Skip to main content

Planner Burden on balanced growth, community consultation, and "esthetic democracy" (in Brooklyn)

The New York City Planning Commission (CPC) does more rezoning than planning; those rezonings vastly increase the value of land and thus shape development, a fact that deserves scrutiny. Witness CPC Chairperson Amanda Burden's stunning statement explaining how she concluded Harlem needed redevelopment: a friend couldn't find a restaurant there.

For a sense of Burden's perspective, consider the CUNY-TV show City Talk taped 03/14/2006, hosted by Doug Muzzio. Her evocation of balanced growth and the importance of community consultation sounded impressive.

Surely Burden's department has done some good work. However, the reality of Downtown Brooklyn, given the unanticipated housing boom, is quite different than city planners hoped. Moreover, the Atlantic Yards example stands in contrast to Burden's stated ideals, given that there was no city oversight and thus limited community consultation.

A curious locution

At about 4:20 in the program, even as Burden invoked the mixed-use mantra taught all of us by Jane Jacobs, she used a curious locution (bolded below) that seems to echo Mayor Mike Bloomberg's corporate background.

She said:
We have to grow our city wherever we can. And we have to provide different products for different customers. So we look across the Hudson... a lot of that [New Jersey] development should've been ours. But we weren't ready for it; we weren't zoned for it, we're underzoned. So the mayor says: create business districts in each one of our boroughs. And each one of those business districts shouldn't be a corporate park, but should have a real mix of housing and office and parks and culture. So that was our challenge.


The Brooklyn example

She continued, with great enthusiasm, by pointing to Brooklyn:
And we started with Downtown Brooklyn. And always what we try to do is a balance of preservation and growth. Here you have fantastic neighborhoods such as Boerum Hill and Fort Greene and Brooklyn Heights. You keep those neighborhoods of character, the low-scale neighborhood. But then, around the transit infrastructure, you grow. So you have apartment house construction, office buildings, and then the most important thing is, you have to look at the public open space, always that's what people love about a place. So, reshaping Flatbush Avenue, so it's a gateway to Downtown Brooklyn.... We're going to put a median in the middle, trees on both side, so when you walk there, it's got BAM, it's got everything, it is the best.

That sounds good, and a lot is uncontroversial, but there was a lot more flexibility than she let on. For example, while DCP said the "rezoning would facilitate new mixed-use academic and office buildings" in the northern segment of Downtown Brooklyn, the new tower once planned by Forest City Ratner at New York City Technical College's Klitgord Auditorium site--location of two Atlantic Yards public hearings--would instead be mostly condos. (That plan has since been scotched.)

Waterfront visions

At about 7:00, Muzzio enthused how the DCP web site was "extraordinarily visual," citing the waterfront rezoning of Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

AB: That's the thing. Any rezoning, to get it passed or done, has got to pass community boards and elected officials. So we have to build consensus. And the only way you can do that is by really showing people visually what they're going to get, and bringing in the stakeholders and getting them to feel invested in the plan. For instance, in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, here you had two miles of waterfront, it was fenced off, inacessible, derelict for decades. So to really get the community to not only understand the zoning that we were proposing, but to buy into that, we took the committee for open space of the community board there around to all waterfront parks in the city, and they chose the benches and the lights and the paving and the railing that's going to be on their waterfront. So this is really a plan that is created by the community. Otherwise we would have never have gotten it passed.
(Graphic from DCP web site. First emphasis added.)

A lot of people in Williamsburg might say they didn't have enough of a voice. Given the current frenzy of construction, as chronicled by the Gowanus Lounge, many are still disturbed. Burden is particularly concerned with street-level details--such as that "b-market" outside the planned Atlantic Yards arena--which has made her vulnerable to charges of micromanagement.

As for Atlantic Yards, as a state project it bypassed community oversight, and now even Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff has second thoughts.

Democracy at work?

Muzzio picked up on the issue.

DM: An esthetic democracy?

AB: Exactly. Because it has to be theirs. One is, it's better if it's theirs; it's more authentic, it's real. But also they're going to pass on it, as are the elected officials.

Not, of course, with Atlantic Yards.

The Downtown Brooklyn rezoning

The Downtown Brooklyn rezoning did not exactly show people what they were going to get, because the main goal was not housing but office jobs. The city's rationale for the rezoning: Downtown Brooklyn is poised to retain and grow the city's at-risk back-office jobs, preserve its tax base and generate new revenues.

(Graphics from DCP web site)

The goal was new office development and academic expansion space within the commercial core and, in the surrounding areas, new residential development with attractive ground-floor retail.

Changes on Flatbush Avenue were coming, allowing for "higher-density residential and commercial buildings." But the overall goal was 4.5 million square feet of new commercial office space, creating 18,500 office jobs, and some 1,000 new housing units.

Now there's much more housing than office space planned, and housing along with the academic facilities in the core, as noted above.

Contrast with AY

Atlantic Yards has generated significant protest, as Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries pointed out, in part because the project would directly abut some mostly low-rise neighborhoods. The high-rise luxury developments in Downtown Brooklyn would mosly isolated from other residential areas.

Activists groups that promote affordable housing sat out the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning. Had the potential for so much new luxury housing--as an alternative to the office towers promoted--been made clear, there would have been more debate about requiring affordable housing as a trade-off for vastly increased development rights.

Showing what's coming

I suspect that AY also provoked protest because, however deceptive the developer's brochures, there were enough efforts by others, like photographer Jonathan Barkey and even the Empire State Development Corporation (via the developer's architect, belatedly), to depict the scale of the development.

Had specific developers under the Downtown Brooklyn plan produced more contextual graphics of their projects, such as that appearing on the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership site, Downtown Brooklyn 2012 (right), much more discussion would've been sparked.

The fuzzy towers depicted in the Department of City Planning's document deserved more attention than the press and activist groups gave them at the time. And DCP should've explained that some of those office towers, places for the jobs New York City aimed to save, had a good chance of becoming luxury condos.

That might've gotten us closer to "esthetic democracy."

Comments

  1. During the Greenpoint Williamsburg Rezoning, I chaired B'klyn CB1 Rezoning Task Force Parks & Open Space Committee.
    While it's true that Amanda Burden toured waterfronts with us and worked with the committee to develop a shorewalk and parks plan, we certainly did not have a choice in the rezoning plan as a whole. The parks and open space committee actually voted against the plan in the last days. We didn't think the parks & open space needs were adequately addressed by the City.

    The rezoning committments that the City DID make are in jeapardy.

    For instance, DCP's N.Greenpoint committments of affordable housing and park development depend on the demolition of a sludge tank and relocation of a sludge loading dock and MTA property operations.

    DEP has now delayed the sludge loading dock relocation and tank demolition by an additional year or two. By the time the City actually acts on their N. Greenpoint committments, they'll be no native Greenpointers here to appreciate it. We're all being displaced. Priced out. Families, store owners ...
    Furthermore, our community 197A plans and other
    community plans NEVER called for high rises. DCP's plan looks nothing like our community process plans.

    Unfortunately, Ms. Burden's remarks in this article misrepresent what really happened. She's a nice lady and all that, but her paycheck comes from the City.

    Feel free to contact me for more info.
    Laura Hofmann
    bargeparkpals@msn.com

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.” Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to …