Judge: Atlantic Yards Fails the ‘Transparency’ Test

Most people would understand a quarter-century-long construction project would have a different impact on the surrounding community than one lasting a “mere” decade. Then again, most people don’t work for Empire State Development Corporation. On Nov. 9, State Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman reminded the ESDC of that difference, and in her decision gave a victory to critics of the massive Atlantic Yards.

Justice Friedman ruled that the ESDC, which is supposed to oversee Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project, only looked at the environmental impact of 10 years’ worth of construction. The development agreement between the agency and Forest City Ratner — withheld from the public until earlier this year — actually allows for construction to continue for 25 years. The potentially serious effects of that longer period were never analyzed by ESDC.

In “what appears to be yet another failure of transparency on ESDC’s part in reviewing the 2009 MGPP [Modified General Project Plan],” Friedman wrote in her decision, “ESDC never directly acknowledged or addressed the impact of the Development Agreement on the build-out; and … never brought to the court’s attention the extended construction schedule the Development Agreement contemplates.”

The judge ruled that ESDC must now justify why it used only a 10-year construction period to evaluate impacts on the community — a time frame even Forest City Ratner officials acknowledge is a best-case scenario.

BrooklynSpeaks, a coalition of the Park Slope Civic Council and other neighborhood groups, and Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn brought the petition to the court.

“The Civic Council put considerable effort into preparing and delivering testimony in response to the draft environmental impact statement [EIS],” said Civic Council first vice president Lauri Schindler. “We learned then, and continued to have seen evidence over the years, that the process would fail the community. Judge Friedman’s decision is a first step in holding the ESDC accountable.”

Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, which is also a BrooklynSpeaks member, said, “ESDC’s deliberate withholding of key details in the development agreement at the original hearing also highlights the critical need for reform of Atlantic Yards’ oversight as called for by BrooklynSpeaks.”

The decision itself does not stay construction, he noted. However, “in advance of a response by ESDC to the court’s order to explain its rationale, the BrooklynSpeaks petitioners intend to ask the court to stay further construction on the Atlantic Yards project which would create ‘interim’ impacts extending past the 10 years studied in the Atlantic Yards EIS.”

“BrooklynSpeaks,” Schindler concluded, “has taken a long view of this project, and continues to work with our elected officials at the state level to bring governance to this project.”

For more information on Atlantic Yards, visit the websites for the Civic Council, BrooklynSpeaks, and the Atlantic Yards Report.

— David Herman

from the November 20120 Civic News