Is There a Consultant In the House?

By Stephen Witt

While there was some tension in the air, Borough President Marty Markowitz’s meeting with the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN) last week proved a civil discourse. The meeting was held at the YWCA on Third Avenue. “They [CBN] are an important part of this planning process,” said Markowitz. “In my opinion they represent a cross-section of the legitimate concerns of the Atlantic Yards project. I welcome their study and their comments.” The CBN was established in 2004 so community groups could better understand and convey their concerns regarding the proposed Forest City Ratner Companies [FCRC] development of the Brooklyn Atlantic/Vanderbilt Yards. The CBN now has some 25 members including such established organizations as the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, the Park Slope Civic Association, the Fifth Avenue Committee, the Pratt Area Community Council and the Fort Greene Association. It also has several activist groups members such as Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn and the Prospect Heights Action Coalition, who have been highly critical of the Forest City Ratner Plan for the project. The CBN has no position for or against the Atlantic Yards, but does advocate for effective community participation in the Environmental Review process. As such, the CBN recently received three responses to an RFP (Request for Proposals) for a consultant to represent the community in the environmental review process. The CBN requested that all media at the meeting withhold details on the returned RFPs until they are read through. The CBN’s position is that under current state statutes, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) has the ability to ask the developer [FCRC] for the money to hire the consultant. However, the organization is also looking for alternative funding sources as a back-up. After arriving at the meeting, Markowitz opened by saying while he enthusiastically supported the project, he is also aware of the challenges and problems it may create. Among the more serious problems are traffic and increased environmental and infrastructure concerns, he stated. Markowitz said his office is prepared to mitigate these problems both “in and out of the box” and that it should work in “concert and tapestry” with the community. The Environmental Impact Study (EIS) review should have a handle on all the issues, he said. “I’m aware that some here want to stop the project at all costs, but others want to work on it,” said Markowitz, before opening the floor to discussions. The first question posed to Markowitz was whether his office could come up with money for the independent consultant to represent the community. Markowitz replied that the borough president’s office only gets capital funds for capital projects and he has no funds for a consultant. Markowitz then said he would join a request from City Councilmember Letitia James and other borough council members for some City Council funding for the consultant. However, Markowitz stopped short of telling James he would sign onto a letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver expressing some concerns about the project. He did say he would look at the letter. James has been highly critical of the project and Silver stopped the West Side Stadium project. In regard to questions about possible security concerns once a Brooklyn arena was built, Markowitz said the arena should get the same security that such venues as Madison Square Garden and Lincoln Center enjoy. Markowitz also said he was thinking about suggesting the creation of a police substation in the area. Markowitz agreed to ask FCRC if would accept community input as part of the design team. Markowitz said he has several design ideas as well, including incorporating stoops and bricks into the design to give it a “Brooklyn feel.” Markowitz said he feels the project should undergo some downsizing, but understands the need for building up as well, especially as other neighborhoods in the borough are downzoning. The area is becoming more affluent and there is a need for more affordable housing which the project will bring, he said.

More from Around New York