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Marty Markowitz and the Navy Yard straw man

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's recent interview with City Hall News has him waxing indignantly about Atlantic Yards opponents, then offering a straw man about the Brooklyn Navy Yard and some rather selective thoughts about zoning, which deserve a closer look.

Markowitz was asked:
Do you think that mega projects like that are appropriate else here in the city?

MM: Listen, the answer to that is market driven. For all these years, the issue of over development is a serious issue in many Brooklyn neighborhoods. And that’s why I enthusiastically support down zoning those neighborhoods to preserve the residential quality in those communities of Brooklyn that are single or two family homes, detached or semi-detached. For years, in many of those neighborhoods, developers could have built as of right. As of right. But the demand isn’t there. Today, the demand for the people moving into the city has never been higher. It’s incredible the demand of housing. Therefore, it is important that we find locations in New York City that we can grow and of course, because this city is running out of land, we have to consider those areas where we can build vertically and we can build the kind of housing that allows the max amount of open space, that’s very important, and how it knits in into the tapestry of the community of which it’s located. So my initial response to you is, yes there are areas of New York City. There are some areas such as in East New York, for instance, and Brownsville. The church community is building many single-family homes. And that’s a good thing because home ownership is very important in this city. Very important, especially for people of moderate income. To me, that’s the promised land: home ownership and owning a piece of New York. And in other areas it’s appropriate, especially near transit. And by the way, let’s go back to Atlantic yards for a second. The biggest hub of public transportation in Brooklyn and third largest in New York City is Atlantic and Flatbush Avenue. Exactly where Atlantic Yards will be built. Now some of the people that are against it want to move to the Atlantic Yards concept to the navy yard, although, there’s no land that’s available at the navy yard. That’s where they want it to move. And then when we ask them, “There’s no public transportation,” you know what they say? “Let them use their cars.” OK, so the bottom line is that where appropriate in the city, we have to build for tomorrow near public transportation hubs and where the project can be pieced in, because you have to make sure that there’s support services for the new residents, which means schools, which is very, very important.

A bit more context

No one wanted to move the Atlantic Yards "concept"--which is Forest City Ratner's development--to the Navy Yard, though some suggested the Navy Yard suggested that the accompanying arena, a very small component might go there. As Markowitz points out, there's no public transportation, which is why more critics and opponents have suggested that Coney Island might be viable; indeed, Markowitz once supported Coney as an arena location.

Maybe Markowitz wouldn't face all the hostility he cites if he took a more thoughtful approach. One-family homes may be appropriate in parts of East New York and Brownsville, but other parts can support significantly more density. And, as for the area around Brooklyn's busiest transit hub, sure it could support more density.

But that's an argument for a rezoning--an upzoning to assess the appropriate amount of development--rather than a state override of zoning. Developers bid up land speculatively in anticipation of an upzoning, since the city increases the size of buildings they could build. The Atlantic Yards site experienced a huge increase in value--well beyond Forest City Ratner's "generous" buyouts--thanks to the state's willingness to override zoning.

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