity to tell Governor Cuomo how you feel about giving Forest City Ratner the exclusive right to hold 22 acres of our community hostage for 25 years with no accountability to the public. Join us! Make your voice heard for accountability, transparency and community input and speak up for Brooklyn!

State court decision acknowledges misrepresentations by ESDC may have enabled construction of Barclays Center to proceed

In a decision issued yesterday, New York State Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman confirmed what many observers of the Atlantic Yards project have long suspected: if the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) had fully disclosed the terms of its 2009 agreement with Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC), the Barclays Center arena might not have been built. Justice Friedman’s decision granted a motion filed by BrooklynSpeaks sponsors for recovery of legal fees from a 2009 suit challenging ESDC’s approval of changes to the Atlantic Yards plan. Those changes allowed FCRC to extend the construction of the residential portion of the project—including the majority of its promised affordable housing—from ten to twenty-five years.

In legal papers filed in response to BrooklynSpeaks’ 2009 suit, ESDC had suggested its agreement with FCRC included provisions to ensure the completion of Atlantic Yards on its original ten-year schedule. However, ESDC delayed releasing the text of the agreement to the Court prior to arguments being heard in the case. Yesterday, Justice Friedman wrote, “Had the ESDC disclosed the terms of the Development Agreement that were being negotiated when the petitions were initially heard, or brought the Agreement to the court’s attention promptly after it was executed, construction would not have been as advanced on the arena at the time of the court’s determination requiring an SEIS, and the balance of the equities may have favored a stay pending preparation of the SEIS.” If such a stay had been issued after initial arguments, FCRC’s access to $500 million in bond financing for arena construction would have been in jeopardy.

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.

Community leaders and elected officials demand ESDC study restoring Atlantic Yards’ original 10-year construction schedule

BROOKLYN, February 27, 2013: In advance of a public hearing on a draft scope of work for a court-ordered environmental review of 2009 changes to the Atlantic Yards project which extended its construction from ten to twenty-five years, community leaders and elected officials expressed dismay that the draft scope contains no analysis of alternatives that would enable the project to be completed in its original ten-year time frame.

A group of BrooklynSpeaks sponsors, local residents and elected officials filed suit in November of 2009, charging that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) approved Atlantic Yards’ 2009 Modified General Project Plan (MGPP) without sufficient study of the effects of a 25-year construction period on surrounding communities. In July 2011, State Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman ruled that ESDC’s approval of the 2009 MGPP lacked a rational basis and violated New York State environmental law. Justice Friedman ordered ESDC to complete a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) and revisit its approval of the 2009 MGPP. ESDC’s issuance of the SEIS draft scope of analysis was delayed until December 2012, while the agency unsuccessfully fought to have the court’s decision overturned.

“Atlantic Yards was approved on the basis of removing blight conditions in and around the Vanderbilt rail yards,” said Jo Anne Simon, Democratic District Leader of the 52nd A.D. “Instead, the project has actually created blight by demolishing buildings, displacing residents and businesses, and causing massive disruptions for the project’s neighbors across its 22-acre site. It’s outrageous that ESDC would fail to even consider how a decade or more of delay could be avoided.”

Will a reorganized ESDC bring accountability to Atlantic Yards?

On the last day of 2012, the New York Post reported that Governor Cuomo plans to reorganize the Empire State Development Corporation. An official from the Cuomo administration was quoted describing the agency as “disjointed, dysfunctional — and nobody really is sure on the inside who is responsible for what.’’

Many who have followed ESDC’s role in the Atlantic Yards project certainly share that assessment. Instead of providing the type of oversight that would ensure the delivery of jobs and affordable housing promised to justify the massive public aid, zoning overrides, and access to eminent domain the project has received, ESDC has allowed itself to be used as a shield by Forest City Ratner behind which the developer avoids both scrutiny for its actions and accountability for its commitments.

Affordable housing bonds shouldn't subsidize luxury apartments

Following the groundbreaking for the first residential tower at its Atlantic Yards project, community organizations expressed outrage over Forest City Ratner Companies’ (FCRC) intention to use New York City Housing Development Corporation bonds to subsidize apartments too small for working families, and too expensive for the majority of Brooklynites. .

The plans for B2, as the first residential building is known, include 363 apartments, approximately half of which are described as “affordable.” However, of the “affordable” apartments, only 35 are two-bedroom units suitable for families, and only 9 of those are intended to be affordable to families earning the median income for Brooklyn which is just over $43,000 for a family of four. More than half of the two-bedroom “affordable” apartments are intended to be marketed to families earning more than $100,000 annually.

New York State Liquor Authority votes to cut off Barclays Center liquor sales at 1:00 AM

BROOKLYN, August 29, 2012: Today, the Board of the New York State Liquor Authority voted to impose a 1:00 AM cut off of liquor sales at the Barclays Center arena. Forest City Ratner Companies and Levy Premium Foodservice had applied for a license with a request to be allowed to serve liquor until 2:00 AM. In stipulating the earlier cut off, SLA Chairman Denis Rosen acknowledged concerns from local residents that late night drinking at the arena would negatively impact quality of life in the mostly residential neighborhoods surrounding Barclays Center, and that the potential of the arena being used for private events could result in more late night drinking than has been described by Barclays Center. The decision by the SLA gives the Barclays Center applicants the ability to request a later cut off time in the future after experience with arena patron drinking has been established. Chairman Rosen made clear that such a future application by Barclays Center should be accompanied by community support.