Rants and Letters about the Atlantic Yards Proposal
The following are opinionated letters and rants about the Atlantic Yards project. Feel free to use any part of them. Send us your rant.
Why do people still put their faith in a bunch of greedy billionaire businessmen (like Ratner, Bloomberg, Pataki...), who are not looking out for you or even care about your interests, instead of supporting the middle class residents who may have very real concerns about traffic, pollution, overcrowding, scale, and too much luxury housing? What, you will not be stuck in traffic like every other joe, or you will never know anyone with asthma? Get real. Fort Greene is a mixed income, mixed race community and has been for a long time. What if some people want to try to keep that balance instead of "richifying" it to be like every other upscale part of Manhattan? The Atlantic Yards much touted 225 low income apartments will probably be built in Crown Heights anyway, and there is nothing holding Ratner to honor any promises. The race issue is just a smokescreen to get people not talking about the problems with this project. And BTW both my parents and myself were born in Brooklyn.

The Ratner Plan for the Atlantic Yards Project is totally out of scale for Fort Greene and Prospect Heights. Just because a millionaire like Ratner can buy a team and create supporting "community" organizations does not mean he ruin multiple neighborhoods, destroy century-old buildings, and force people to move.

It is common knowledge that a majority of the "community groups" endorsing the project are actually shills for the Ratner Organization. Most have received thousands of dollars in "donations" at the very same time they came out in support of this monstrosity. One such group, BUILD is even located in one of Ratner's buildings.

As a TAX-PAYING Homeowner in Fort Greene I am appalled at the insider deal-making that has gone on. This is a sham, especially combined with Ratner's "promises" to build "low income" housing. Ratner specifically courted minority groups like BUILD with bogus, empty promises and ignored the real community residents – the mostly middle class tax-paying citizens and small business owners & their employees from the surrounding neighborhoods.

And Ratner's number of low-income apartments keeps shrinking. We are essentially talking about only 225 apartments that will be available in 2016.  Who is to say that the "low income housing" part of the project may "run out of money" by then and never be built? Remember BATTERY PARK CITY? (See The Failed Promise of Battery Park City).

Groups like BUILD have led people to believe they are going to get good paying jobs, housing and go to Nets games for free or at low cost. Ratner has promised 56 tickets at a reduced price to minorities per game. That's 56 out of 18,000 to 19,000 seats. Great. These "community groups" have been so mislead they do not realize that in effect they are helping to create the biggest gentrification project in NYC history, which will achieve the opposite of their goals.  

Roger Greene, the unscrupulous cofounder of BUILD, is a disgraced NYS Assemblyman who pled guilty to double-dipping: illegally taking money from the State for bogus transportation costs relating to his trips to Albany -- while he was already getting free limo trips from his "relationship" with the State's #1 prison builder and management company. Roger Greene was described in his probation officer's report as "being dishonest". In addition, while City Council member he frequently stated he was a big opponent of building more prisons. And, his son works for Ratner.

BUILD recently came out against the building of a Wal-Mart on Long Island. Doesn't a project like that also supply minority jobs in both construction and employment in the store? They are hypocrites. Perhaps Wal-Mart refused to give them a payoff.

The intersections of Flatbush, Atlantic and Fourth Avenue are already a traffic and pedestrian nightmare. Have you ever driven through there? Even on a Saturday traffic can be backed up for ten blocks each way.

And have you ever been to Ratner's first Atlantic Mall? It is a shoddily-constructed insult to the community that has never been able to keep long-term tenants (with few exceptions). Their solution was to cram in a NYC Motor Vehicles Bureau, bad credit bureaus and no-name mortgage company offices instead of retailers. Some residents of Fort Greene call it the "prison mall" due to its lack of windows on the stores and narrow hallways. It is almost like it was designed specifically to control looters. Furthermore, I feel that Ratner's company has numerous examples of conflict of interest involving his leasing his long-vacant space at his Atlantic Mall to city and state organizations. If any building should be torn down it should be the Atlantic Mall.

In addition the forever-financially-strapped and corrupt MTA board agreed to sell the land to Ratner for much less than another developer's bid, while they raise the subway fares every year or so. They approved the $4.5 billion construction project (which may be the largest and most complicated in NYC history) in less than a week. This is truly not an example of our democracy in action. It more like a return to the corruption of the Boss Tweed - Tammany Hall era.

Or what about the "public park space" located on the Atlantic side of the new mall? It is another great example of what the Ratner gang calls "public green space”: Cafe tables, few trees, Starbucks and concrete. It is essentially private land patrolled by his private security forces - where one cannot even leisurely sit with their leashed dog while sipping a mall-bought Starbucks cup of coffee.  And most of the publicly accessible “open green space” touted for the grounds of the AY project will be in shadow most of the time. What grows in perpetual shadow?

