Thursday, May 31, 2007

If NJ's proposed eminent domain reform passed in NY, it might stymie AY

If a project like Atlantic Yards had been proposed in New Jersey, there's a good bet a top statewide official would be criticizing it.

New York State has no Public Advocate (though the city has one, and we know what she thinks about eminent domain and AY), but New Jersey has a statewide position. Public Advocate Ron Chen has been fighting hard against eminent domain abuse, issuing reports, press releases, and filing amicus briefs in court cases.

The latest report (right), which got a lot of press yesterday, argues for the State Legislature to change the state’s redevelopment law to achieve a balance between protecting people’s rights and ensuring that sound redevelopment projects move ahead.

Because Chen’s findings and recommendations are based on state law and the state constitution, they’re not applicable to New York. Still, it's worth reading the report via an Atlantic Yards lens. If enacted here, the reforms might stymie the designation by the Empire State Development Corporation’s that the Atlantic Yards site is blighted.

Chen’s take

The Public Advocate outlines a troubling scenario, arguing, “When the government misuses the power of eminent domain, people can lose their homes without real evidence that their neighborhood is blighted, without adequate notice or hearings and without fair compensation.”

The report, based on judges’ findings of facts or assessments by attorneys in the Public Advocate's department, focuses on four types of abuse, including “stealth takings” and inadequate compensation and relocation assistance. However, the most relevant to Atlantic Yards watchers concerns “bogus blight” designations.

The report notes how the definition has expanded:
The traditional definition of blight involves deteriorating conditions that are detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of a community. In spite of that constitutional limitation, the legislature has amended the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law over the years to broaden how it defines blight.

The legislature has added criteria such as “faulty arrangement or design,” “lack of proper utilization,” and “not fully productive.” The legislature also eliminated the word “blighted” and substituted the more obscure and seemingly benign term, “area in need of redevelopment.” Whatever the label, however, the consequence remains the same: once a town designates an area “in need of redevelopment,” it can condemn the properties located within that area.

...The current law’s vague and broad definition of “area in need of redevelopment” could apply to virtually any property in New Jersey that the government feels it could better utilize or make more productive: any building could have another floor added; any house could be razed to make way for luxury condominiums; and any business could be replaced with a bigger business that generates more tax revenue.

Among the examples:
--a city inspector in Long Branch who never went inside the homes of those determined to have blighted exteriors. (Similarly, the firm conducting the Atlantic Yards blight study for the Empire State Development Corporation, AKRF, did not go inside a substantial number of properties.)

--a case in Paulsboro, where officials determined open space blighted because it was “not fully productive” and suffered from a “lack of proper utilization.” (The Gloucester Times calls this a murky example.)

--a case in Lodi, where the town wants to replace a trailer court neighborhood with a new development, though the town’s expert couldn’t point to any unsanitary conditions.

--a case in Perth Amboy, where a factory building was judged blighted not via an interior inspection or an examination of occupancy rates, but because of an “underutilized” parking lot.

Blight reform

The pending A-3257 would remove vague terms such as “not fully productive” or “lack of proper utilization” but retains more objective and specific criteria, such as vacancy, environmental contamination, dilapidation, and overcrowding. (Regarding Atlantic Yards, more specific criteria were used, though their validity is in dispute, as noted below.)

Moreover, the bill would permit a blight declaration only upon a finding that such conditions were directly detrimental to the safety, health, or welfare of the community.

The bill also would mandate that hearings on blight be conducted under oath, with property owners allowed to ask questions, present evidence and bring their own witnesses.

(Regarding Atlantic Yards, while owners and occupants of properties designated blighted by the ESDC were allowed to present evidence, they were not allowed to ask questions or bring witnesses. It would have been interesting, for example, to see the ESDC challenged on its evasive answer when asked whether any government agency was responsible for keeping up the periter of the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard, or to see Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's blight response get a public hearing.)

It also would place the burden on the town seeking condemnation to prove its case by a preponderance of the evidence. Now the burden is on the property owners to prove that their home or business is not blighted. Some state Senators, however, say that changing the burden of proof would paralyze redevelopment efforts, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.

Like others who support eminent domain in principle, Chen argues that “adequate notice, a fair blight proceeding, considerable public input, fair compensation and the use of eminent domain only as a last resort” make a necessary package, and that many already follow that.

The StarLedger, which includes some impoverished municipalities in its coverage area, yesterday endorsed the bill and Chen's take, arguing:
We recognize that some of the proposed changes may slow development, but they may also have the salutary of effect of making the process less litigious. That's because the looseness of the law now almost guarantees court fights. A cleanly defined law would make the process a lot smoother.

Objective evidence

The bill offers some definitions:
“Detrimental to the safety, health, or welfare of the community” means objective evidence of detriment, including, but not limited to, substantial building or health code violations, excessive police activity, a lack of structural integrity, or a continuing exterior appearance that degrades the surrounding properties. For commercial properties, the objective evidence of detriment also may include a lack of proper utilization of the land or structures that leads to stagnant or not fully productive condition of the land.

Note that, in the Atlantic Yards blight designation, residential structures are designated blighted because they don’t use 60% of their allowable development rights. That was questioned in court last month by a state judge. As for "excessive police activity," well, the Atlantic Yards crime study is dubious.

Limited reach for nonblighted area

The New Jersey bill also says that, while an area in need of redevelopment may include nonblighted parcels, the latter would be limited to 20 percent of the land mass of the designated area.

According to the Executive Summary of the ESDC's Blight Study, 51 of the 73 parcels on the project site (70 percent) exhibit one or more blight characteristics, including: buildings or lots that exhibit signs of significant physical deterioration, buildings that are at least 50 percent vacant, lots that are built to 60 percent or less of their allowable Floor Area Ratio (FAR) under current zoning; and vacant lots. These 51 lots comprise approximately 86 percent of the land area on the project site.

In terms of land area, that would leave 14 percent not blighted, easily fitting under the 20 percent threshold. Of course, that’s only if the ESDC's criteria are considered legitimate and if it's acknowledged the single largest “blighted” property was a working railyard, part of a property that Forest City Enterprises CEO Chuck Ratner called “a great piece of real estate.”

Alternate strategy

In New Jersey, the bill offers another interesting proposal. Before the designation of blight, the planning board should review whether another “strategy of rehabilitation, preservation, or neighborhood improvement” might be more appropriate means to address the conditions.

Had such a rule been applied to the properties at issue in Brooklyn, a rezoning or at least a request for proposals for the Vanderbilt Yard likely would have preceded the embrace by the city and state of one developer's project.

History of blight

In a brief filed in February, Public Advocate Chen laid out some of the history, citing scholars from the 1930s, such as Mabel Walker's 1938 book Urban Blight and Slums, which emphasize that a blighted area is deteriorating.

New Jersey law, he writes, instead “permits a boundless pursuit of land that, in someone’s view, can be made more productive. There is no parcel of land in New Jersey that would be safe from such pursuit.”

The ESDC’s blight study cites a New York state law which states that a land use improvement project, must be located in “a substandard or insanitary area, or is in danger of becoming a substandard or insanitary area and tends to impair or arrest the sound growth and development of the municipality.”

That implies deterioration, as well.

No change?

In the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement issued last July, the ESDC stated:
The project site is not anticipated to experience substantial change in the future without the proposed project by 2016 due to the existence of the open rail yard and the low-density industrial zoning regulations.

The Park Slope Civic Council and Park Slope Neighbors challenged that:
There is no reason to assume that New York City would not or could not rezone these parcels to encourage such redevelopment.

The ESDC responded, conclusorily bridging the gap between 2006 and 2016:
While the City, if it desired, could rezone the project site, it has not.

