Atlantic Yards Draws Proposal for New Advisory Panel

Coalition of Brooklyn community groups seeks to replace current board created to review plans for borough’s biggest development.

By Soo Min Kim and Chantal Vaca

A coalition of Brooklyn community groups proposed replacing a state-appointed advisory board for the $4.9 billion development known as Atlantic Yards, the largest construction project in the borough.

The new panel would differ from the existing Atlantic Yards Community Development Corp. by limiting the governor’s appointees to two members of an 11-member body instead of a majority of a 14-seat group. The remaining positions on the proposed panel – to be called Brooklyn Crossroads Local Development Corp. – would be filled by the mayor and local legislators. Only Brooklyn residents could serve on the new board.

“It’s pretty clear the hands-off management at Atlantic Yards hasn’t worked,” said Gib Veconi, who led the Feb. 2 meeting of BrooklynSpeaks, the community group proposing the changes. “We’re close to a cycle where it looks like another type of a bailout or a renegotiation might be in the works, so we believe it’s time for a different approach.” Veconi also is chair of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council

The development, which was rebranded in 2014 as Pacific Park but is still known and referred to as Atlantic Yards, is a 22-acre project that includes the Barclays Center arena as well as commercial and residential properties consisting of 6,430 apartments, with 2,250 units reserved for low- to middle-income households.

With less than 35% of the construction done, the developers have three years to meet a deadline for building the affordable housing units, or  face financial penalties.

Phone calls and emails seeking comment from the two developers of Atlantic Yards – Greenland USA, the Shanghai-based majority owner, and Cleveland-based Forest City Ratner Companies – weren’t immediately returned.

BrooklynSpeaks is a coalition that formed in 2006 to increase public engagement in the Atlantic Yards project.

Veconi said that coalition members are concerned about the interest that the Atlantic Yards developers had in transferring development rights from the block with the Barclays Center arena to a block known as Site 5, located across from the arena on Flatbush Avenue. The transfer of development rights was delayed because of a litigation with a P.C. Richard & Son and Modell’s stores located at Site 5. That litigation was settled in October, clearing the way for Greenland to seek approval from Empire State Development, the state overseer of the project, for a relocation of the tallest building in the plan from the Barclay Center block to across the street at Site 5.

“We are concerned that Empire State Development may approve such a transfer, increasing the value of Greenland’s development rights, at a time when the company will almost certainly miss the May 2025 deadline to complete Atlantic Yards’ affordable housing.” The remaining promised 1,469 affordable housing apartments are to be constructed on platforms over two rail yards that have yet to be built.

“I think the overall sentiment has been that we have to be able to have the state convey some of this power back to the local marketplace,” said Bernell Grier, executive director of IMPACCT Brooklyn, one of the community groups in the coalition proposing the advisory board. 

Inspired by the Harlem Urban Development Corp. that was formed in 1971, the coalition came up with Brooklyn Crossroads Local Development Corp. The group would have “fluid interaction and communication and oversight by the various local and governmental agencies at the state and federal level,” said Regina Cahill, North Flatbush Bid president and co-presenter of last night’s meeting.

The Atlantic Yards Community Development Corp. was created by Empire State Development in 2014 to review any proposed changes to the Atlantic Yards project plan and advise its board.

“The effectiveness of what Atlantic Yards Community Development Corp. has been able to accomplish has been limited by the fact that it just hasn’t met as frequently as was agreed at the time of its creation,” said Veconi, who serves on the current board. Its charter requires the board to meet four times a year with Empire State Development. Veconi said they only met twice last year.