Thursday, May 28, 2009

As public hearing approaches tomorrow, questions of benefits and blight; will Bruce Ratner testify?

At the State Senate oversight hearing Friday, some big questions, as noted below, concern benefits and blight.

But one immediate question is: will Forest City Ratner show up to testify? CEO Bruce Ratner has been invited, but, at least as of yesterday, had not confirmed participation.

CBA witnesses?

Another question: will there be any witnesses from the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA)? If so, maybe they'll be asked about their financial dependence on Forest City Ratner.

Remember, Delia Hunley-Adossa, chair of the CBA executive committee (and a City Council candidate), won't say who supports her dubious environmental organization, Brooklyn Endeavor Experience.

The national organization ACORN never announced that it was bailed out--with a $1 million loan and $500,000 in grants--by Forest City Ratner, which has relied on ACORN's New York affiliate to supply crucial political support for the project. Can New York ACORN criticize the diminished plans for affordable housing? Unlikely.

Remember, experts on CBAs have criticized this agreement for unenforceability if Forest City Ratner sells the project--not unlike the apparent switch in architects--and because signatories are not supposed to accept money from developers.

Details

NYS Senate Public Hearing on Atlantic Yards and Public Authorities:
“Atlantic Yards: Where Are We Now, How Did We Get There, and Where is this Project Going?”
WHO: NYS Senator Bill Perkins, Committee Members Martin Malavé Dilan, William J. Larkin Jr., Hiram Monserrate, Michael H. Ranzenhofer, Daniel L. Squadron; NYS Senator Velmanette Montgomery

The following have confirmed they will testify:
Empire State Development Corporation CEO Marisa Lago
Metropolitan Transportation Authority Interim Chair and LIRR President Helena Williams
NYC Economic Development Corporation President Seth Pinsky

Others invited:
Forest City Ratner Corporation CEO Bruce Ratner
NYC Department of Transportation
Witnesses from environmental, planning, legal and social justice groups
Members of communities impacted by the proposed project

Location:
Higgins Hall, Pratt Institute
61 St. James Place [Map]
Brooklyn, NY 11238

Purpose

According to the official notice:

This hearing will trace the history of the Atlantic Yards project to determine its current status. The Committee's intent is to examine the process by which decisions are made, to understand where the project is now, and to envision where this project might lead. Issues involved include but are not limited to whether this is the best possible deal for taxpayers and the local community; whether the use of eminent domain is necessary and is it being exercised responsibly; the meaning and use of the concept of "blight" in condemnations; what is a "public benefit" sufficient to justify massive state action; and what are the financials?

I've suggested a range of questions.

Benefits and blight

I'll stress that the projected "public benefit" declined precipitously after office space was eliminated; now, there's no reason to build office space in the short-term, so projections of new tax revenues should be revised.

Also, as I noted, the state defines blight so loosely that it was applied to minor cracks in the sidewalk within the AY footprint. And, as veteran planner (and now Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn board member) Ron Shiffman pointed out some two years ago, the ESDC's claim that lots that are built to 60 percent or less of their allowable Floor Area Ratio (FAR) under current zoning are blighted should be looked at with skepticism.

After all, the Atlantic Yards site is hardly an example of the fabric of the community being "shot to hell," to quote academic Lynne Sagalyn's characterization of blight.

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