The DEIS Report would be considered to be an absurd joke book if the implications were not so serious. In it they call the area near the yards "blighted" and "high crime," – which is totally absurd considering there are million-dollar townhouses and lofts on Dean and Pacific, and there is a POLICE STATION right there (on Sixth Ave. and Dean)!

Specific problems I am worried about: Nightmarish Traffic (already bad at that area), dangerous pedestrian crossings (Atlantic, Flatbush and 4th Ave. on foot or bicycle); lack of residential parking for long-time residents on Fort Greene streets; new buildings up to 60-stories tall blocking sunlight for many historic sites, districts, and historic Fort Greene Park – which is a sacred Revolutionary War Burial Site; blockage of sunlight in winter mean higher heating bills for residents; cheap construction (like the original Atlantic Center); increased pollution from traffic congestion; building demolition releases lead, asbestos and other carcinogens into the air; overcrowding on subways and buses; sewage overload; bad civic planning; the creation of a wall of glass and steel separating four homogenous low-rise neighborhoods (Ft. Greene, Prospect Heights, Park Slope and Clinton Hill); detrimental use of "super blocks" (which have proven to be a failure when used in past urban renewal projects i.e. Jane Jacobs); new retail mall businesses will hurt local development and shop owners (in all surrounding areas); development does not fit character of surrounding low-rise neighborhood and local historic district; lack of crowd control (i.e. rowdy sports fans vomiting and urinating); overcrowded streets and subways before and after games; lack of planned parking facilities for arena and new residents; use of city and state funds to build project which will provide very little money for city and state (and nothing for local residents); access to police and fire stations will be cut off from surrounding neighborhoods; heat and glare from reflections from buildings (a Gehry building in LA has been causing many problems because of heat and glare); increased wind (from wind tunnel effects); nighttime glow; noise from ugly Gehry-designed arena; the creation of a perfect terrorist target, blockage of main arteries in and out of Brooklyn (Atlantic Avenue is main disaster route) and more...

BUILD THE ARENA IN CONEY ISLAND, EAST NEW YORK or QUEENS where they would welcome the development. The real community groups in Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Boerum Hill and Park Slope have not even been consulted and were shut out from meetings about the project. They are all united against this massive tax-payer-funded monstrosity - which by the way is estimated to benefit the city only a paltry $1 million a year over 40 years!.  

Take the state and city money and renovate existing apartments NOW for low-income families!  Not 2016!

The whole Ratner arena project stinks for nearly everyone - from the local residents to both the City and State. Even Mayor Bloomberg, said an article in Tuesday's Oct. 18th 2005 NY Times, that [sic] "if he lived in the surrounding neighborhood he would also be against the project."

Please do the right thing and stop or downsize this nightmare before it ruins our neighborhoods.

Dear Mr. Spitzer -

Throughout your career, you have always been one of the good guys who went after the bad guys with their corrupt business dealings. I am writing to tell you: if there was ever a shady business deal it is the Atlantic Yards Development.

A QUESTION:  The 26-acre West Side Husdon Rail Yards have been appriased at more than $1.1 billion dollars while the 22-acre Atlantic Yards Rail Yards (which includes 13.6 claimed acres of city streets) are being sold to Bruce Ratner for a measly $100 million dollars (and there were other higher bidders). Real estate prices in Manhattan are a little higher than Brooklyn – but not this much higher. The price should be around $400 million. Can you say corrupt insider deal?

One factor that might explain this obvious example of cronyism is that Governor Geroge Pataki, Bruce Ratner and ESDC head Charles Gargano are all old law school buddies. Gargano, as head of Empire State Development Corporation was appointed by his good friend, Pataki. This three-man cabal are attempting to create the single largest development in NYC's history by pulling the wool over everyone's eyes and overriding the city's own building & environmental codes and bulldozing its tax-paying residents.

The scheme was hatched by a number of seemingly unrelated events: First, one of the three men, Ratner, buys a sport team, the New Jersey Nets. He then hires a big-shot megalomanic architect, Frank Gehry to design an arena complex. Meanwhile the other two, Pataki and Gargano, using their old-boy-network and back room under-the-table deals, devise a scheme to fund a private multi-billion-dollar arena and housing development with state and city money along with other incentives such as tax breaks.

Ratner then starts throwing big money around, buying community groups, sponsoring minority construction training, hiring public relations companies, investing $1 million dollars in the minority owned Carver bank, among other things. He creates what Frank Rich calls a "fictional reality." Its all public relations 101.