In Coney Island, sidewalk blight and an evasive administration

So, who's responsible for the blight on city sidewalks? Last year, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) punted flagrantly on the question, when queried by Brooklynites regarding the condition of sidewalks bordering the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) Vanderbilt Yard.

Regarding Coney Island, a similar city evasiveness is evident, according to an op-ed yesterday in the New York Sun, headlined Sidewalks of Brooklyn. Coney Island resident Gabriel Schoenfeld recounts his frustration in requesting that the city do something about "the frightful conditions of the sidewalks here."

Though Schoenfeld sent copies to several people in the administration, he didn't get a response for 13 months. Joseph Palmieri, the Brooklyn Borough Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, didn't explain the delay but recounted bureaucratically:
Please be advised that by law, the owner of the property adjacent to the sidewalk is responsible for installing, maintaining, and repairing the sidewalk discussed in your letter. Additionally, the property owner may be liable for personal injury and property damage caused by failure to maintain the sidewalk in a reasonably safe manner.
The Sidewalk Management Unit will inspect the location and issue a Notice of Violation to the property owner, if warranted.

While the city couldn't help Schoenfeld find those owners, commentators on the Sun web site suggest he contact Borough President Marty Markowitz or do online searching.

For those following the Atlantic Yards controversy, Palmieri's answer indicates that the MTA was responsible for the maintenance of the sidewalk. When the MTA didn't fulfill its responsibility, the city's Sidewalk Management Unit should have stepped in, but didn't prevent the blight cited by the ESDC.

And the ESDC, when pressed, simply refused to answer whether either the city or the MTA were responsible for the conditions. (An interesting question: Had the MTA put the property up for sale earlier, would the blight have been remedied by the new owner?)

Judge agrees FCR contractor pursued unsafe demolition, levies fines

Forest City Ratner's promises of safe practices at the Atlantic Yards site have suffered a setback. A contractor working for FCR has been assessed two $2000 fines for unsafe demolition of two Pacific Street buildings last June, as an administrative law judge (ALJ) has agreed that a backhoe, rather than hand demolition as promised, was deployed to demolish a wall adjacent to a residential structure.
(Photo copyright David Gochfeld)

For the demolition of 620 Pacific Street and 622 Pacific Street, the contractor had not applied for a mechanical demolition permit,which would not have been issued for 622 Pacific.

At a hard-fought hearing on 3/12/07, a lawyer representing Forest City Ratner acknowledged that the backhoe was used on 620 Pacific, which was adjacent to unoccupied buildings, but said there was no proof the backhoe was used to demolish 622 Pacific, adjacent to the occupied apartment building at 624 Pacific.

That lawyer, Jeffrey Braun, elicited testimony from a representative of Solomon Oliver Mechanical Contracting, who claimed that 622 Pacific was demolished only by hand. However, David Gochfeld, whose fiancee lives in 624 Pacific, took pictures that clearly showed the backhoe being used to demolish 620 Pacific and strongly indicated similar activity at 622 Pacific (photo right and above). A Department of Buildings inspector testified that the evidence backed up that claim, and Gochfeld offered eyewitness testimony.
(Photo copyright David Gochfeld)

Judge's decision

Administrative Law Judge Helaine Balsam of the Environmental Control Board (ECB), the administrative tribunal that oversees violations issued by city agencies, apparently agreed with the latter arguments. According to notices posted on the ECB web site, she assessed $2000 fines for 620 Pacific, as expected, and also for 622 Pacific, the subject of the hearing.

As I reported, attorney Braun pressed hard in the hearing, and had it been a criminal case, he might have planted reasonable doubt. But there's a lesser standard of proof in such administrative cases, "preponderance of the relevant evidence."
(Photo from December 2005, by Norman Oder; 622 Pacific is the one-story building.)

The text of Balsam's ruling was not available yesterday; it should be made available in about two weeks, I was told by the ECB. Will Forest City Ratner appeal? I asked Braun that question yesterday via email, but didn't get a reply.

Larger issues

The judge's decision has a symbolic value beyond the total of the fines. In sending a leading land use lawyer to defend the contractor, Forest City Ratner undoubtedly spent more money on legal fees than the fines at issue. In most cases, defendants choose to cut their losses.

However, given the contested nature of Atlantic Yards--and, this was before the fall of the Ward Bakery's parapet in April--the developer apparently wanted to avoid the taint of a violation.

Also, Gochfeld's fiancee and other tenants at 624 Pacific and another Forest City Ratner-owned building have filed suit challenging the state's use of eminent domain in "friendly condemnations," arguing that a slower state process regarding rent-stabilized tenants should prevail. Their suit was dismissed earlier this month; they will appeal.

The 13 plaintiffs are also challenging the state's relocation offer, calling it inadequate. Meanwhile, Forest City Ratner is in the process of demolishing the building on the other side of 624 Pacific.

(December 2005 photo by Norman Oder)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

An agent, criticizing the NBA, says we're not in Dodger-land any more

Professional basketball in 2007 is nothing like professional baseball in 1957, an obvious observation that nonetheless deserves repeating in light of continued claims that the arrival of the basketball Nets could "heal the wound" left by the departure of the baseball Dodgers.

As I pointed out last December after attending a Nets game at Continental Airlines Arena in the Meadolands, like most professional sports events, it featured gimmicky lameness (or perpetual energy), with an unwillingness to allow dead air. And hoops stars have their own parking lots, rather than take the subway to work.

Scott Turner of Fans for Fair Plan elaborated in November 2005 on "Why The Nets Could Never Be The Dodgers;" among the reasons are the relative cost of tickets and longevity of the players. (On the other hand, a snazzy new arena might go along way to making Nets fans forget the Meadowlands. Such a new arena will come first in Newark.)

An agent laments

In his recent book, Taking Shots: Tall Tales, Bizarre Battles, and the Incredible Truth About the NBA, veteran agent Keith Glass picks up a similar argument, railing against the way money has taken over the game, as played by the NBA, or National Basketball Association.

He writes:
The NBA is too powerful. Players make too much money. The league sells too many products. Many coaches and administrators seem to have all the answers, and yet the game itself has become a selfish, tedious, and colossal bore.

The Dodgers comparison

Glass later chooses to compare the contemporary NBA with, yes, the Dodgers:
Don't get me wrong--today's players deserve to be paid... However, like many other slices of our culture, the salaries given to athletes today are like a pendulum. That pendulum has apparently swung too far, and the salaries bear no resemblance to reality.

Both of my parents were born and raised in Brooklyn. My mother was an avid Brooklyn Dodgers fan. She would tell us that as she walked around her neighborhood, she would see Duke Snider in the candy store, or Jackie Robinson at the supermarket, or Pee Wee Reese at the cleaners. They were quite literally part of the community.

Today, obviously, this is not the case. Professonal athletes are cloistered away, surrounding by their families, agents, publicists, business manager, personal assistants, drivers, and, in many cases, people from their past who are just hoping for some kind of title to justify their presence. Which of these people being "fed" by the player do you think is going to tell him about reality?

The Nets on Brooklyn

It's not quite fair to hold Nets players to off-the-cuff comments made when they learned the team was set to move, but let's recall a 1/22/04 New York Times article headlined From Texas, Nets See New Landscape, which didn't exactly point to a jones for Brooklyn:
Most players said they wanted to remain in New Jersey, mostly so they would not have longer commutes. But they also look forward to the possibility of a new arena. When the Nets travel around the league, they see the plush locker rooms and five-star facilities enjoyed by other teams.

