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In the Fight Against Atlantic Yards, Community Enters a New Phase

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

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

Rather, according to Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, quoting Winston Churchill to describe the state of the ongoing fight against the Atlantic Yards development, "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 in a long-standing opposition movement to a mega-project that is no longer merely matter of plans or renderings — but, as , an increasing 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 the Atlantic Yards site's development. 

With recourse to the courts , 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," said Jeffries.

Along with State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Jeffries is a chief sponsor of legislation aiming to create a subsidiary of the Empire State Economic Development Corporation 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 Brooklyn Bridge Park, Queens West and Moynihan Station. 

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

Sponsored by Brooklyn Speaks, a coalition of civic groups from neighborhoods in the footprint of the Atlantic Yards construction site, 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 Sixth 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 to create an oversight panel for the Atlantic Yards construction site is currently in the Assembly's powerful Rules Committee, which is chaired by Speaker Sheldon Silver. 

Speaking in an empty space, the steel girders of the rising Barclays Center visible through a window in the background, 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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