Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Times practices "rowback": Atlantic Yards (finally) is not a rezoning

An article in the New York Times today, headlined Bloomberg Administration Is Developing Land Use Plan to Accommodate Future Populations, states, in part:
City officials declined to publicly elaborate on their proposals in advance of the advisory board’s announcement. But some of its goals were foreshadowed by two of the largest rezoning revisions in city history — of the Brooklyn waterfront in Greenpoint and Williamsburg and the Far West Side of Manhattan — both driven by Mr. Doctoroff.
The two major zoning changes, coupled with other development proposals, including the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, were aimed at revitalizing underutilized land for economic development and expanding the city’s property tax base.


Note that the Atlantic Yards project is not lumped in with the rezoning efforts. This serves as an implicit acknowledgement, if not a correction, of previous misleading language.

A 1/2/06 Metro section news analysis that contained this passage regarding Mayor Bloomberg: ...the fruits of his huge rezoning initiatives along the Brooklyn waterfront and at the Atlantic Yards will not all be realized within four years.

The new phrasing is certainly an improvement, but it does ignore the state override of city zoning for AY that would bypass local elected officials.

Fruitless protest

As I wrote in March, there's a big difference between the waterfront rezoning, a process that involves the City Council and extensive hearings, and the state process governing the Atlantic Yards project, under which the unelected Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) would override city zoning.

In correspondence, I tried fruitlessly to get this erroneous shorthand corrected. A Times editor evasively said that the details of the "bureaucratic processes" were not needed, and Times Public Editor Byron Calame, apparently unwilling to recognize a distinction between city and state oversight, endorsed the error as published.

The new correction-without-a-correction is a variant of "rowback," which former Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent described in his 3/14/04 column as "a way that a newspaper can cover its butt without admitting it was ever exposed."

This isn't the first example of Atlantic Yards rowback by the Times, given "downtown Brooklyn" and "on the railyards"; it probably won't be the last.

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