That's not exactly a ringing endorsement. Then again, most Nets players, including stars Vince Carter and Jason Kidd, may not be around by 2009, or 2010, the best-case target dates for the arena.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rhetoric check: AY "same site" as proposed Dodgers stadium? Nah

Journalists, politicians, and other commentators have readily--though incorrectly--repeated a central fudge in the Atlantic Yards saga, that the site would be the same as that proposed by Brooklyn Dodgers' owner Walter O'Malley before he moved the beloved Dodgers to Los Angeles.

Rather, the site would have been north of Atlantic Avenue, replacing the Long Island Rail Road terminal and the adjacent Fort Greene Meat Market, roughly the site that now includes the Atlantic Terminal and Atlantic Center malls.

Another potential site was below Flatbush Avenue, between Fourth Avenue and Warren Streets, thus taking out rows of now-valuable row houses. (Were these "downtown "sites? Then, perhaps. Now, the southern site, at least, would be Park Slope.)

(Graphic from Henry Fetter's book Taking on the Yankees: Winning and Losing in the Business of Baseball, which was issued before the Atlantic Yards plan was officially announced. Click to enlarge. More from Fetter below.)

An important distinction

Despite the attempt of some Atlantic Yards boosters or nostalgists to suggest that the project would fulfill, albeit with a different sport, O'Malley's long-lost dream, Atlantic Yards is a distinct product of its time, not a 50-year echo.

Yes, O'Malley's idea was to move the Dodgers near Brooklyn's busiest transit hub. But no one at the time was proposing to build over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard between Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, as with the Atlantic Yards plan above. That would’ve been too costly.

The idea of building over the railyard didn't come up for 15 years or so, with a proposed new campus for Baruch College of the City University of New York, but nothing came of it. There wasn't enough money.

Only recently, when the cost of land has risen steadily in response to the city's growth, has it become financially feasible to build platforms over railyards and highway cuts, as proposed in Mayor Mike Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030.

Fetter's book, issued in September 2003, should have been a useful resource for anyone writing about the Dodgers stadium location, as previous books could have been. Instead, some writers and observers have perpetuated a myth.

Careful Ratner rhetoric

It's possible that Forest City Ratner peddled the "Dodgers redux" story quietly to the unquestioning press; however, in official statements, the developer has been careful and accurate in its rhetoric about the location, if not the full story of the Dodgers' departure.

For example, a press release issued 12/10/03, when the project was announced, stated: The Brooklyn Arena will sit on a three-block parcel of land at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues--the same area where Walter O'Malley, the legendary owner of baseball's Brooklyn Dodgers, had envisioned a home for his team nearly half a century ago.
(All emphases added.)

Similarly, FCR's June/July 2005 issue of the Brooklyn Standard stated:
The Brooklyn Nets will be dribbling down the court across the street from where then-Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley wanted to build a stadium for his team.

Press errors

The New York Times got the location wrong multiple times. An 8/8/03 article, headlined YankeeNets Is on the Verge of Splitting Apart, stated:
The site, which includes a rail yard and public and private land, strikes a historical echo in Brooklyn. In the 1950's, Walter O'Malley, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, wanted to build a stadium there to replace Ebbets Field.

A 1/16/04 article, headlined Yo, Dodgers? No Way! Brooklyn Is Betting on the Nets for Revival, stated:
Coincidentally, the Nets would be based at the same site that Walter O'Malley wanted as a new home for the Dodgers before moving the team to California.

The Times, in a 1/22/04 article headlined Nets Are Sold for $300 Million, and Dream Grows in Brooklyn, maintained the error:
There is no guarantee that Mr. Ratner will be able to fulfill his vision in Brooklyn, where sports fans are still haunted by memories of the Dodgers' departure to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. The arena would be built on the same site the Dodgers were rebuffed from buying.

A 7/1/04 Times editorial, headlined The Brooklyn Nets, similarly erred:
There is also, of course, the dream of giving back to Brooklyn some of the luster it lost when Robert Moses killed Walter O'Malley's vision of building a domed stadium for the Dodgers at the same site nearly 50 years ago...

Former Brooklyn Borough Historian (!) John Manbeck, in an 11/13/05 Times op-ed headlined The Project That Ate Brooklyn, wrote:
At the core of the Atlantic Yards plan is an arena for the New Jersey Nets on the very site that was denied the Brooklyn Dodgers 50 years ago.

More recently, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (reprinted from the Cooperator) stated:
Also, the proponents of Atlantic Yards say that the rail yard area, with its access to the railroad and a plethora of subway lines, is perfect for an arena. That very site, they point out, was coveted by Dodger owner Walter O'Malley in the mid-1950s when he still was willing to build a new Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.

Several Associated Press articles made the same error.

Gargano, Bloomberg, and beyond

Former Empire State Development Corporation Chairman Charles Gargano got it wrong, telling Metro on 5/17/06:
I grew up in Park Slope, and another big blunder by the city was we lost the Brooklyn Dodgers. They wanted to build a new Ebbets Field at the Atlantic Yards.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg, at the 1/18/07 Barclays naming rights press conference, erroneously claimed that the site “would have been home for the Dodgers."

Earlier, at the 5/4/04 City Council hearing regarding Atlantic Yards, Brooklynite Arthur Piccolo stated:
As a very young boy I remember the tragedy of the Dodgers leaving our Borough because.. as it is now known opposition to moving the Dodgers to the very site we are considering, forced the Dodgers to the West Coast, tearing the very soul out of Brooklyn.

There are surely other examples.

Looking back

As Fetter's definitive 2003 book Taking on the Yankees: Winning and Losing in the Business of Baseball, explains, O'Malley was playing hardball for a bigger stadium.

Ebbets Field could hold only about 32,000 fans, and Yankee Stadium, home of the hated cross-town rivals, could hold more than double that number. On the other hand, as Fetter points out, Boston’s Fenway Park, another equally antiquated and small facility, survived the calls for its demise, and remains beloved, sold out, and profitable.

Today, retro-style baseball only parks, as opposed to the multipurpose stadiums built in the 1960s and 1970s, have become the hallmark of baseball since the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore in 1992. (Indeed, the new Mets stadium in Queens is supposed to have Ebbets Field-like elements, though it likely will avoid the plethora of poles that obscured vision at the Brooklyn facility.)

Development plans

As Fetter explains, when it opened in 1913, Ebbets Field was initially most accessible not by subway but by trolley—remember, Brooklynites were once dubbed “Trolley Dodgers,” hence the team’s name—and it was built at the fringes of development. By the 1950s, however, there was too little parking, the stadium was small, and the neighborhood was “changing,” as some gingerly pronounced, thus deterring some longtime fans.

As for O'Malley's plan, writes Fetter:
It was an audacious decision, entirely at odds with the history of ballpark construction in New York City. Each in their turn—the Giants under Brush, the Dodgers under Ebbets, the Yankees under Ruppert—had been driven, by the price of land and the accelerating congestion of urban life, farther and father toward the margins of the city in order to find land cheap enough and extensive enough to build a ball park. O’Malley proposed to break that pattern and return baseball to the central city.

But O'Malley wanted a lot of help:
The only way to obtain sufficient contiguous acreage for the stadium in that area, and to divest existing owners and users at an affordable price, was by resorting to the sovereign power of condemnation. “Of course,” lawyer O’Malley knew, “The ball club very properly does not have the legal right to condemn land.” His solution to that potential obstacle was to link the construction of a new Dodger stadium to a comprehensive plan for the redevelopment of the entire surrounding neighborhood, so that the eminent-domain powers of the sovereign city could be made to serve the real estate demands of his Dodgers.

The project could relocate the Fort Greene meat market (now the site of the Atlantic Center mall and environs), build a new Long Island Rail Road terminal, add parking and eliminate a “traffic intersection that was terrible.” (The solution for the latter isn’t clear from the book.)

