Debate has broken out among Community Boards 2, 6 and 8 as the question of redrawing district boundaries around the Atlantic Yards has once again been raised.
The can of worms was opened at the Community Board 2 (CB2) meeting on Wednesday, April 9, when CB2 approved a motion, 22-7 with two abstentions, to support a change in the boundaries that would put all of the Atlantic Yards project in their district.
According to District Manager Robert Perris, discussion regarding community district boundaries has been happening among the three district managers for the last two years, and questions have arisen over the boundaries as far back as ten years ago.
Every ten years, the mayor has the power to redraw district lines. The ten-year deadline came up in the fall of 2013, during Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s administration, who chose to leave that decision to his successor.
Mayor Bill de Blasio is supposed to bring a new map to the City Council by May.
With a looming deadline in mind, CB2 felt that something needed to happen to turn redistricting from conversation into action.
“My perspective is that it is inefficient for three different district managers to be managing one development site,” Perris said, referring to the continuing construction of the Atlantic Yards and the planned complex of mid-rise apartments.
Perris instead proposed a plan of co-terminality, which would place all of Atlantic Yards in Community Board 6 (CB6). It would also align the district boundary lines to sync CB2 with all of its service departments, particularly the Department of Sanitation, which is currently split among the districts.
Perris also mentioned the option of aligning the district boundaries with the boundaries of the NYPD's 78th Precinct, which is a block from the Barclays Center and whose boundaries were changed about a year and a half ago to encompass all of the Atlantic Yards site, as well as the two malls that lie within CB2, though it otherwise serves CB6.
The CB2 Executive Board, however, worried about the economic implications of removing Atlantic Yards from their district, and instead voted 10-0, with one abstention from Chair Shirley McRae, to move the district boundary south so that all of Atlantic Yards would fall within CB2.
When this proposal was presented to the entire board at the Wednesday meeting, some members voiced concerns about taking action without consulting the other community boards.
“Since I have friends on Community Board 6, I have to say this,” Kenn Lowy said. “I know that they’re upset about it and I think that they’re upset about it for the same reasons that we would be upset if they were doing this.
“I think that it’s difficult situation, but I think that we all know that anybody across the street from the Atlantic Yards is going to be severely impacted, and somebody five blocks away is going to be severely impacted,” he added. “I really think that, in my opinion, it should still be shared.”
Despite the objections from board members and from Perris, who said the board must consider the “political realities” of the situation, namely that “consensus cannot be reached if the boundaries move further south” and that neither CB6 or CB8 “is going to give up territory,” the board voted and approved the motion to support moving the boundaries to make all of Atlantic Yards part of CB2.
At the conclusion of the vote, McCrae, who also voiced opposition to moving forward without consulting the other districts, emphasized that there was still plenty of discussion to be had among the executive committees.
“This is no land grab by Community Board 2,” McCrae said. “During my previous tenure, Community Boards 2, 6 and 8 stayed in constant communication with each other. I don’t see any reason for that to change at this point.”
Response from CB6 & 8
McCrae’s calm confidence in open discussion among the boards, however, was not enough to ebb the ire of CB8, which held a meeting the following day on April 10.
“I’m sure you’ve all been following on the news this one political entity that wants to take some territory from another political entity,” Second Vice-Chair Rob Witherwax said at the meeting. “I could be talking about Russia and Ukraine, but I’m actually talking about Community Board 2 and Community Board 8.”
Their rejection of CB2’s proposal rests on the belief that, were all of the boards to accept moving the boundaries south, Prospect Heights — which now lies entirely in Community District 8 — would be cut in half.
Witherwax then read a statement from the CB8 Executive Committee, which outlined three points: that “CB8 rejects CB2’s attempt to assume the entirety of the Atlantic Yards footprint;” that “CB8 rejects any realignment of district boundaries that will split Prospect Heights in half, such as what would occur if those boundaries were redrawn to be coterminous with the 78th Precinct” and finally that “CB8 is willing to meet with CB2 and CB6 to develop a mutually acceptable plan to redraw district boundaries around Atlantic Yards.”
Within their parameters for a mutually acceptable plan, CB8 said that the new boundaries would need to be drawn “in a way that protects the surrounding communities (the bulk of which live in CB8), enhances the effective delivery of services to the footprint (including the construction, which we all going to live with) and takes into consideration the footprint as it now exists and as it may someday be built.”
While CB8 strongly opposed the proposal from CB2, District Manager Craig Hammerman from CB6 agreed that the boundaries must change.
“It’s not a question of whether, it’s a question of how,” Hammerman said.
One option that he mentioned, which Perris of CB2 also listed as an option, was to align the community district boundaries with the new police precinct boundaries.
However, he said that a discussion in late 2013 led the executive board of CB6 to believe that it was not the right time to make any decisions on new boundaries.
“Our Executive Committee felt that since it was clear that all three community boards could not agree and could not move forward together, it would be premature to take a position on what the new boundaries should be,” Hammerman said.
They also thought boundary decisions would be premature considering the mayor did not seem ready to move forward on any redistricting decisions.
Hammerman emphasized that he thought co-terminality was the best option going forward, but he acknowledged the various sides of the issue from all of the various districts’ standpoints.
“We have an opportunity here to talk about what the plan is that would make the most sense from a service delivery standpoint, but we also understand and are sensitive to the fact that other people view these boundaries from other perspectives as well,” Hammerman said. “I understand completely that some people want to maintain some neighborhood integrity, and while that was not the primary force to create [the district boundary lines] in the first place, it is nonetheless important.”
While acknowledging the differences among the boards, Hammerman said that these are “incredibly healthy and important discussions to have,” albeit difficult ones.
“It seems to me that we’re going to need the wisdom of Solomon to figure out how to slice this baby,” he said.
Community Board 2 Executive Committee members listen to the board’s debate over whether or not to propose new district boundary lines.