More importantly he starts buying up the buildings within the proposed projects footprint offering buyout deals and empty promises of future apartments to the homeowners and tenants of the buildings he plans to destroy. Using his PR machine, Ratner then creates an environment that capitalizes on Brooklyn's nostalgic sadness from its loss of the Brooklyn Dodgers team fifty years ago to Los Angeles, along with the borough's diminished economic identity.

The three schemers then get the corrupt, perpetually-cash-strapped MTA board, headed by another Pataki appointee and fellow Republican, Peter S. Kalikow, to sell the city-owned 8.3-acre rail yard land to Ratner at a lower price than its worth. They also get the ESDC to approve the taking of 13.8 acres of homes through the controversial use of eminent domain. Amazingly the MTA board approves an intricate and mammoth $4.5 billion development project in less than a week.

Following this, the Ratner group attempts to bulldoze the general population and the press with PR, using the suspect "community" groups as support, and tries to turn any opposition to the project into a white vs. black, or rich vs. poor issue. He creates what Frank Rich calls a "fictional reality."

Then this conglomerate of private and public figures tries to ram through the whole monstrous and environmentally-unsound $4.5 billion project with the release in the mid-summer doldrums of 4,000 pages of documents (the DEIS, the Draft Environmental Impact Study, the GPP report) in just 75 days - without any real community involvement. The real benefits of this project are only for its investors – a billion dollars in profit.

And while this illegal land grab has been going on, the heart and soul of my beloved Brooklyn is being cut up and ripped out. These hideous Gehry buildings will be here for the rest of our lives; so will my historic brownstone, the historic district in which I live, and my wonderful park, Fort Greene Park, the sacred revolutionary war burial site. Soon they may all be enveloped in dark shadows.

If this project goes through, for the rest of my time on earth (unless I am also forced to move), I'll have the horrendous traffic, the sewage, the overwhelmed transportation systems, the brownouts, the overcrowding, the garbage, the pollution, the glare, the super blocks, increased alienation, increased crime, etc... And Ratner and his Rat-Pack will have their billion dollar profit - which in the end, we, the taxpayers will be paying for.

Please help us stop this massive environmental nightmare from being built. Do the right thing. Launch an investigation immediately into the corruption of the old-boy-network and this insane back-room deal, and put it on ice.

Thank you.

Or the battle for 225 "low-income" apartments

Nine years ago when I moved to Fort Greene the big issue of the day was the gentrification of the community. There were emergency anti-gentrification meetings at the churches, and an organization was started that vowed to stop the displacement of Fort Greene's low-income families.

Gentrification is most harmful to minority communities. It creates escalation of real estate values which forces low-income families from their homes. It can cause the ruination of the real character of neighborhoods through an influx of upscale residents, higher rents and food prices, and many other major issues. It also brings in greedy real estate developers who try to reclaim the inner cities. Today, what I can't understand is, why did a cadre of mostly minority “community” groups and black leaders proudly sign on as supporters of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, when, in effect, they were sanctioning the largest gentrification project in the history of New York City?

The Ratner Public Relations machine has cunningly sold the Atlantic Yards complex as a wonderful cure-all to the Brooklyn minority communities: providing low income housing, good paying jobs and access to Nets games and other entertainment. By doing this they have deviously made this a black vs. white, rich vs. poor issue. But it is all a smokescreen.

In truth, there may be very few good paying, long-term jobs for Brooklynites, especially minorities. Sure they'll be some short-term construction positions, and some other related jobs later. But what the workers don't get is: something will be built on those yards – whether it's the Ratner Plan or another more favorable one – and there will be construction jobs in either scenario.

The 15,000 construction jobs the Ratner Company proudly predicts on their website is another falsehood; in reality it's 1,500 construction jobs a year over ten years of work. And speaking of the building phase, imagine the effects of ten solid years of construction on the residents of Fort Greene & Prospect Heights? This may inadvertently create a generation of vitamin-D-deprived, asthmatic children who grow up in a world never knowing what its like without the constant noise and pollution from major construction next door.

There will be plenty of other jobs, but not the kind the community groups are led to believe. All Ratner's brand-new, tax-payer-funded office space will probably be filled with corporate back room office workers and other business-suited staffers. Many will most likely live elsewhere, either in the suburbs of Westchester, Long Island and New Jersey. Some lucky ones may even live in the expensive condos located in the upscale Gehry-designed towers over the arena.

