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"Deeply troubled" Jeffries says it's time to evaluate changes in AY; Brennan's subsidy bill resurfaces

Last night, I spoke to Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, whose district includes Prospect Heights and the Atlantic Yards footprint, about the Atlantic Yards stall and the potential response in Albany.

He indicated dismay about the apparent major delay in affordable housing and said it was too soon to assess new Governor David Paterson’s posture on the project.

He said the legislature may look at a bill, sponsored in 2006 by Assemblyman Jim Brennan and revived in February, that would trade a one-third cut in the size of Atlantic Yards for direct and indirect subsidies worth some $700 million over 30 years, with nearly half of that up front.

Also, he said a legislative committee might take another look at the Empire State Development Corporation’s (ESDC) stewardship of Atlantic Yards.

"Deeply troubled"

“I’m deeply troubled by the notion of moving forward with an arena without a firm commitment to advance the affordable housing connected to the project,” he said. “I’m still firmly committed to the position that eminent domain should not be used to build a basketball arena and will articulate that position to Governor Paterson and his administration.”

Collective evaluation

Is there an alternative plan? “It’s too soon to say anything publicly," he said. "We are still in the process of collectively evaluating where we need to go to see if we can form common ground among the state elected officials who represent the district or neighborhoods affected by this project.” He cited State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, and Assemblyman Jim Brennan.

He said State Senator Eric Adams “ultimately will be involved in whatever discussion takes place,” but said, from an institutional perspective, a Senatorial colleague, Montgomery, not anyone in the Assembly, will engage with Adams.

Brennan’s bill returns

On February 26, well before the stall that emerged last Friday, a bill sponsored by Brennan and cosponsored by Millman was quietly reintroduced; it would cut the project, estimated at 8 million square feet, to no greater than 5.85 million square feet; with a minimum of 1800 units of affordable housing.

A subsidy arrangement would provide between $12.6 million per year for 30 years ($378 million) for 1800 units, up to $15.4 million over 30 years ($462 million) for a maximum of 2200 units. The towers could get green building tax credits of up to $2 million per year per building. Also, the developer would be relieved of the obligation to pay about $310 million to the MTA for the development of the Vanderbilt Yard. (Forest City Ratner values its bid, which includes $100 million in cash, at $450 million if infrastructure expenditures are included, the bill indicates.)

The bill is essentially the same as one proposed in 2006; indeed, it may be something of a placeholder for a revision. The text is out of date, since it calls for the ESDC not to approve the project if unchanged and, of course, the project has been approved.

What’s Jeffries’ posture? “I don’t support the bill in its current version, but open to considering it, as it’s amended, as it relates to affordable housing," he said. "I’d also like to take a closer look at how the bill deals with eminent domain issue.”

If the bill is considered, surely legislators should evaluate exactly how much affordable housing costs, and what's the bang for the buck.

ESDC reevaluation

I asked if legislators could ask why the ESDC gave Forest City Ratner such flexible deadlines, 6+ years to build the arena and 12+ years to build Phase One.

“I certainly would welcome another public hearing, and plan to speak to Richard Brodsky, chairperson of the Corporations Committee, in that regard," Jeffries responded. "I sit on that committee, which has oversight jurisdiction over ESDC. Last spring, there was an ESDC hearing, as it relates to a variety of projects… I questioned [Downstate Chairman] Pat Foye about Atlantic Yards, essentially making the point that the Spitzer administration evaluated the state of [the] Javits [Convention Center project], Moynihan Station, and the World Trade Center, determined they were insufficient in their original contemplation, and proposed modest or in some cases considerable changes."

"I argued that the precedent had already been established, based on how the Spitzer administration reevaluated those projects, to undertake a meaningful reevaluation of Atlantic Yards," he continued. "My recollection of his testimony was that he argued that Atlantic Yards was at a different stage than the other three, based on the fact that there had been PACB [Public Authorities Control Board] approval. I still maintain the position that if those others can be evaluated, so can Atlantic Yards."

Go back to PACB?

I asked about project opponents’ contention that the PACB should again vote on the project. He said he wasn’t sure of the legal obligation, but “I’m not convinced that remedies the issue. We need ESDC to be responsive to the concerns in a meaningful way.”

Dismay from de Blasio

The Brooklyn Paper reported further dismay from an Council Member Bill de Blasio, a longtime supporter of the project who has grown more critical in recent months (and is a leading candidate for Brooklyn Borough President).

The Paper reported:
“My support has always been conditional [on] the creation of affordable housing and local union jobs,” said Councilman Bill DeBlasio (D–Park Slope). “Ratner’s comments are very troubling because they suggest a scaling back of the project that by definition could greatly reduce the amount of affordable housing. This raises the question of whether he’ll live by [his promises]. If he does not, I can not support the project.”

DeBlasio also warned Ratner against seeking additional public subsidies for the flagging project.

“There has already been very generous public investment,” he said. “I don’t see how we can go any farther.”

That's a view from the city side.


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