Money questions

The problem was that O’Malley wanted the land at about a 90 percent discount, and the site improvements would be costly, too. The city would end up paying $40 million of a $55 million plan, even though O’Malley would build the stadium himself, according to Fetter.

O’Malley tried to enlist Robert Moses to use federal slum clearance funds aimed at housing, but Moses said a ballpark plan “cannot be dressed up as a Title I project.”

While O’Malley compared the Dodgers’ attendance with that of rivals in newer stadiums, Fetter points out that the Dodgers posted numbers “that remained among the highest in baseball” and that Brooklyn had a trump card most rivals lacked; huge television and radio revenue in a large media market. The Dodgers, he reports, were actually the most profitable team in baseball.

Public opposition

Despite the immense nostalgia for the Dodgers exhibited by Brooklynites of a certain vintage, most city leaders, and the public, though not Borough President John Cashmore, actually opposed O'Malley's demands. Even City Council President Abe Stark, the former Brooklyn Borough President who was first famous for his "Hit Sign, Win Suit" sign at Ebbets Field, opposed "the cold war of silence and evasion" practiced by Dodger management.

Observes Fetter:
It was not a proposal calculated to gain the approval of city officials struggling to proceed with a backlog of Depression- and war-deferred projects, and facing an overwhelming array of social-service and educational demands on public monies.

In 1956, a new Brooklyn Sports Center Authority proposed another site, across Flatbush from the railroad terminal, down to Warren Street in Park Slope. However, that was a nonstarter; it would have demolished hundreds of units of housing without creating new housing. So the authority returned to the plan at the terminal.

So, notwithstanding those, as with the Times editorial, who blame Moses for "killing" O'Malley's vision, the responsibility was far broader. Fetter notes:
The key to O’Malley’s’ failure was that Moses was hardly alone in opposing O’Malley’s stadium project. There was simply no significant political support for a public subsidy for a privately owned stadium operated by a profit-making enterprise.

Nor was downtown Brooklyn a sensible ballpark location at the time. The demand for driving was high, but there would be parking for only 2500 cars. The location was hard to reach by car, with no highway within a mile of the site. It would exacerbate congestion, Fetter writes, and provide no impetus to rehabilitate the neighborhood.

Going to L.A.

In the Brooklyn Standard article referenced above, the writer for Forest City Ratner's "publication" cited the conventional wisdom that the city's unwillingness to accommodate O'Malley lost the Dodgers:
The blocking of that plan directly resulted in O’Malley’s decision to move the Dodgers to Los Angeles, leaving Brooklyn without a major sports team of its own ever since.

The reality was a little more complicated, as Fetter's book explains. O’Malley stood firm in wanting massive subsidies; he wasn’t willing to move even to Queens. Growing Los Angeles, hungry to be a big league city, had its wallet open for him.

The Dodgers wanted “to build the ballpark we want in the location we want,” as O’Malley put it. Today, Borough President Marty Markowitz’s rhetoric offers an eerie echo: It is well-known that I believe Atlantic Yards is the right project at the right time in the right place for Brooklyn.

1957 vs. 2007

There are some significant differences between O'Malley's plan and Forest City Ratner's plan, ones that make the latter's plan more palatable to some. A baseball stadium would draw larger crowds and operate seasonally; an arena would draw half as many people (or fewer) and operate all year round, thus creating more activity in the area.

Then the car was overtaking mass transit; now cars are even more popular, but a new emphasis on mass transit is crucial to survival of the city.

The Atlantic Yards plan, unlike the Dodgers stadium plan, would include a significant amount of housing, as well as transportation and infrastructure improvements, which, along with the arena, constitute a "civic project," state officials say. (That's contested in court.)

Forest City Ratner has found a way to respond to some of the criticisms of the plan 50 years earlier. The project would develop undeveloped land, though, arguably, it's not the only way to rehabilitate the neighborhood. But the traffic problems envisioned 50 years ago remain and the building of extremely dense housing threatens to tax the infrastructure.

Another important difference is that, since the 1960s, residents of adjacent neighborhoods like Park Slope, Boerum Hill, and Fort Greene have invested--initially with little help from banks or the government--in their neighborhoods, helping create the "Brooklyn renaissance" that makes the Atlantic Yards site "a great piece of real estate," in the words of Forest City Enterprises executive Chuck Ratner.

Forest City Ratner lined up significant political support before it publicly announced the Atlantic Yards plan. And these days most cities, not just newly growing ones like Los Angeles in the 1950s, are now willing to subsidize a privately owned sports facility operated by a profit-making enterprise, as Fetter noted at a conference in March.

(Note: the Brooklyn Arena technically would be owned by a state subsidiary that would lease it to Forest City Ratner for $1. And the developer has already sold naming rights to Barclays Capital as part of a reported $400 million package.)

Other books

In March 2005, Lumi Rolley of No Land Grab cited Roger Kahn's book The Boys of Summer, which pointed to the location "along Atlantic Avenue [where] wholesale meat markets led toward slums."

In May 2006, I had cited Michael Shapiro's book The Last Good Season (p. 42) which focused on meat market location as well.

Neither book offers as comprehensive an explanation as does Fetter, but the basic point is clear: O'Malley wanted land north of Atlantic Avenue--land that in five years would be part of the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area--not the Vanderbilt Yard.

The press and politicians should have been paying attention.

An arena site

The railyard site was, however, discussed as a potential arena site 17 years after the Dodgers left Brooklyn. As noted last August, the Draft Environmenal Impact Statement (DEIS) cites a 1974 city-sponsored preliminary feasibility study for the Brooklyn Sports Complex, a 15,000-seat arena. Of the five downtown sites considered, plus Fulton Ferry, only two appeared to meet the key criteria for size and accessibility. Both sites were listed in ATURA. One is the current site of the Bank of New York Tower and the two shopping centers: Atlantic Center and Atlantic Terminal. The other is the site currently being proposed for the Atlantic Yards Arena. In the 1974 report, the arena site extended from the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues eastward along Atlantic Avenue to Carlton Avenue. The site extended southward along Flatbush Avenue to Dean Street, continued eastward to 6th Avenue, then northward to Pacific Street and eastward to Carlton Avenue. In short, the site encompassed the arena block and Block 1120.

Note that the first of the two sites mentioned above was the site O'Malley sought.

The 9.5-acre site (above, outlined in red) proposed in 1974 for the sports complex is not the same as the 22-acre site proposed for the Atlantic Yards project, which would incorporate two large blocks east of Carlton Avenue to Vanderbilt Avenue, and also encompass the streetbed of Pacific Street. The project also would include a rectangle of land 100 feet east of Sixth Avenue between Pacific and Dean streets, as well as Site 5, the wedge west of Flatbush Avenue where it meets Atlantic and Fourth avenues, and Pacific Street.

Monday, May 28, 2007

St. Mary's Hospital is off the AY affordable housing block

It was never a given, and the news is late, but it's worth noting that St. Mary's Hospital in Crown Heights no longer seems the likely home of affordable for-sale apartments connected to the Atlantic Yards project.

The 600 to 1000 affordable for-sale units are promised in the Memorandum of Understanding regarding housing signed in May 2005 by Forest City Ratner and the housing advocacy group ACORN. Unlike with the 2250 affordable rentals planned at the Atlantic Yards site, the plan has not been memorialized in any Empire State Development Corporation documents.

There's no timetable for the entire complement for-sale units, though 200 are now planned to be built at the AY site, according to an FCR announcement made the day the Public Authorities Control Board approved the project, 12/20/06.