Let's talk about the apartments: right off, 69% of all the apartments in Atlantic Yards will be upscale Condos. Another 27% will be “market rate” rentals - which means rents about from $1,900 to $4,000 a month for one to three bedroom apartments. That means 96% of this "truly beneficial" project will be middle-class and up – at a time when, according to the Year 2000 Census, the median income in Brooklyn is $36,214. Most of the people this project has been "sold" to, the lower -income Brooklynites, will be unable to afford to live there. It seems that, despite their community leaders' "agreements" of low income housing, the publicly-traded Forest City Ratner Company only really wants to maximize their profits.

Despite all the hoopla about low-income housing, according to FCRC's own figures (see housing_chart.pdf from their own website), actual low income housing will only comprise about 4% of the total development - which is 2,250 units. Of those 2,250 units, only 225 apartments will be reserved for families of four that earn between $21,270 and $28,360. Yes, only 225 apartments.

Most of the “affordable” rental units will go to families that earn above $42,540. Nine hundred of the 2,250 units will be set aside for families earning more than $70,000. The reality is clear: the majority of Ratner’s “affordable” units would be available only to families making $70,000 or more... and the project will involve tearing down existing buildings where real low-income families live, and work.

To make it even more absurd, those 225 "low-income" apartments will be assigned via a lottery, and will be rent stabilized. That means the rent will go up about 6% each year. For those lucky winners earning minimum wage, the low-income apartments they get will only be affordable for a very short time. The units can also be built off-site – which, believe it or not, is legal. And, if the completed Atlantic Yards complex does not meet the low-income housing requirements of the Community Benefits Agreement, all Ratner will get is a fine of a few hundred thousand dollars. That's a drop in the bucket for a billion dollar company.

To further negate the promises made, most of those 225 apartments are probably already spoken for. Many of the real low income residents who lived in the project's footprint on the Prospect Heights side were afraid of being evicted when eminent domain took their homes. Starting in 2004 the Ratner Company started negotiating with those residents and "buying them out." Many were given a "deal" by Ratner that was essentially: "Leave now, I'll pay your rent for three years, and then when the buildings are complete you will get first dibs on an affordable apartment."

Sadly, many of those long-time, rent controlled residents who were paying $400 a month rent while living on a pension may never get that kind of a living situation again in their lives. In addition, their three years will be up very soon and there are no buildings to live in, and may not be for a long time. To complete this sleazy deal, the project will involve tearing down existing buildings containing real affordable housing, where real low-income families have lived, and worked.

Basically, when the project is built, there will be a huge influx of upscale white residents, further promoting the feared mass gentrification. This project will create what they call a "gentrification bomb" which may really destroy the wonderful ethnically-&-economically mixed neighborhoods in the development’s shadows. Who else can afford million dollar penthouses and rents of $3,000 and up? And the stock brokers who buy the million dollar apartments will certainly not want to be living next door to low-income housing.

According to the Census Bureau, from 2004 to 2005 there was a 6.5 percent increase in white residents in Brooklyn. Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards and the rest of the upscale condos all over the area could further change the Brooklyn political and social dynamics. You can thank ACORN, the community organization which aims to gain better housing for low income families, for this economic power shift.

Frank Gehry is not an urban planner. He builds buildings (ugly ones at that) not complete developments. I do not think one respectable urban planner is on this project. When you build something of this magnitude - essentially a city within a city - you need multiple experts on traffic flow, infrastructure, emergency services, electricity, gas, sewage, and other essentials like a post office (this complex should have its own zip code), schools, daycare centers, medical facilities, fire houses, police stations etc... None of these essential services are included within the scope of this project.

Remember the birth of Battery Park City in the 1970s?  That massive project was also touted as providing over low-to-middle income housing – over 22,000 units. Around 1977 I went down to Battery Park City to put my name on the list for Gateway Plaza, the first of many proposed low-to-middle income apartment buildings. There was nothing in Batter Park City then, except huge piles of dirt, bulldozers, a rental office, and the humble beginnings of an apartment building in the middle. (I did not get an apartment.)

If one goes to Battery Park City today, that one low-to-middle income apartment building is still standing in the middle, but it is now surrounded by squeaky clean streets lined with slick office buildings, cafes, luxury rentals towers and condominiums with health clubs. The office buildings house wealthy financial companies, each with their own legions of business-class workers. Instead of civic space, Batter Park City today resembles a private luxury gated community. They call it "World Financial Center" for a reason.

Like Atlantic Yards, the financing for Battery Park City came mostly from public State and City money, which was inadvertently used to finance what it now private property. It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that we are being sold the same deceptive bill of goods in the Atlantic Yards.

And what about the Nets Arena: has anyone in the community ever gone to a NY Knicks game? Can most people even afford to go to one? The popular TV show, Saturday Night Live recently ran a funny but ironic short feature called “Find the Black People at a Knicks Game.”  The film was basically video clips of the seated fans in Madison Square Garden during a Knicks game, with circles pointing out the black people. And, guess what, there were only a handful in the seats, and the majority were the players on the court.

