Friday, June 29, 2007

City says "Atlantic Yards carve-out" worth $300 million; will Spitzer veto?

Previous estimates have valued the "Atlantic Yards carve-out" in the state's revision of the 421-a tax break at up to $170 million. Now the New York Times, in a post-mortem on the much-criticized closed-door negotiations, reports the figure could be nearly double that.

Today's article, headlined City’s Plans for Housing Flop in Albany, focuses on decisions made by Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party and of the Assembly Housing Committee, in negotiation with Steven Spinola of the Real Estate Board of New York.

The Times reports:
But the bill would also provide what the city estimates are an additional $300 million in tax breaks for the vast Atlantic Yards complex being developed by Forest City Ratner Companies, the development partner with The New York Times Company in the Times’ new Midtown headquarters, without getting any additional affordable units in return. Mr. Lopez said it was a concession sought during negotiations with Mr. Spinola and the Senate over his bill.

State Senator Martin J. Golden, a Republican from Brooklyn, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, acknowledged yesterday that Mr. Spinola “may have had a little bit more of a role than most,” in negotiating the bill. But, he added, “Everybody was checked with.”

Yet, State Senator Frank Padavan, a fellow Republican, contends that the Senate bill was rushed through with little discussion of the special deals for developers like Forest City. “It didn’t pass the smell test,” he said.

Real estate developers say that the real estate board, whose leading members are active in Manhattan, was principally concerned with extending the 421-a program beyond Dec. 31, and had little interest in the impact of the bill on development in the other boroughs. Mr. Spinola was on vacation this week and unavailable for comment.


Golden, of course, is an Atlantic Yards supporter and Lopez has received campaign contributions from developer Bruce Ratner's brother and sister-in-law.

City objections

More significant to city officials critical of the state bill is the size of the "exclusion zone," where developers would be required to build affordable housing in exchange for the tax break. The City Council extended it to Brownstone Brooklyn, Greenpoint/Williamsburg, the Queens waterfront, TriBeCa, and parts of Harlem. The state bill extended it to neighborhoods in all five boroughs.

I think there's room for debate on the outline of that zone, and I'm not sure it would "scuttl[e] the city’s efforts to build middle-class housing at Queens West on the East River," as the Times reports. (Could the city just readjust the income mix, as it already has apparently done, substituting 40 percent market-rate units?)

The zone was expected to expand, given Lopez's concerns about gentrification around the Bushwick/Williamsburg area he represents. But it appears that Lopez got the map he wanted in exchange for the six-month extension of the current law, rather than via sufficient public deliberation.

The Times reports:
“We thought we had the makings of a good deal, and we thought it would get modestly better in Albany,” said Brad Lander, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development. “Instead it emerged with a bunch of loopholes.”

So the question remains: Will Gov. Eliot Spitzer spend some political capital, veto the bill, and thus fulfill the reformer role he claims?

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