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Showing posts from August, 2009

The Daily News follows up on the housing guarantees, gets quotes out of FCR, ESDC, and ACORN, lets them off easy

Well, it's nice that the Daily News, alone among the press, followed up on my article last Thursday questioning the guarantees for Atlantic Yards affordable housing, but the omissions and errors deserve attention.

The article, headlined Weaker plan to finance Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards housing project, was posted today though, I'm told, was actually in the paper Friday.

The article begins:
The final version of a state plan for developer Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project weakened guarantees that promised affordable housing would get necessary funding, new documents show.

Ratner has pledged to build 2,250 units of affordable housing as part of the proposed Nets arena and 16-tower project, but critics have questioned whether he'll ever come through.

A draft of the plan, obtained under the Freedom of Information Law by the blog Atlantic Yards Report, promises state and city affordable housing subsidies to fund those units.

"City actions include approval of fundin…

FCR consultant on Ridge Hill--a project still under investigation--now works for Senate Democrats

In the Daily Politics, Liz Benjamin suggests that State Senator Bill Perkins, who held a hearing on Atlantic Yards, might have reason to be wary of new Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) staffer Melvin Lowe.

Benjamin noted that Lowe "has provided consulting services to developer Bruce Ratner on the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn"--news to me--and that Perkins is concerned, given that he feels "more answers" are needed regarding AY.

Lowe, who's worked for several government officials and campaigns, "will be providing 'oversight' at the DSCC," Senate Democratic spokesman Paul Rivera told Benjamin. The DSCC wants to retain and build on a slim Democratic majority, a crucial priority for state Democrats in 2010.

The Ridge Hill connection

Perkins might have more reason for concern. In May 2008, word emerged that federal prosecutors were investigating Forest City Ratner's Ridge Hill project in Yonkers, notably the abrupt about-face of Sa…

Last day to submit comments to ESDC; harsh comments from condemnees' lawyer

Today is the last day in which comments are accepted on the 2009 Modified General Project Plan (GPP) for Atlantic Yards, so the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) likely should receive a host of comments by the deadline.

Will any of them have an impact? Unlikely.

However, the ESDC, likely via its environmental consultant, AKRF, will have to respond to the comments and present a summary of those responses to its board members before the vote to re-approve the plan, likely on September 17.

And those responses, or lack thereof, may be part of future litigation. Note that the ESDC did not issue a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), as many critics have argued, and comments on the environmental impact--rather than the business terms in the GPP--may be considered off topic.

Still, it will be interesting to see how and if they're answered.

Harsh criticisms

Attorney George Locker, who represents residential condemnees within two buildings in the AY footprint, has submi…

Another look at the "Outlaw Operation" video about the ESDC and the July 29 public hearing

It's not a very subtle polemic, but it's worth another look on the last day in which public comments can be filed on the 2009 Modified General Project Plan for Atlantic Yards.

The 23:41 video from Freddy's Brooklyn Roundhouse, titled ESDC-OUTLAW OPERATION: Eminent Domain in Developer Driven Development portrays the Atlantic Yards opposition on the first day of the public hearing held on July 29 and July 30.



The only people pictured are project opponents and some say things that don't add up. The narration, as well, pushes the envelope. But isn't the process rather one-sided and won't the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) board rubber-stamp the project when it meets September 17?

And the press coverage, notably in the New York Times (which didn't cover the hearing outside the blog The Local), portrayed the issue as the developer's struggle, without raising questions of public accountability.

The two most important figures in the video are veteran a…

On Paterson, the Times discerns a contradiction; will it ever play 'gotcha' with Bloomberg and Atlantic Yards?

A New York Times article published August 26 was headlined Paterson Steps Back From Race Remarks and subtitled in print "But Answers to Questions Appear to Contradict Earlier Statements."

So the Times, not unfairly, played gotcha.