Most people should know that the Garden basketball crowd is mostly white and upscale. To counter this, Ratner claims he will set aside a small number of seats for minority members of the community. But a promise of a few low cost seats out of 18,000 is not only an admission of the truth, it does not justify all the lies.

And while it's speculated that Ratner Company may clear almost a billion dollars profit from this state and city-funded project, all the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods will get in return is a hideous, unwanted, giant upscale complex that will be here the rest of our lives.

The question I want answered is: if we really care so much about providing affordable, low-income housing, why aren't we using that same state and city money to renovate 10,000 low-income apartments today - instead of waiting for 225 units in 2016?

In the words of the seminal rap group Public Enemy: “Don't believe the hype!”

Dear Mayor Bloomberg:

You have repeatedly marginalized and dismissed the real local residents who will live in the shadows of this environmental nightmare waiting to happen. Your own administration's recently released guidelines for building in NYC state that no arena or stadium should be built in populated areas. (Gee, what a perfect terrorist target!)

The August 23rd ESDC “Public Hearing” was perceived by many to be a sham and an insult to the community. Apparently the pro arena people felt so threatened that they bussed in paid supporters, entertainers, and a full dog-and-pony show for the press.
These "interlopers" were fed free lunches from the man himself, a beaming Bruce Ratner, who looked fab and well fed in an ACORN t-shirt. Throughout the hearing many of these paid cheerleaders were purposefully dismissive and disruptive of opponents. Some were alleged to have threatened some of the members of the arena opposition.

Forest City Ratner brought out two NJ Nets stars (who say they can't wait to play in Brooklyn) and resuscitated aging early-1970s singer Roberta Flack from obscurity to aid in the mantra-like call for affordable housing and jobs. Coincidentally her lawyer owns a piece of the Nets.

In one of the most disgusting displays of the day, convicted Assemblyman Roger Greene had the gall to compare millionaire developer and new best friend of the black man, Bruce Ratner, to legendary Brooklyn Dodger's manager Branch Rickey -- the man who broke the pro baseball color barrier in 1946 by hiring Jackie Robinson.

If the essence of Brooklyn were not at stake the Ratner Company's PR efforts would appear both humorous and pathetic in their catering to a certain demographic. Why can't they ever discuss this project on its own true merits?

Numerous community residents who oppose the project who signed in early did not get to speak at all. The chanting union workers who shouted down the opposition speakers for "jobs" most likely do not live in our neighborhood. Nor do they give a $@*% about us. What you and these workers do not seem to comprehend is that there will be construction jobs in whatever project they choose to build on that PUBLIC LAND. The whole "hearing" was turned into a public farce.

I am not against building something on those rail yards. But I am against the use of eminent domain to take real affordable housing away from hundreds of low-income residents just to build condos for the rich -- displacing over 3,000 people in the process. And in the end only 225 apartments will be available for families earning below the median income in Brooklyn, in 2016. If this parade of pandering politicians and "community" leaders really cared about creating "affordable" housing they could take that $200 million dollars that our state (and city) has already authorized and renovate thousands of apartments right now -- not the next decade. And why build a gigantic upscale housing project in the first place when the housing market is already softening in NYC?

If the project goes through as planned, these power brokers intent on "improving" Brooklyn may inadvertently create a mass migration of neighborhood residents selling their brownstones and moving out of this even more polluted and congested city. This development could undermine all the bona fide regeneration in these surrounding neighborhoods, bringing Brooklyn back to the dangerous backwater wasteland of the 1970s (yes I lived here then). The much touted Brooklyn "revitalization" hailed by the arena's champions is already happening without your help, by private individual and businesses, and this project may signal its death knoll.

The horrid glass and steel buildings will cast their ugly shadows on numerous historic districts and sites, cause massive traffic jams, overload the electrical and sewage grids (not to mention schools, hospitals, fire stations and police services) and cost NYC (and NYS) taxpayers many more millions of dollars in subsidies – all for the profit of a few insiders.

Your true legacy in office will be these mammoth cheesy buildings, each with their concrete open space "plazas," and well positioned Starbucks. This overcrowded complex will alienate and separate historic low-rise neighborhoods like mine -- neighborhoods which were restored by years of home equity loans and sweat equity by individual taxpayers and homeowners like myself.

You have become like most of today’s politicians: totally out of touch with your real constituents. You obviously favor and protect the profits of connected corporations while crapping on the local residents. You are just as corrupt as the Bush Administration.

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