Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In Times, City Bar task force members warn against CBA abuses; Atlantic Yards examples are actually more egregious

A New York Times Real Estate page (Square Feet) article today headlined Community Pacts Questioned in the Zoning Process takes off from the critical report on Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) issued last month (my coverage).

Notably, while the article makes but a glancing reference to Atlantic Yards, the abuses referenced all relate to projects that go before the City Council; Atlantic Yards didn't even face that level of oversight, given that it was shepherded by the unelected Empire State Development Corporation, ignoring the role of both the local Community Boards and the local Council Member.

Moreover, the report contains what might be considered struck me as a slap at ACORN, given that one influential lawyer warns against a Council Member designating which affordable housing group should be selected. (Update May 19: That lawyer, Kenneth Fisher, says he was not speaking about ACORN.) In the case of Atlantic Yards, there was not even that minimal level of local involvement; the decision was made by Forest City Ratner.

The City Bar report

The Times reports:
Now, in a report that is likely to have considerable influence on policy makers, the New York City Bar Association has urged the city to stop allowing community benefits agreements to be part of the zoning approval process. The report warns, among other things, that the agreements could create an opportunity for corruption.
A Council caution

The Times reports:
“Our feeling was that the process wasn’t satisfactory from anybody’s point of view,” said Kenneth K. Fisher, a partner at Cozen O’Connor and chairman of the bar association’s land-use committee. Mr. Fisher said the bar association was particularly concerned about the potential for corruption. Creating affordable housing might be a worthy goal, he said. “But it’s another thing for a council member to tell you which affordable housing group should be developing it,” said Mr. Fisher, a former city councilman.
(Emphasis added)

The example in the Times regards Bronx Council Member Larry Seabrook's alleged interference in a boiler contract for Yankee Stadium.

But, as noted, Fisher's quote seems to point a lot more to ACORN and Atlantic Yards, , though, as noted, he was not speaking about it.

City posture

The Times reports:
The city has not responded formally to the report. But in an e-mail message, Janel Patterson, spokeswoman for its Economic Development Corporation, endorsed the principal recommendation, saying: “The city should not be a party to community benefits agreements. The city works with the developer and the community board, as the recognized and appropriate community representative, through the public review process (Ulurp) to ensure that a project delivers benefits for the community directly related to the project.”
(Emphasis added)

With Atlantic Yards, Mayor Mike Bloomberg was an enthusiastic witness to the CBA. And, of course, the local Community Boards and ULURP were bypassed.

Going forward

Those interviewed agreed that CBAs may be inevitable, but government should either stay away or set strict standards.

The Times reports:
Another of the report’s authors, Ross F. Moskowitz, a land-use lawyer at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, said the city needed to address this problem to let developers know in advance what they would be expected to provide and to prevent the failure of another major project. “Hopefully, what will come out of this debate is a process that will provide standards and certainty,” he said.

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