Atlantic Yards Housing Postponed

With a spate of lawsuits challenging it rejected by the courts, the Atlantic Yards development in downtown Brooklyn looked like a done deal. But on Sept. 28, developer Bruce Ratner announced that the project would take up to 25 years to complete, and that much of it, including almost all the promised affordable housing, might never be built.

The project’s centerpiece, an arena for the Nets basketball team at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, will be built, Ratner said at a press conference, as will one of the planned apartment buildings. The rest of the development is in limbo. This includes a planned office tower and 14 other apartment buildings.

“It was never supposed to be the time we were supposed to build them in,” Ratner said. “It’s really market-dependent as to when it will really be completed. If the market never comes back, we’re all in trouble.”

The 15 high-rise apartment buildings originally planned were slated to contain 6,400 apartments, with 2,250 of them renting below market rate. Last December, however, a revised agreement between Forest City Ratner and the Empire State Development Corporation reduced the number of “affordable” units required to 300.

The promise of affordable housing—and that it would be available within ten years—was crucial to winning state financing for Atlantic Yards and political support in Brooklyn, most notably from Borough President Marty Markowitz and the community organization ACORN. (The project defines “affordable” as up to $3,168 a month rent, based on a maximum income of $126,720 for a family of four.) Forest City Ratner won permission from the state to evict tenants, homeowners, and businesses who occupied several blocks in the Prospect Heights neighborhood, on the south side of the development’s site.

Opponents say the declaration bolsters the one lawsuit challenging Atlantic Yards that is still outstanding. In it, the 22 plaintiffs argue that the changes in the plan since its environmental-impact statement was approved in 2006 should require a new environmental review.

New York Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman agreed to reopen the case, says Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, after the new master development agreement between Ratner and the ESDC was released in January. That agreement showed that the ESDC had agreed to allow up to 25 years to finish construction—or longer, if Ratner applied for an extension based on poor market conditions.

Judge Friedman heard arguments in the case on June 30. The plaintiffs are contending that the original environmental review did not consider the increased impact of extending construction an additional 15 years.

“All of the calculations about the economic benefits of the project, as well as all the projections about the environmental impact, were based on a ten-year construction period,” says Veconi. If the project takes longer to build, he adds, the benefits will come later and the impact of construction will be prolonged.

“The benefits promised were illusory. Mr. Ratner has essentially conceded they were ginned up to justify the massive direct and indirect government funding,” Veconi said in a statement released by BrooklynSpeaks, a coalition of affordable-housing, community, and business groups opposed to Atlantic Yards.