On Wednesday, the Times reported that Harlem's three City Council members had agreed to a compromise plan that would lower the height of new buildings allowed under a rezoning, increased the amount of affordable housing, and provide some help to displaced businesses.
Fair deals? I can't be sure. (The Brooklyn Paper praised the Coney compromise. Housing activist Phil DePaolo criticized the Harlem move.) But it's notable that the political process--the need to get a rezoning through City Council--forced changes, in both cases much larger compromises than, say, the 6-8% scaleback proffered (and overplayed by the New York Times) before the Atlantic Yards project received state approval.
Were larger compromises possible regarding Atlantic Yards, given that a good chunk of local residents adamantly oppose an arena at the site? Maybe, maybe not. (Also, I should add, only the state could override so many aspects of zoning.) And Forest City Ratner "negotiated" only marginal changes, such as promising 200 on-site affordable ownership units--all subject to the availability of subsidies.
But it's clear that the city's willingness to let the Empire State Development Corporation take the lead removed leverage and input from the political process, which could have led to a different fate for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard.
From the perspective of project supporters, that may have been necessary. From the perspective of project opponents and critics, that's why Kent Barwick of the Municipal Art Society suggested AY might be this generation's Penn Station.