The idea rises, recedes

The Brooklyn Paper reported 10/29/05 that Forest City Ratner was considering the acquision of the just-closed hospital site. That article, as well some follow-ups elsewhere, suggested erroneously that the developer might move some of the affordable rentals to that site; however, Forest City Ratner executive Jim Stuckey consistently said that St. Mary's might be a home for the for-sale units.

Nearly four months ago, a 1/31/07 Daily News article headlined ST. MARY'S HOSPITAL SOLD FOR $22M reported that the investment firm Mazel Precisions "is mulling plans for residential, medical or educational facilities, according to Massey Knakal Realty Services."

Forest City has not made any public statements recently about plans for the for-sale affordable units, which would be dependent on currently scarce public subsidies. Perhaps the developer has other sites in mind, or in hand. Perhaps it's prudent to wait.

However, given FCR's deep pockets, and the relatively small cost for the acquisition (though not the renovation) of the hospital building, it would be interesting to learn why the developer passed on the opportunity.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Forest City, Marty try to tweak the record, but it doesn't work

After a Forest City Enterprises executive, in a presentation, identified a rendering for the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site as "Atlantic Yards Tomorrow," I pointed out the weirdness last week, and it got some notice elsewhere.

Did the developer correct the file? No. Rather, it vanished from the web site. Fortunately, NoLandGrab has mounted a copy.

Markowitz: BP the "ultimate job"?

Brooklyn President Marty Markowitz, for nearly five years--the entirety of his first term, beginning in 2002, and through the beginning of his second term--suggested on the BP web site that he had no intention of pursuing higher office.

His web site (courtesy of the Internet Archive) stated:
While some people want to grow up to be mayor, governor, or President of the United States, my dream in life has always been to lead Brooklyn as borough president. To me, this is the ultimate job.

Then came news last July that the term-limited BP was raising money for a yet-unspecified 2009 campaign. In response to speculation about Markowitz's ambition to be mayor--a position he seemed to have excluded--No Land Grab last July posted Markowitz's statement that "borough president... is the ultimate job."

At some moment, those sentiments were excised from Markowitz's web site. But they live on.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Fact-checking Brooklyn Brewery's Hindy on Ratner's jobs

In a New York Observer article this week headlined Unlikely Power Broker Bullish on Brooklyn, Brooklyn Brewery CEO Steve Hindy opines on the future of Brooklyn, disses development on Fourth Avenue, and offers much praise for Forest City Ratner, expected to be serving his beer at the planned Brooklyn Arena.

Except his numbers are off.

Jobs at MetroTech

The article states:
“I think he’s done a lot of good things,” Mr. Hindy said of Mr. Ratner. “I thought MetroTech was fantastic for Brooklyn. It brought a lot of jobs here.”

However, a January/February 2005 City Limits article by Matthew Schuerman, headlined THE RETURN OF METROTECH, stated:
MetroTech boosters, back in 1987, suggested that at least some of the dishes would make their way around. "Proponents maintained that there will be a total of 14,000 jobs, of which 5,800 will be retained and 8,200 will be newly created," according to the minutes of a Planning Commission public hearing. "Many of these jobs will be entry-level positions providing employment opportunities to Brooklynites."

MetroTech's has grown beyond its original plan, to 5.8 million square feet. Its total job count has grown, too, to 22,000 today. But most, business leaders acknowledge, were positions that moved in from elsewhere in the city. "Those were not new jobs," says Michael Burke, director of the Brooklyn Downtown Business Council, an offshoot of the borough's chamber of commerce. "A lot of those jobs existed when the buildings went up. For the most part, they were relocated jobs."

(Emphasis added)

Schuerman now works for the Observer, but didn't write the Hindy story.

(Update: A reader points out that, taken literally, Hindy's correct: MetroTech did bring jobs to Brooklyn. However, relocating jobs from Manhattan to Brooklyn isn't much of a solution. City officials might say that at least the jobs weren't lost to New Jersey, and that justifies the subsidies to keep them in New York City. Perhaps. But the important point, I think, is that the project didn't fulfill the initial promises.)

Jobs at AY

As for Atlantic Yards, the Observer quotes Hindy:
“Brooklyn has a serious need for jobs,” he said. “Pfizer just closed their plant over in Bed-Stuy. Domino Sugar closed last year down on the waterfront here. Those big industrial plants just aren’t feasible here anymore. So something’s gotta replace it. Things like the development at Coney Island and things like Atlantic Yards—that’s what we have to work with, and we have to make the best of it.”

Remember, Forest City Ratner once promoted space for 10,000 office jobs at Atlantic Yards. Now there would be space for 1340 jobs, with perhaps 375 new jobs.

Sure, there would be some spinoff in service and retail jobs generated by new residents in the area, but it's hard to say that, in Hindy's words, we've been making the best of it.

At CB 6, new appointee claims AY ignorance; another has been an AY critic

From this week's Courier-Life chain, an article (not yet online), headlined AXE FALLS ON YARDS FOES, advances the story about the Community Board 6 purge by including some tough quotes from departing members and showing one new appointee to be profoundly ignorant about Atlantic Yards.

Marilyn Oliva, who was reappointed, said she thought Markowitz was "trying to shut people up.... Initially, I thought Marty would be really good for the borough, but then he began to sell us out to the highest bidder."

Another exiting member, Pauline Blake, said, "If you are going to appoint people to the community board who just regurgitate what you want, then you don't have a community board, you have a string of puppets."

Markowitz issued a bland statement explaining that "I just consider the benefits of continuity over time and the need for fresh perspectives to be heard."

AY ignorance

Maybe Markowitz was looking for fresh perspectives, but with one new appointee, he's getting something of a blank slate. Let's quote the passage in full:
New Markowitz appointee Vanessa Twyford said she is thrilled to begin serving on the board.
"I don't know anything about Atlantic Yards, but I am pro-development," she said.
Twyford, a third generation Brooklynite, is the granddaughter of Connie Gibbons, the first president of the First Place Tri Block Association, a Carroll Gardens civic group.
"I'm definitely intersted in the community being more built up," said Twyford, who owns a real estate company on Court Street.
"Development is good for everyone," she said.

The Twyford Real Estate web site includes this biographical information:
Vanessa keeps up with critical issues by regularly attending meetings for neighborhood organizations like Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, Gowanas Canal Community Development Corporation, Brooklyn Task Force and Community Board 6.

If Twyford has regularly attended meetings of CB 6, how could she have missed the Atlantic Yards discussion?

Lander appointed

The community board changes are not solely about Atlantic Yards; note that, as the New York Observer's blog The Real Estate reported yesterday, one new member is Brad Lander, the director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, whose organization in 2005 published a critical review of the project.

The Observer reported:
“In its current form, I consider myself in a very highly ambivalent position,” he told The Observer Friday. “I believe that the project could’ve been, and maybe still could be, modified to a place where I could support it, yet still be recognizable.”

Lander, a leading advocate for affordable housing, was nominated by City Council Member Bill de Blasio, who's made affordable housing one of his priorities. And CB 6, as de Blasio told the Brooklyn Paper, did not fight the City Planning Commission's 2003 rezoning of Park Slope, which protected side streets and allowed increased density along Fourth Avenue, but did not require affordable housing as a tradeoff.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Critic Goldberger: post-Moses era represents failure to plan

The failure of government to plan, to imagine, instead choosing to subcontract planning to the private sector, is the hallmark of our post-Robert Moses era--even more so than the difficulty in reconciling public participation and major projects, according to Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic of The New Yorker.

He spoke at another panel discussion on Moses's legacy, held Wednesday night at the Museum of the City of New York. In an article for the New York Times's Empire Zone blog titled What Would Moses Do?, Sewell Chan offers a good summary (which saved me some transcription of quotes); I'll focus more on Goldberger's comments, which also included a salute to Atlantic Yards bloggers.

