Jul 29, 2014
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Community Enters New Phase In Atlantic Yards Fight

As window for legal action closes and with Barclays Center construction underway, activists call for increased government oversight.

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It wasn't the end, or the beginning of the end. 

According to Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, D-Brooklyn, quoting Winston Churchill to describe the state of the ongoing fight against Atlantic Yards redevelopment: "It is the end of the beginning."

Jeffries joined concerned residents, civic leaders and other elected officials at a meeting Saturday afternoon to discuss the next chapter for those opposed to a mega-project that was no longer a matter of plans or renderings — but as , more and more of a day-to-day reality.

"We were not successful," said Gib Veconi, a member of the board of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, of efforts thus far by civic groups and residents seeking to stop, delay or alter the course of Atlantic Yards development. 

With recourse to the courts almost completely cut off, critics of the Atlantic Yards project detailed a new strategy to make the powers-that-be at the site more accountable to residents concerned about traffic impacts, plans for surface parking and a 25-year development timetable. 

"You can no longer have a public-private partnership with the public nowhere to be found," Jeffries said.

Along with state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, D-Brooklyn, Jeffries is a chief sponsor of legislation creating a subsidiary of the Empire State Economic Development Corp. to oversee development at the 22-acre site. 

As proposed, this Atlantic Yards oversight entity would be modeled on similar panels already in place at city projects like Queens West, Moynihan Station and Brooklyn Bridge Park. 

"This is the largest project being done in Brooklyn with no community voice," said 52nd Assembly District leader and Boerum Hill resident Jo Anne Simon. "This is something we have a right to."

Sponsored by Brooklyn Speaks, a coalition of civic groups from neighborhoods adjacent to Atlantic Yards, the meeting focused on governance reform for a project that critics said had already failed to provide promised benefits such as affordable housing and jobs for the community. 

"We were promised 2,200 units of affordable housing, jobs and open spaces," said Michelle de la Uz, co-chair of the Fifth Avenue Committee. "All of these pieces have been delayed."

For Prospect Heights resident Wayne Bailey, it was concerns over the parking of construction vehicles on his block of Pacific Street between 6th and Carlton avenues that brought him to Saturday's meeting at Atlantic Terrace. 

"It's about governance," Bailey said. "It's about knowing who to call when you have a problem."

The bill creating an oversight panel for Atlantic Yards is currently in the Assembly's powerful Rules Committee, which is chaired by Speaker Sheldon Silver. 

Speaking in an empty space with the steel of the rising Barclays Center visible through a window, Jeffries seemed optimistic about the bill's chances of getting a full Assembly vote before the Legislature convened for its summer recess on June 20. 

However, Montgomery — who saw a similar effort fail to pass through a Democrat-controlled state Senate last year — left on a more pragmatic note.

"We are dealing with an environment where money trumps almost everything," she said. "It's been our problem since the beginning."

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