Saturday, August 12, 2006

Gubernatorial frontrunner Spitzer likes AY, but needs a primer

So what does frontrunning Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer think of the Atlantic Yards project? He likes it, he tells the Courier-Life chain this week, but his comments show he doesn't understand it too well.

An excerpt from the newspaper's interview, headlined Exclusive Courier Interview With Eliot Spitzer:
Q. You recently wrote a letter to the Empire State Development Corporation in favor of extending the public hearing date for the Atlantic Yards DEIS. Do you still basically agree with the plan and how would you work with more developers to ensure more affordable housing gets built in the Downtown Brooklyn area?

A. A couple of quick observations. I have not been involved in the approval process.
I conceptually am in favor of development of that site. I think building the arena is good for Brooklyn. It’s good for the city. We want to maximize the amount of affordable housing we get. We want to make sure the developments are scaled appropriately for the community and I’ve been generally supportive of the project, leaving it to those who have been involved to determine whether the size is increased or decreased or shifted one way or another based upon the zoning and based upon the capacity of the community to absorb additional people.
So lest anybody think I’m changing my position, I am not. I’ve always been in favor of development there. I think the plan that is on the table is basically a good one, but should be reviewed methodically and carefully, which is why I favor giving it the extra 30 days so the review can be done properly.
I don’t like to rush those decisions, but let’s make some decisions, get agreement and then get it moving because it’s better to have the housing and the arena than a hole in the ground.

(Emphases added)

A closer look

Maximize the amount of affordable housing? If the city and state wanted to maximize the amount of affordable housing, wouldn't they have issued an RFP (request for proposals) for such a project? And would they have encouraged the building of the most expensive arena ever?

Scaled appropriately? Does Spitzer know that, at the current scale, Atlantic Yards would be the densest residential development, by a factor of two, in the country?

Those who have been involved? The only people involved who can decide are the unelected ESDC, with an assist from the Mayor's office, and then the Public Authorities Control Board, which is controlled by Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and the governor. The City Council and local community boards are bypassed.

Remember, New York magazine called it an "absolute absence of democracy."

Based upon the zoning? The ESDC plans to override local zoning.

A hole in the ground? Lest we forget, the railyards would be about 8.3 acres of a 22-acre project. The city never talked to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) about putting out an RFP to build over the railyards.

Double standards

Spitzer thinks "the [AY] plan that is on the table is basically a good one, but should be reviewed methodically and carefully."

Contrast that with his take on the city's plans to bid on the MTA's Hudson Yards, build a platform, and then open up the property to proposals. Spitzer said:
The city has proposed that it acquire the West Side Rail Yards from the MTA for $500 million. This is an amount grossly under market value.
The city seeks to fast track this purchase and hopes to have the sale approved at the MTA's July board meeting. Any sale of an asset of this magnitude, size, and value must only be approved after a process that is open, transparent, and provides an opportunity for public bidding.


Two elements would be part of a healthy public process:
--a fair and openly-arrived at price for the railyards
--an open process for the city to seek proposals for the property

Regarding the Hudson Yards, Spitzer believes that the price isn't fair, so even though the city wants an open process, he's calling for a closer look.

Regarding the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard, a key element of the Atlantic Yards project, Spitzer apparently hasn't examined whether the price was fair or whether an open process might have led to a better proposal.

Perhaps that's because he thinks the site is a hole in the ground. It's time for him to get beyond generalizations and get up to speed on what would be the biggest project in Brooklyn's history.

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