"There is no promised land of easy planning," noted Goldberger, also former architecture critic for the Times. "First, it wasn't really as simple back then as it looks now... There is a tendency to think Moses snapped his fingers and everything happened."

He suggested that the "post-Westway era" represented "not a brief interlude but a permanent change." It wasn't that citizens can block all projects, "but there will never again be a simple process."

"I think it's naive to think that Moses's power, such as it was, rested solely in itself," he added. Rather, Moses managed a "three-part system" involving the public authorities he controlled, public officials and government agencies, and private financiers.

“When everything was working right, Moses had these forces in a kind of harmonic balance, an equilibrium. I think that equilibrium faltered a little more than [Robert Caro's biography] The Power Broker would have us believe," Goldberger said. "But that doesn't matter--the real point today is that it doesn't exist at all any more." Not only do we lack a Moses, but we lack that system.

Government doesn't plan

"Government has pretty much stopped planning," he continued. "That, more than the absence of Moses, is what defines our time now, to me, at least. The coalition that Moses orchestrated so effectively, for so long, is based on the presumption that the public sector, whether in the form of Moses himself or elected officials, made the major decisions and the private sector issued bonds to pay for them. The public sector had the ideas, in another words, and the private sector executed them. It doesn’t work that way now, and I don't think it has for a while."

"The public sector now seems to issue RFQs [Requests for Quotations] and RFPs [Requests for Proposals] and throws the ball into the private sector's court," he said, noting that the RFPs often lack guidance, and simply ask the private sector to come up with the program. "You show us and we'll be on your team to execute it. And then you explain how you will pay for it, and we'll negotiate some incredibly complex economic arrangement between government and the private sector that will ensure that we will be in bed together forever."

He cited Columbus Circle, Moynihan Station, Governor’s Island, the West Side railyards plan, Atlantic Yards, and Ground Zero as examples of "the public sector turning planning over to the private sector and letting it propose. The public sector has become, for all intents and purposes, an organizer, an impresario, a referee, an enabler and a negotiator of the projects that are conceived and packaged by the private sector. Planning, in effect, has been subcontracted out."

Even with those minimal standards, I'd observe, Atlantic Yards may fall short. Even the process packaging the project represents a sweetheart deal, according to Atlantic Yards opponents, because the Metropolitan Transportation Authority didn't issue an RFP for the Vanderbilt Yard until 18 months after the city and state backed developer Forest City Ratner's plan.

Planning and participation

Goldberger said the issue today was more the government's capacity for vision than the accommodation of multiple voices. "Now, I see glimmers of an attempt to recover some initiative in the public sector, and I think surely the efforts by [Deputy Mayor] Dan Doctoroff and Mayor [Mike] Bloomberg and the whole [PlaNYC] 2030 initiative is very definitely an attempt to return to the notion that the public sector can set an agenda. But still, you wonder whether that will survive these larger forces in another administration. In any case, this recent effort notwithstanding, the general reluctance of the government to imagine has been the real change from the Moses era until now--more sweeping than even the process of public participation and the democratization of planning, the aspect that has been more talked about."

He cautioned that the two phenomena were different. "Public participation came first... My sense is that public participation for all its virtues also led to a degree of caution and hesitation on the part of the public sector, which increasingly came to feel that its main job was to build consensus and not offend anybody. Letting the private sector take over was a natural next step."

In the immediate post-Moses era in the 1970s, he said, "things were so tough and the city was so poor" the city had no money and energy to plan. "We're really far beyond that by now," he said, but we still struggle with its legacy, "the reluctance of the public sector to show real vision and to operate with a determination to make things happen. How much of it we recover--how much of it we actually want to recover--is what we're all dealing with now, and why Moses seems, at this moment in history" to be such a compelling figure.

Participation vs. process?

Later, moderator Kent Barwick, president of the Municipal Art Society, said he thought Goldberger had made a "chilling offhand remark" that there will never again be simple process to build major projects. Barwick said he hopes we can find a way to reconcile citizen participation and the public sector, especially the capacity to build infrastructure.

Moses, he reminded the crowd, was not thrown out of office by critic Jane Jacobs; the responsible party was Governor Nelson Rockefeller.

Goldberger responded that the lack of a simple process doesn't mean we can't have a working on: "I think that today, as opposed to ten years, we're much more cognizant of the fact, and much more willing to admit it. But it will not be easy, because the world of citizen participation, which we all believe is fundamentally good, and brings good to the process, but--y'know, there's no free lunch. And the complexity of it is part of the price we pay for democracy.... We're never going to be able to do it by decree."

The state, the blogs, & AY

Barwick pointed out that major projects like Moynihan Station and Atlantic Yards are shepherded by the Empire State Development Corporation and thus bypass citizen participation. "In a way, there's more power today" than under Moses, he said.

Goldberger responded,“The nature of citizen participation looks different today,” he said. “It doesn’t happen through public hearings. Look at the extent to which blogs about Atlantic Yards have in fact become a part of public discourse and shifted a great deal of public opinion and slowed down the project and in fact may well redirect it to a certain extent.”

Barwick commented, “I hope you’re right.”

Bloggers (including myself) have played more of a role in substituting for press coverage than anything else, I think. And the credit for slowing down the project depends on several factors, including the reaction to the West Side Stadium debacle and the citizen movement that has led to lawsuits challenging Atlantic Yards.

Then again, the increased scrutiny of Atlantic Yards may have delayed the issuance of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. And if "public discourse" is a part of citizen participation, then Goldberger has a point. Bloggers are part of a more robust public discussion of projects like Atlantic Yards and may have helped shift public opinion, but I don't think a solution for citizen participation has been achieved.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

An amputation at 80 DeKalb makes way for a Forest City Ratner tower

Forest City Ratner's general plan for housing at 80 DeKalb Avenue between Hudson Avenue and Rockwell Place opposite Long Island University (LIU), also known as 625 Fulton Street or Ten MetroTech, has been no secret.

After all, the Final Scope for a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, issued 3/31/06, mentioned plans for 430,000 square feet of residential at the site, due in 2009. The developer's own press releases have alluded to the project. (Above, the south--intact--view from Fulton Street, via General Services Administration, or GSA.)

Unclear, however, was how the project would be accomplished. Would Forest City Ratner convert the entire building--a former chocolate factory itself converted in 1985 into office space--into loftlike housing?

Few clues

Even Joe Chan of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP) had no information about it when asked at a recent community meeting, it's not on the DBP list of residential projects, and a seemingly comprehensive DBP map issued in April didn't include the site. (I've added light blue to the map below, above "BAM District.")

As Bob Guskind of Curbed reported , with the graphic above, a tall narrow tower is planned, 36 floors and 405 feet tall. The lot area for the whole of 10 MetroTech is some 76,000 sf, but this would occupy less than one-seventh of it.

It's part of a march of tall buildings from the Manhattan Bridge down to Atlantic Avenue, including the Oro Tower under construction near the bridge and the Forte Tower at Fulton Street in Fort Greene. The overall effect, I suspect, would be to contextualize the argument for towers at the Atlantic Yards site, though, at 335,187 square feet (according to the permit application, but not the FCR press release, which says 430,000 square feet), it would be smaller than 12 of the 16 towers planned for Atlantic Yards. So there's an argument for density near the transit hub, but the question remains: how much?

The zoning is C6-4, with a Floor Area Ratio, or FAR, of 10, which allows for such a tall building given the large low base. So, curiously enough, the building is being amputated. As the photos below taken from the north side of DeKalb Avenue show, part of the existing office building--or, perhaps, a second building yoked to the extant one and seemingly joined on the outside--is well on the way to demolition.

