Monday, January 01, 2007

CB 6's Hammerman on AY: unwilling to "vest blind trust"

An article by Ezra Goldstein in the December Civic News, published by the Park Slope Civic Council, is headlined Community Empowerment—Sort of, with the subtitle "Making the most of a City Charter whose visions are mostly only on paper." In it, Craig Hammerman, District Manager of Community Board 6 laments the failure to do community planning.

Excerpts from the article:
Perhaps, in time, Hammerman and the CB6 board will also be able to take something positive from their experience with the Atlantic Yards project. For now, however, the district manager mostly expresses frustration mixed with bewilderment that the state and the developer, Forest City Ratner, would willfully ignore local input that could have saved the project from its worst problems and excesses.
CB6 is among the organizations and civic leaders who have not condemned the project outright but who have rejected it in its details. “There are so many great ideas that have been cobbled together in this project,” said Hammerman, explaining the CB6 position. “Who doesn’t support affordable housing, jobs? Most people even support some sort of arena.
“But when the official document says that this project is going to cause harm to the community, and that much of that impact cannot be mitigated—a clear and honest admission that there will be a negative impact and they have no plan to fix it—that makes the entire project unsupportable.
“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.”
Also, unlike some critics, Hammerman does not see the project’s genesis—as a plan introduced by Forest City Ratner—as the crux of the problem. “You have to start from some vision,” he said, “and whether it’s the developer’s or the community’s doesn’t matter—as long as all sides recognize that they may not have exclusivity on a particular vision. Whatever vision they have must be inclusive of the public consensus.
“Developers often put out a vision and then work with the community,” Hammerman observed. “That’s what Ikea did in Red Hook. They changed some aspects of the plan, added to it. We came up with a list of conditions that they agreed to abide by.”
The same process could have worked at the Atlantic Yards site, he argued, “if they would have allowed us an active role. There would have been no shortage of interest or talent in the community. It kills me for a developer to have this mindset, that there’s no room for anyone else’s ideas. Worse, they see the community as the enemy and then that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.


The difference, however, is that Ikea wasn't building on publicly-owned land, and Forest City Ratner was given the inside track by city and state officials nearly two years before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard, a key component of the Atlantic Yards project, was put out for bid.

Planner coming?

The article notes that the community boards lack technical expertise:
Hammerman has long dreamed of adding a planner to CB6’s three-and-a-half-person staff, and thinks he may finally be close to finding the money to do so.
“The first thing we’d do,” said Hammerman, “is dump all these projects on the planner’s desk and ask what happens when all these things happen at the same time: Atlantic Yards, Ikea, Fairway, Whole Foods. None of the plans for these projects paints a picture of their cumulative impact on the district. What’s the holistic picture? What impact will all this development have on infrastructure needs like sewers and the delivery of electricity?

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