Skip to main content

Chutzpah! FCR tried to evade paying $159K restitution for trees, saying (unscheduled) open space would compensate

Preparing to demolish 86 street trees around the Atlantic Yards footprint, Forest City Ratner contended last year that it did not need to pay $159,000 in partial restitution to the city because the trees in the Atlantic Yards open space eventually would “add much more value than the trees that will be removed during construction.”

That argument required chutzpah, given that no part of the Atlantic Yards open space would be constructed until the project’s Phase 2, for which there is no announced timetable and no penalties (as of yet) for delays.

The city Department of Parks and Recreation, perhaps mindful of that timetable, held its ground, requiring the requested payment, and Forest City Ratner complied.

The story is told via letters received by the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN), after filing a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request with the Parks department. The entire document is nearly 30 pages (below).

(Photo by Steve Soblick. Click on all graphics to enlarge.)

Tree inventory gives value

A 5/18/07 letter from FCR’s Rebecca D’Eloia to Brooklyn Forestry Director Andrew Rabb accompanied a “Tree Inventory and Valuation For the Brooklyn Arena Project” report by the arborists Urban Forestry, LLC.

The report detailed the number and conditions of 86 street trees (though D’Eloia, in her letter, said 85). Given the age, size, and conditions of the trees, it valued their replacement at $246,180 or 328 new trees, three inches in diameter.

Six trees, all on or near the arena block, were valued at more than $10,836, with four of them valued at more than $12,364.

The report depicted the current street tree layouts, provided by the project landscape architect, Olin Partnership, as well as preliminary layout of the trees proposed for the eight acres of open space.

Numbers and timing

Forest City Ratner plans 116 street trees, but due only at the end of each phase, as I reported in September. That's a pretty good deal for the developer, since Phase 1 could take 12 years after the close of litigation and the delivery of property by eminent domain, and there's no timetable for Phase 2.

(Photo from The Footprint Gazette, which has photos and videos from April tree removal.)

That means the 33 street trees for the arena block wouldn’t come until the arena and (all?) subsequent buildings are finished. There would be an additional nine open space trees on the arena block.

The rest of the trees would come in Phase 2, and the street trees would be planted only after major construction.

Block 1120, the block bounded by Pacific Street and Sixth, Carlton, and Atlantic avenues, would have 171 trees, including 39 street trees and 132 open space trees.

And Blocks 1121/29, the superblock bounded by Dean Street and Carlton, Vanderbilt, and Atlantic avenues, would have 449 trees, including 44 street trees and 405 open space trees.

“The approved Design Guidelines for the project require a minimum of 290 trees within the open space, although the current layout provides for 546,” D’Eloia wrote. “The current street tree layout would provide for an additional 116 street trees.”

Parks focuses on street trees

The Parks department, however, was only willing to count the planned 116 street trees, and asked for either 212 new street trees within a quarter of a mile of the project or payment of the remaining value: $159,000.

FCR’s chutzpah

Even though Forest City Ratner had what seems to be a pretty good deal, it wanted a much better one. An 11/2/07 letter from Project Manager Debbie Bhatt reminded Rabb of the numbers in D’Eloia’s letter. “Therefore, we are replacing 85 trees with a minimum of 406 trees, but probably closer to 662 trees,” she wrote.

“We understand that your analysis of potentially required restitution only counts the 116 street trees, resulting in a request for 212 new trees within a ¼ mile of the project or $159,000," she continued. "We ask that you consider all of the trees we are planning, as they will all be within publicly-accessible areas. As stated in the General Project Plan, and as part of the public approvals and documents associated with our project, the 8 acres of open space in our project are completely publicly accessible, and will provide passive and active recreational opportunities, attractive pedestrian and bicycle path connections between the adjacent neighborhoods to the north, south, and east, and will include landscaped areas, plazas, boardwalks, water features, lawns, and as stated previously, approximately 540 trees. In sum, we believe that the Atlantic Yards project and the open space that will be part of it will add much more value than the trees that will be removed during construction, and we ask that all trees be considered in the restitution calculations.
(Emphasis added)


Her letter said nothing about when such open space and trees might be provided.

Parks stands ground

Rabb responded 11/13/07, “After careful consideration of your letter, it has been determined that the restitution for the removal of 86 street trees within the project limit of the proposed Atlantic Yards Project remains at 328 trees or $246,180 as stated in the May 2007 survey.”

“The Department of Parks and Recreation will count the 116 trees to be planted within the public right-of-way towards this restitution. This leaves a balance of 212 trees to be planted or $159,000,” he wrote, adding that a permit for tree removal would be issued only after “receipt of restitution value.”

FCR complies

FCR filed a permit request but had did not immediately send a check. Rabb, in a 2/5/08 letter, reminded Bhatt that the balance had to be paid. On 3/11/08, FCR sent the $159,000 check.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.