(Update: A reader points out that one reason to get this project going before the end of the year is to take advantage of the 421-a tax abatement, which will be reformed in 2008. Also, I had questioned whether a variance was needed, but another reader points out that all commercial zones have a residential correspondent.)

Office space

Forest City Ratner is still marketing the rest of the Ten MetroTech as office space, though its claim that the New York State Division of Motor Vehicles remains a client is a bit out of date, given, that the DMV has moved to the developer's Atlantic Center mall. (Photo at right and first photo below, from northwest and northeast perspectives respectively, taken by Norman Oder yesterday.)

And Forest City's web site describes MetroTech as a 16-acre corporate campus surrounding a "two acre Commons featuring rotating art exhibitions, sidewalk dining, entertainment and cultural events, and the feel of a college campus." Well, maybe, but Ten MetroTech is several blocks away.

GSA maintains place

The federal General Services Administration (GSA) has leased space at Ten MetroTech and is still marketing it to sublease. GSA spokeswoman Renee Miscione said the agency, which has leased space since the early 1990s from Forest City Ratner, leases under 150,000 square feet at this point.

Current tenants include the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor, but GSA still has a lot of space. One document Miscione had said there was about 95,000 square feet of space, but the GSA advertisement announces 123,000 square feet.

She noted that GSA does not have to rent to government agencies. "In a case like this, the objective is to lease the space," she said. "It’s not a federal office building, it’s a commercial building where we are leasing space."

"That space is not going to be compromised," she said, when asked about the effect of construction. The pictures suggest that is indeed so, but it could be rather noisy at the north end of the building. The GSA ad says: "Great office space. Great location. You can have it all."

And, it could add, a new residential tower under construction, directly adjacent.
(On Monday, Brownstoner took the picture at right, which shows more of the second floor --notably streetwall and beams--than was visible yesterday.)

Con Ed cites AY as boosting electricity cost, but Final EIS passed

NY1 reported yesterday that Con Edison, in requesting the largest rate hike in its history, blamed, among other things, Atlantic Yards:
Con Ed came before a State Assembly committee to explain the rate hike. Officials argued Wednesday the system is strapped and that massive projects like the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn will burden the system even more.
They say the rate hike would cover improvements to handle energy needs, some of which have already been made, but have not been fully paid for by customers.

AM NY added more context:
Con Ed officials say increased development will push energy usage in most of New York City beyond capacity by 2011, unless certain infrastructure projects such as five new substations are completed.

Now that doesn't mean that the utility wouldn't have the capacity to handle Atlantic Yards; it just means that the project is cited as a justification for increased expenditures and costs.

Adverse impact?

However, the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) focused on the whether the project would adversely impact the infrastructure, not adversely impact electricity bills.

From Chapter 24 (Response to Comments):
Comment 11-1: The project should address the huge additional demands on public infrastructure. These must include initial and ongoing costs to be borne by the City and impact on these services in the surrounding neighborhoods. The proposed project will have an adverse impact on the already strained electricity grid, water supply, and sewer systems serving the site.

Response 11-1: As discussed in greater detail below and also explained in detail in the DEIS and this FEIS, increased demands on electricity, water, and sewage services as a result of the proposed development would not be significant and can be accommodated largely through existing infrastructure systems with local improvements in sewer pipes, water mains, electrical and gas lines, and the proposed project’s stormwater management techniques.... Finally, the DEIS discusses the proposed localized upgrades in electrical and gas lines serving the project site, as well as improvements proposed by Con Edison that would improve service not only to the project site, but Brooklyn as a whole. Energy saving devices that would be incorporated into the project are also described.

At full build out these increases in demand on infrastructure systems are as follows: insignificant increase in the amount of electricity that is consumed in New York City each day (less than 0.1 percent).

Can Con Ed handle it?

Other commenters questioned whether the utility was ready:
Comment 11-9: Con Edison is already providing maximum output and peak load conditions. It has not been demonstrated that Con Edison will be able to address the projected increased demand for energy and that there is enough capacity in the City’s energy system to meet the projected demands. Con Edison has only superficially upgraded the Greater Downtown Brooklyn grid in spite of greater usage of electronics by an increasingly more affluent population. No supporting statistics, analysis, or engineering calculations are provided to substantiate the claim that the increased demands for electricity and gas as a result of the proposed project would be insignificant. The conclusion of insignificant impacts is contradictory to the findings of a 2004 report prepared by the NYC Energy Policy Task Force, which identifies load growth as the greatest single challenge to the City’s energy infrastructure. What is Con Edison’s evaluation of the project sponsor’s energy plans relative to their current and projected demand for providing energy to the area?

Response 11-9: The project sponsors have met with Consolidated Edison and KeySpan to review project plans and ensure that the utilities can provide service to the project. As discussed in the DEIS, increased demands on electric and gas service as a result of the proposed development would be insignificant compared with overall energy consumption within the City (the proposed project would add less than 0.1 percent to this demand). Natural gas connections are available locally. Based on those discussions with these utilities, the proposed project would include local upgrades in electric and gas lines serving the project site. Consolidated Edison also has additional improvements in the future without the proposed project that are being implemented to improve service to Downtown Brooklyn (including the project site) and the Borough as a whole.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tonight, a panel on the legacy of Moses and development today

The Museum of the City of New York has been holding a fascinating series of panel discussions on the legacy of Robert Moses. Tonight's program (6:30 pm), the last one currently scheduled at the museum, covers the relevant topic "New York Neighborhoods and the Impact of Development."

The description:
Since Robert Moses’ time, there has been a paradigm shift in the way development takes place in New York City. This panel will address that shift and discuss how present-day developers and public agencies approach such key issues as the design and scale of projects, local participation in decision making, and the role of historic preservation in the future of our communities.

The ironies of the CB 6 purge: Jerry Armer, flamethrower?

Borough President Marty Markowitz has the right to not reappoint community board members. Still, his decision, along with City Council Members Bill de Blasio and David Yassky, to remove nine volunteer members of Brooklyn Community Board 6, apparently because of their posture toward Atlantic Yards, can't turn the board from its criticism of the project.

The board voted overwhelmingly not to support Atlantic Yards as currently planned, as the votes detailed below show, citing unmitigable impacts like traffic, poor process that didn't accommodate local input, and a host of requested specific changes, including a reduction in scale.

Armer gets the boot

One of those Markowitz removed was Jerry Armer, the board's chairman when it developed its Atlantic Yards response and a veteran of more than 20 years. Armer told the New York Observer that he was disappointed: “What we were doing was giving the community a voice and reflecting the community.” (CB 6 covers Park Slope, Boerum Hill, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, and Red Hook.)

And Armer, who works for the MetroTech BID influenced by Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner, is hardly a flamethrower. He participated in numerous meetings of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, cordially raising some worthy questions. He presided over relevant CB 6 meetings. He spoke courteously, even ponderously, in testimony to the Empire State Development Corporation.

As with most of the CB members, he kept his distance from the organized opposition to the project, hence the irony of the New York Post headline today, ARENA FOES SLAM DUNKED, and the Post's decision to quote only one person by name: Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) spokesman Daniel Goldstein.

(DDDB does make the comparison, unmentioned in the Times and Post articles, to the actions of Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, who last year chose not to reappoint several members of Bronx Community Board 4 who opposed the new Yankees stadium he supported.)

And Armer was not alone when he joined the chairpersons of Community Boards 2 and 8 in May 2006, criticizing Forest City Ratner for "overstating" the CBs participation in "crafting" the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA): "Given the very limited role played by the three community boards in crafting the CBA and FCRC's overstatement of that fact, we are requesting that you discontinue all mention, in any form, of our participation."

