Sunday, February 25, 2007

Errol Louis on AY negotiation, but not the 20-year affordable housing plan

Daily News columnist Errol Louis, in a column today headlined Play ball with Bruce, writes:
The biggest myth about the $4 billion, 22-acre Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn is that it might not get built. So it's long past time for people concerned about the complex to quit fantasizing about how to stop it and start focusing on ways to improve it.
This was made clearer than ever two days ago, when federal Judge Robert Levy hammered another nail into the legal coffin of anti-project advocates by recommending dismissal of Goldstein vs. Pataki, a lawsuit by a handful of holdouts who refuse to sell their property to the project's developer, Bruce Ratner.


Louis calls the litigation "doomed" and likens Atlantic Yards to other projects with public benefits such as Lincoln Center in Manhattan and Melrose Commons in the Bronx, neither of which have, as the Atlantic Yards plan would have, nearly 2000 luxury condos, 2250 market-rate rentals, and 900 (of 2250 "affordable" rentals) at or over market rate.

(In the print edition, there's a big picture of a smiling, benevolent Bruce Ratner.)

Case closed?

Louis calls it a "fool's errand" to go to federal court to impinge on state and local exercise of eminent domain. He notes Levy's citation that federal courts generally stay out of these cases. True, but the question here is whether the Atlantic Yards litigation, based on legal theories developed after the Supreme Court's 2005 Kelo vs. New London decision, will break new legal ground.

Louis predicts that the plaintiffs "will fare even worse in state court, which has long been bent in favor of giving government the power needed to build New York." Again, that's the history--but will this case break new legal ground?

Louis doesn't acknowledge Levy's respectful nod to the substance of the case:
Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint raises serious and difficult questions regarding the exercise of eminent domain under emerging Supreme Court jurisprudence, many of which were explored in some detail at oral argument. However, in light of my recommendation that this court abstain, it would be inappropriate to address plaintiffs’ claims on the merits.

By the way, Louis also calls the plaintiffs "a handful of holdouts who refuse to sell their property." Actually, a majority are renters (mostly residential, one commercial) who have leases in buildings subject to eminent domain.

Hakeem Jeffries' negotiation

Louis closes by suggesting a model of compromise:
The model of how to do this was laid out by freshman Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries. After winning election last fall - even before he was sworn in - Jeffries began talking with Ratner and put an entirely new demand on the table: creation of 200 subsidized units that people would own, not rent.

Guess what? Ratner agreed. As a result, hundreds more people will own their own homes, in addition to the thousands who will rent apartments at the site.

All it took was a bit of nerve, sharp negotiating skills and a willingness to face the reality that change in Brooklyn is at hand.


It wasn't exactly an "entirely new demand." The developer had long promised--though it's not memorialized in state documents--the creation of 600 to 1000 "affordable" for-sale units, on or offsite. The announcement in December was for 200 of those units onsite.

We still don't know 1) when those apartments would be built and 2) for what income brackets. I asked Jeffries those questions Wednesday night and he still didn't know.

More affordable housing, or a much slower process?

Indeed, unmentioned by Louis is the gap between Jeffries' current request and the developer's promises. Also unmentioned is the gap between the stated project timeline and the likelihood of far more delay in completing it and producing the affordable housing that supporters so often cite.

Jeffries told me he thought 50 percent of the housing in Phase 1 of the project should be affordable. (Right now, the percentage would be about 25 percent.) That's a significant gap, and meeting that demand would cut significantly into the developer's profits.

Moreover, in December a major project proponent, Kathryn Wylde of the Partnership for New York City, predicted the Atlantic Yards project could take 20 years to build, not ten. And just last week, project landscape architect Laurie Olin said it could take 20 years, requiring him to be contradicted publicly by the guy who hired him, Jim Stuckey of developer Forest City Ratner.

In other words, even as the developer "negotiates," the reality of a delayed development process undermines the developer's promises. When I told Jeffries of Olin's remarks, he seemed dismayed.

Louis's column offers this summary headline: With Ratner's wrecking ball in motion, arena critics must stop stalling and start dealing.

What exactly are they dealing? And with what leverage?

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