Here's another gotcha they haven't bothered with: Atlantic Yards financing.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg said in 2004 that "any city monies of any meaningful size will be debt issues financed by the extra tax revenues." Later, however, he contradicted that statement by having the city commit $205 million for land purchases and infrastructure.

"See the Nets and NBA Stars in Newark"

The New Jersey Nets are still promotingpreseason games in Newark.

As noted last month, should the Brooklyn arena plan fall through, there might be a lot more NBA stars in Newark.

Barclays reaffirms commitment to AY arena; company head calls community "poor" and predicts 2011 season opening date

Barclays PLC President Bob Diamondtells Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi that, while delays on the planned Brooklyn arena for the Nets are "agonizing and frustrating," the banking company remains committed to the Barclays Center.

That's not surprising--Barclays wants its name around the media for branding purposes--but Politi apparently didn't ask if the naming rights deal, reported at $400 million over 20 years, had been renegotiated.

[Addendum] As noted in March and last November (when Barclays recommitted), the bank may have renegotiated the naming rights deal down. With and since that recommitment, there have been a couple of sweeteners: Barclays got a piece of the bond deal and a naming rights deal for the subway station bordering the arena site.

Under wraps for some

Notably, Diamond said he had seen the new arena design, via Ellerbe Becket and (apparently) an unnamed additional firm, and while less preferable than Frank Gehry's design(s), he was fine with i…

CNG Watch: Bloomberg interviews, sandwich war, and "banned" book, but nothing on the Carlton Avenue Bridge

Both major Brooklyn weekly newspapers (owned by Rupert Murdoch's Community Newspaper Group) this week put Mayor Mike Bloomberg's interview with the CNG reporters and editors on the front page. It was a reasonable choice and the Courier-Life article even incorporated some critical feedback from Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's Daniel Goldstein.

The Brooklyn Paper (right) made the interview the lead story, with the entertaining tale of a battle between two Vietnamese sandwich shops as the off-lead. The Courier-Life (at left, below) placed the interview as the off-lead (which couldn't fit in the scan I made), while placing a story about the Brooklyn Public Library "banning" a book as the lead.

Neither saw fit to cover the clearly documented news, published on Tuesday morning, well before their deadlines, that the reopening of the Carlton Avenue Bridge would be delayed until at least January 2011 and likely far longer.

Yes, both produce a lot of copy with a han…

Looking at the 35th District debate: Delia Hunley-Adossa surfaces (and shows why she's been inaccessible)

While the Brooklyn Paper’s coverage (headlined Our debate is a brawl! Candidates for Fort Greene seat get testy) of the 35th Council District debate focused on the clash between Council Member Letitia James and longshot challenger Medhanie Estiphanos, perhaps the real news came from watching challenger (and Atlantic Yards supporter) Delia Hunley-Adossa, who currently leads AY opponent James in cash on hand, in action.

Now we know why Hunley-Adossa has been so inaccessible. She relies on platitudes and her speaking style is peppered with malapropisms.

Yes, people speaking extemporaneously shouldn’t be expected to speak perfectly, but Hunley-Adossa was well below the bar for political candidates.

James spent most of her time clashing with Estiphanos, an energetic neophyte who lobbed criticisms both off-base and cogent, leaving Hunley-Adossa mostly unscathed--not a wise tactic for the incumbent. The toughest questions for Hunley-Adossa came from Brooklyn Paper staffers, and she didn’t hand…

A few questions for the ESDC's phantom community information session

So it looks like no additional community information session will be held, as seemingly promised, before the Monday deadline for comment to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) on the 2009 Modified General Project Plan.

But what if, by some miracle, a session is held either first thing Monday morning or the deadline is extended?

Here are just a few questions:
Despite what Forest City Ratner executive Mary Anne Gilmartin said, does the ESDC believe there would be sufficient housing bonds for the anticipated ten-year project buildout? How long would it take to build the arena and how long would the eminent domain process take before construction could begin? If Forest City Ratner has seen new renderings of the arena and arena block, what's keeping them from sharing them publicly? How long will stages 2&3 of the Carlton Avenue Bridge reconstruction project take to complete?