Armer and CB 6, like the other two CBs, held hearings to get public input on Atlantic Yards. As I reported last October in the Brooklyn Downtown Star:
While CBs 2 and 8 did not take an official stand, the testimony they filed September 29 to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) expressed strong objections to or concern about the plan.

Marty doesn't speak

The Times noted of Markowitz, in an article today headlined Project’s Foes Shown Door in Brooklyn:
While he did renew the appointments of some Board 6 members who voted against Atlantic Yards, he replaced a greater percentage of Board 6 than of any other community board in the borough.

The typically voluble Markowitz wouldn't comment to the Times about his action; that speaks volumes.

[Correction: Markowitz was on a cruise. The Times noted: At the time the article was being reported, Mr. Markowitz could not be reached by his aides because he was on a ship at sea, had no telephone access and was not regularly checking his e-mail messages. He did not “refuse” to comment. Still, Markowitz did not have any explanation prepared when the letters went out.]

And what will Markowitz do about CB 6 member Louise Finney, a friend and former campaign treasurer? (Her term expires next year; here's the list of members.) Co-chair of the CB 6 Transportation Committee, Finney said last year: "The area they chose to analyze is way too small... You don't have to be a genius to know you should look at the BQE."

"This is difficult for me. It's a big step," said Finney, when voting last October for a Park Slope Civic Council resolution opposing Atlantic Yards as currently planned.. "Marty is a friend. But we represent Park Slope."

The payback in the Borough President's decision may be more symbolic than effective. Markowitz likely would prefer to see Goldstein gone from his residence in the AY footprint. But he had to settle for Armer.

Maybe Markowitz has the CB 6 District Manager, Craig Hammerman, in his sights; Hammerman explained, not unreasonably, in the December 2006 Park Slope Civic Council's Civic News:
“I think a lot of people were looking for things to support that weren’t in the plan at the end of the day,” he continued. “It became a tough decision, that came down to whether people were willing to vest blind trust in government agencies and a private developer that everything would be okay. Some people felt comfortable doing that but we didn’t, because the plan they put out failed so many different tests.”

Or, as CB 6 member Jeff Strabone told the Times: “It’s a shame to punish people for having independent judgment."

(Update: I just saw the print edition and saw that the Times story made the front of the Metro section. I don't necessarily quarrel with that, but I'll note that the Times didn't see fit to cover CB 6's original disapproval of the project. Nor, I think, did any of the other dailies. It's another case of politics over substance.)

Fighting the tide

The tenor of CB 6 likely can't change significantly--yet. (In a year, another half of of the 50-member board will be up for reappointment). In September, the board voted 35-4 to disapprove of the project as proposed in the July 18, 2006 General Project Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement "because it will cause irreparable damage to the quality of life in the borough of Brooklyn."

The board also voted 37-2 to include several procedural objections:
a) Failure to involve the Community Board and the community in a meaningful way; misleading and overstating the involvement of the public in the process.
b) Failure to provide adequate or sufficient time for the public to review the GPP and DEIS.
c) Failure to provide resources to the Community Board to assist in their review of the project.
d) Failure to subject any aspect of the project review to the City’s uniform land use review procedures (ULURP).

The board voted 37-2 to include the following general proposal-related objections:
a) The project is out-of-scale with the surrounding community.
b) Several material project impacts have been identified as being unmitigable. (Excerpt: "Through no fault of your agency, or the project sponsor, the baseline traffic conditions in this area of Brooklyn are unacceptable....Traffic conditions will worsen. Intersections will not be able to process projected traffic. Public safety will suffer.")
c) Portions of the data in the DEIS are insufficient, inadequate or questionable.
d) The scope of the DEIS is insufficient.
e) There has been insufficient modeling.

A final resolution, adopted by a vote of 23-4, offers the "following specific points that must be addressed as part of our disapproval of the project as currently proposed":
a) Substantially reduce height of buildings and density of project;
b) Clarify and mitigate the impact:
i) of gridlock and traffic;
ii) of events on residential parking and public transportation;
iii) of the disruption of inter-neighborhood connectivity resulting from the de-mapping of streets and the placement of buildings that physically separate surrounding communities;
iv) on Natural Resources (e.g., stormwater and sanitary sewage CSO events at the Gowanus Canal);
v) on response times by emergency services (e.g., FDNY, NYPD, EMS, etc.); and
vi) on local businesses.
c) Treat privately-owned “publicly accessible” open space as true public open space through permanent right of access, easement, covenant or some other appropriate mechanism;
d) Relocate 78th Police precinct so that the location of its facility would be insulated from project and personnel could better cover its catchment area;
e) Provide:
i) requisite accessory parking for the 78th Police precinct at their current location;
ii) space for a community and youth center;
iii) sufficient and sustainable electrical supply and distribution; and
iv) enhanced pedestrian safety and mobility through project site (e.g., safer crossings for pedestrians, crossing guards);
f) Consider the cumulative impact of all studies (e.g., Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming, Brooklyn Rapid Bus Transit, etc.) and plans (e.g., Downtown Brooklyn Rezoning, etc.);
g) Phase-in the benefits (e.g., construction of a school, affordable housing, parks/open space) described in the GPP sequentially so that more are included in Phase I of construction and within each segment of Phase II construction;
h) Re-review project in phases to account for real-time information and actual impacts associated with construction, and after the completion of Phase I, to take into account the actual effects of the project and allow for greater flexibility in achieving further mitigation;
i) Re-designate Site 5 as a separate Phase III so that construction is not occurring simultaneously on both sides of Flatbush Avenue at this busy location;
j) Eminent domain should not be used in this instance to take private property solely for the benefit of a private developer.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Whole and complete"? A jaw-dropping AY fib from 2003

From a 12/10/03 Forest City Ratner press release announcing the Atlantic Yards project:
The complex has been planned to look whole and complete during each phase of construction.
(Emphasis added)

As noted, buildings would slowly replace parking as the project proceeds. The construction schedule indicates much incompleteness, as does the map of buildings that would be finished year after year.

WTF? AY presentation borrows WTC rendering

Forest City Ratner has not released the "Atlantic Yards" image below to the public in New York, or via the image gallery, because, well, it's not part of Frank Gehry's design.

However, a representative of parent company Forest City Enterprises apparently did label the image "Atlantic Yards" in a presentation (p. 48) to governmental and business leaders during a 4/18/07 forum in Atlanta on redeveloping an underutilized corridor.

(Update 5/25/07: The presentation has been removed, but NoLandGrab has a copy.)Except it's the World Trade Center site. Compared to AY, the WTC has had more--if contested --public process, with architects competing for the design rather than anointed from the start, and a greater public discussion of security concerns.

More contrasts

Notable, the rendering above emphasizes scale, while the depictions in the Atlantic Yards image gallery tend to cut off the buildings or frame them in ways that minimize them. Remember, in the mailers Forest City Ratner sent to Brooklynites; three (1, 2, 3) included no renderings of the project, while a fourth depicted 15-story buildings.

The WTC rendering may have its uses--or was it all some kind of "brutally weird" joke?--but it certainly doesn't back up the developer's claim that Atlantic Yards would "help connect the four surrounding communities.

It comes closer to fulfilling the prediction of the Park Slope Civic Council that AY would be "a high-density enclave between several neighborhoods which will in fact be a new urban form, however, more likely analogous to a spaceship landing in a field than a unifying element in the community."

Borrowing an image

Another rendering of the future project oddly borrows an image directly from New York magazine's 8/14/06 cover story, without attribution.
Project site today?

Another image, purporting to show the project site today, hardly encompasses the 22-acre footprint or the diversity of buildings today. The project would wrap around rather than eliminate the Newswalk condo building at left. The attendees at the forum likely were underinformed, if not completely flummoxed.