NIMBY Love

Fighting Atlantic Yards takes hard work and . . . wedding vows?

It's getting damn close to the end times for opponents of the Atlantic Yards project, the massive basketball, housing, and retail complex slated to rise up on the rail yards between Fort Greene and Prospect Heights. With two lawsuits drawing to a close in the next few months, lead anti–Atlantic Yards organizer Daniel Goldstein has been dreaming up every way possible to rally support for his cause. When the development company Forest City Ratner started offering lucrative buyouts to the owners of the condo building where he lives, Goldstein was the lone holdout. He's since spent two years living alone in his 31-unit building, right where the New Jersey Nets will theoretically hit their jumpers.

Now, loner Goldstein has found romance with fellow anti–Atlantic Yards activist Shabnam Merchant, and the two plan to get married next month. And they've even cooked up a scheme to use their wedding to advance the anti-Ratner campaign. They've submitted their nuptials to the New York Times Sunday wedding-vows section, in the hope that editors will find the concept of NIMBY love too irresistible to pass up—and give the Atlantic Yards campaign a little free publicity to boot.

"I kinda doubt they would run it," Goldstein says, even as he squirms at the prospect of his personal life bleeding into La Causa. "They get tons of submissions. But I don't think there's a more interesting wedding occurring this month." If they give him a pass, he adds, he wouldn't be surprised. After all, his arch-nemesis Ratner built the Times's new headquarters.

The anti–Atlantic Yards coalition has pinned its hopes of forcing Ratner back to the bargaining table on two major lawsuits, both of which are due to be resolved in the fall. The first suit challenges the Empire State Development Corporation's designation of the site as a "civic project," in which the public would derive so much use from the development that local land-use laws can be overridden. The second is an appeal of the June 7 decision allowing the state to use eminent domain to clear out Goldstein and the rest of the property owners in the project's footprint. Handicapping court decisions is never wise, and Goldstein and his colleagues may yet live to fight another day. But if they lose these cases, they'll have lost their last chance to stop Atlantic Yards in its tracks.

Which is why the Yards opponents' dogged insistence on planning the future of Brooklyn without the project seems so quaint at first glance. But that's just what Goldstein and his allies have spent months doing. In February, former city planning commissioner Ron Shiffman and University of Cincinnati architecture professor Marshall Brown led a new effort to reimagine the Vanderbilt Yards area as if Ratner had never bought all those private parcels of land and jumped into bed with the state of New York. In a series of community meetings and bull sessions, they began sketching maps where Fort Greene and Prospect Heights were reconnected, where theaters and shopping malls replace the Nets arena. After all, says Brown, you never know.

"Our strategy is about preparing for the possibility that the Forest City Ratner project may not continue," says Brown. "The history of that site is very long. Many projects have been proposed for that site, and they've come and gone. . . . Whether it's the success of various lawsuits, changes in financing—the economy's been a little rocky, in case you haven't heard."

But Brown has a broader strategy in mind. This may look like a Hail Mary pass at first, but even if Forest City Ratner wins every lawsuit this fall and clears the deck, the project is scheduled to take 20 years to complete. A lot of things can happen in 20 years, and sooner or later, Ratner will need community support once again. When that happens, Brown says, he and his colleagues will have a draft of options to present Ratner, who might incorporate at least a few of their ideas as part of a future compromise.

"We're not only doing this in the hopes that the Forest City project will not go through," Brown says. "Even if it does, there will be a lot of negotiating over details of the project. We hope that some of these principles we've developed will aid in how it gets resolved in the end. Even if Forest City builds their project, we're still looking at a 20-year process, and during that time, the project will change almost inevitably. And so we hope that these principles will have some effect."

That would come too late for Goldstein, who has dedicated his life to stopping the project. But at least he's found some solace in a partner. Over the course of fighting the Forest City project, Goldstein's engagement fell apart, and he found himself living a surreal life alone in an empty building. Meanwhile, his future bride abandoned her own job and threw her-self into the same campaign. Now they've found each other—and something beyond the specter of Jason Kidd sinking field goals on the spot of Goldstein's old bedroom.

 
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