Who's cleaning up Pacific Street blight? Forest City Ratner

Way back in November 2006, several people commented to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) in response to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, saying the city and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) should be blamed for failing to take care of the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard. (More here.)

In response, the ESDC punted, ignoring the question of responsibility:
Chapter 1, “Project Description,” and Chapter 3, “Land Use, Zoning, and Public Policy,” describe in detail the present condition of the project site, including the Vanderbilt Yard.

More clean-up
In September 2007, some AY opponents bushwhacked a clean-up along Pacific Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.

Last Saturday, when I took a tour group around Prospect Heights, that stretch of Pacific Street looked pretty trim. But the stretch between Sixth and Carlton avenues looked pretty messy, even though a large residential building, Newswalk, occupies most of the street opposite it.

Now, however, it's been …

Markowitz, endorsing Levin in the 33rd, joins Lopez (and Moses) in prioritizing results over process

One of the enduring (and simplified) debates regarding the legacies of urbanist Jane Jacobs and master builder/power broker Robert Moses is the balance between results and process.

You can't make an omelet, Moses liked to say, without breaking eggs, and Moses was notably callous about the impact of his major projects on the people living in the way. On the other hand, neighborhood activists invoking Jacobs have used process to gum up any change, even when it might be wise and even though Jacobs did believe in certain big projects, like public transit.

The Levin endorsement
The issue re-emerges in a Brooklyn Paper article regarding Borough President Marty Markowitz's endorsement of machine candidate Steve Levin, chief of staff to Assemblyman (and Brooklyn Democratic Party head) Vito Lopez in the crowded 33rd District Council race
Levin is the only candidate to support the Lopez-backed Broadway Triangle rezoning, which Markowitz supports:
“I know Steve’s opponents think process is …

Documents show affordable housing guarantees considered but discarded; no apparent effort to ascertain if housing bonds were sufficient

So, did the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), during its approval process for Atlantic Yards, evaluate whether there'd be sufficient tax-exempt housing bonds to meet the ten-year timetable for 2250 affordable units?
Documents received in response to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request suggest no; in fact, the state considered but rejected a General Project Plan provision that stated explicitly that approval was needed for affordable housing financing. 
Thus, it's likely the ESDC board approved the project in December 2006--and will re-approve the project next month--without any assurances the affordable housing could be built as promised.

Moreover, the State Funding Agreement signed in September 2007 gives the developer a pass, asserting that a good faith application for housing bonds was expected to lead to their receipt--without evaluating whether such bonds would be available.
Also, it's not clear whether the ESDC can enforce any affordable housing requir…

Yes, the time frame for the Pacific Street sidewalk-as-street is 12 weeks

My bad. When I reported July 31 on the Department of Transportation's (DOT) plan to allow a portion of the Pacific Street sidewalk be used as a street, I gave the benefit of the doubt to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

DOT indicated that the plan would be in place for 12 weeks. ESDC said two weeks.

However, the sidewalk is still being used as a street. Now, says ESDC in essence, never mind.

AY CBA witness Bloomberg blasts CBAs as extortion; signatory Nimmons brushes off questions from The Local

There's an interesting addition to Mayor Mike Bloomberg's interview with reporters and editors from the Community Newspaper Group:
He also blasted the kinds of community benefits agreement that Ratner signed with several groups, some of which did not exist before they signed an agreement to support the project in exchange for some financial backing.

“I’m violently opposed to community benefits agreements,” he said. “A small group of people, to feather their own nests, extort money from the developer? That’s just not good government.”

Despite the segue, it's unclear whether Bloomberg specifically targeted the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement. As reported in the Times, he began criticizing CBAs in April 2006, less than a year after he presided over the ceremony for the AY CBA.

(Despite the headline on the mayor's site, he was a witness, not a signatory. Moreover, the press release was incoherent, having the mayor declare, "This Community Benefits Agreement is…