An article today in the Daily News, headlined Pols try cutting Ratner's Yard by third, reported:
Assemblyman James Brennan (D-Brooklyn) and five Brooklyn colleagues - including vocal arena-supporter Assemblyman Roger Green - are introducing a bill that would cut the size of the project to 6 million square feet from nearly 9 million square feet.
In exchange, the bill would slash the amount Ratner has to pay to the MTA to buy and prepare the site to $140 million, down from $450 million.
The state would also pick up the tab for subsidizing the roughly 2,000 affordable apartments proposed for the site, so Ratner wouldn't have to build so big to reap a profit, Brennan said.
A Rube Goldberg affordable housing strategy
It's not clear that the affordable housing--which would already come with its own subsidies--is what's driving up the cost of the project for Forest City Ratner. Among the other costs: the most expensive arena ever, high-priced talent in Gehry and Olin, the enormous public relations expense of brochures and lobbying; and the cost of not merely purchasing properties from owners in the proposed footprint but buying their silence.
The cost components of the project--and Ratner's projected profit--remain a black box. This bill should have some public hearings attached to it.
Let's recap. Forest City Ratner gained a certain amount of political and community support for promising 50% affordable housing at the start. Then--after the affordable housing agreement was signed in May 2005 with the community group ACORN--FCR increased the size of the project. In doing so, they converted some proposed office space--which was billed as "jobs," another carrot for the project--to market-rate condos. No longer would the project be 50/50 affordable housing; it was limited to the rentals.
Last September, they announced the new numbers: 2250 market-rate rentals, 2250 affordable rentals, and 2800 market-rate condos. They've now cut 440 of the latter.
But if the goal for building over the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard was affordable housing, there were other ways to do it, starting with an RFP open to all, rather than issued 18 months after the Atlantic Yards project was announced by FCR, with its political backers.
Some more details
Some more details emerged in a longer story in the Courier-Life chain, in one edition headlined Atlantic Yds. Shrink Ray? Bill Would Cap Height of Towers And Offers Ratner More Subsidies.
--Specifically, it would limit the project size to 5.85 million square feet, not quite three million less than the current 8.659 million square feet currently proposed. It would not cap the heights of specific buildings.
--Joan Millman, who has opposed the project in its current form, supports the bill. (I've heard that some other project opponents may sign on, as well.)
--The state would subsidize between $12 and $15 million per year for between 1,800 and 2,200 units in the project’s affordable housing component.
--The developer would only pay $140 million of the $450 million expense to buy and build a platform over the railyards.
--The bill would ensure that properties acquired through eminent domain would be purchased at 150 percent of the market rate value.
$450 million for the railyards?
Forest City Ratner's bid for the railyards was $100 million, but says the improvements total $350 million. But the rival bid from Extell Development Corp., for $150 million, was also going to include improvements. As noted, the $450 million (actually, $445 million) falsely
reframes the bid amount.
Does this mean that Ratner would essentially get the 8.3-acre railyard for free?
Again, the housing
The article stated:
Brennan sees his bill as the ultimate solution to his belief that the project is its current size so Ratner can recoup will the money he will lose in the affordable housing component.
According to Lentol:
“If you force the developer to scale down the project and give the developer nothing in return, then you force the developer to do nothing and then everything is gone,” he said, adding that “When you talk about a development that will benefit people who need affordable housing, then helping the developer is definitely a public service.”
Reaction from FCR/DDDB
Officials from Forest City Ratner said they couldn't comment. Opponent Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn was cautious: “It’s a step in the right direction, but far from sufficient.” As reported:
Brennan’s legislation, he said, does nothing to address the height of some of the buildings, as well as the abuse of city streets and the fact that ultimately, the project will be reviewed through a “non-inclusive un-democratic process.”