Friday, February 04, 2011

Markowitz uses new Strategic Policy Statement for tendentious, erroneous defense of his Atlantic Yards advocacy

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's new 2011 STRATEGIC POLICY STATEMENT (embedded below) contains, among other things, a vigorous, tendentious, and erroneous defense of his Atlantic Yards advocacy, suggesting that the project would make use of an "abandoned rail-yard" and knit together neighborhoods rather than divide them.

It deserves several footnotes.

It starts:
I’m sometimes called a cheerleader or even a pitch-man for Brooklyn. One idea that I pitched on behalf of our borough was a long-held dream of mine that I’m thrilled is now definitely coming to fruition—my promise to bring major league sports back to Brooklyn. As a boyhood fan whose heart was broken when the Brooklyn Dodgers left for "La-La Land" in 1958, I wanted to bring that excitement back to the kids and families of Brooklyn. Nothing brings people together like music, food, religion and sports. I approached Forest City Ratner and expressed my desire for a NBA team in Brooklyn. Now all of Brooklyn awaits the arrival of the Brooklyn Nets! The plans evolved for an arena, retail and residential housing, including, at my insistence, 2,500 affordable units, located on the City’s third-largest transit hub, making modern use of an abandoned rail-yard and knitting together previously divided neighborhoods. The Atlantic Yards project will form a new cultural center befitting the nation’s fourth largest "city" of 2.6 million.
Though surely some Brooklynites await a new team, the tepid response from an invited audience at Markowitz's annual pronouncements during his State of the Borough address undermines his hyperbole about how "all of Brooklyn" awaits the Nets.

The railyard was and remains a working railyard to store and service trains; that's why Forest City Ratner had to build a temporary railyard and is supposed to build a permanent replacement.

There would be 2250, not 2500 subsidized apartments, but a good quantity--perhaps half--wouldn't be that affordable to the "real Brooklyn," as defined by the Daily News suggested.

Nor would superblocks knit neighborhoods; rather, insertion of new streets, as in the proposed UNITY Plan, might do so.

And "plans evolved" from a promise for 10,000 office jobs in four towers around the arena. Now just one of the towers is slated for offices, and indefinitely delayed.

The evil opposition

Markowitz's statement continues:
Of course, we could never have imagined the tough road that lay ahead. Vocal opponents attempted to derail the project and held it up for years in the courts. Fortunately, I could not be more pleased that in every single instance, the courts decided that the project is one with significant public benefits. Now, we have the first foreign owner of an NBA team, Russia’s Mikhail Prokhorov, owning a team in the heart of the largest Russian community in America. At the end of last year, confident investors rushed to buy bonds for the Atlantic Yards project. Even with the economic hardships we face, they too believe that Brooklyn is the future.
"[W]e could never have imagined the tough road that lay ahead"? When you bypass public input and claim blight in an area of million-dollar residences, what do you expect.

The courts didn't so much conclude the project has significant public benefits as defer to a state agency that found such benefits, based on optimistic, best-case assumptions.

Markowitz's attempt to spin Prokhorov's purchase as an example of ethnic pride rather than cutthroat, smart business is intriguing; surely he realizes that, had a Russian billionaire been asking for eminent domain, tax breaks, and subsidies, local officials might have been a tad hesitant.

The bond buyers weren't investing in Brooklyn; they were taking advantage of tax exemptions thanks to the state's willingness to issue bonds on behalf of private parties.

Benefits coming?

The statement continues:
Soon we will have the affordable housing, union jobs and a state-of-the-art arena, which will not only not only be the home to an NBA franchise, but everything from the recently announced pro tennis exhibitions, to boxing, to major concerts and world-class theatrical productions. Most importantly, this project is about building community, but it’s also about making sure our borough has the kinds of projects that keep Brooklyn a city, state and federal priority. It is part of a strategy for downtown development designed to create a lasting synergy with Downtown Manhattan.
The number of jobs is far below those promised and projected, and the affordable housing is not yet under construction.

And "we" won't have the arena. Forest City Ratner and Prokhorov's Onexim Group will run it, with the naming rights given away by the state so the name Barclays Center can be a giant billboard.

It's about "building community"? Really?

How is an arena downtown development, or synergistic with Downtown Manhattan? It's not.

Economic development

Later in the document, in the section headed Economic Development, there's another defense of Atlantic Yards:
One of the crowning achievements of Brooklyn’s development has been the Atlantic Yards project. This project has not been solely about bringing Brooklyn a much deserved major league sports team, our future Brooklyn Nets. This project has always been about community building and economic development. Atlantic Yards has evolved into a state-of-the-art complex that will include the Barclays Center arena, a large retail presence, a seamless transit hub and most importantly housing, including over 2,500 affordable units. Atlantic Yards will not only provide a transformed transit and community hub combined with entertainment and cultural events, but most importantly it will provide long-term jobs and a clear vision of Brooklyn as a place for economic development and investment.
How many long-term jobs? In what--retail? The arena? The first leg of the "Jobs, Housing, and Hoops" plans was undermined when the office jobs vanished.

As for economic development, Markowitz should offer some calculations that incorporate various scenarios, such as a buildout over 25 years of a much smaller project than promised.

The rest of the document

That said, there are some interesting things in the document, which is mostly about advocacy, such as Markowitz's plans to bolster the arts, seek a City Charter revision to boost the role of Community Board district managers, pursue the conference market, and support establishing an Independent Education Office (IEO) within the Independent Budget Office.

Affordable housing

Markowitz seeks to expand the inclusionary housing program (IHP) "to areas previously up-zoned, such as Downtown Brooklyn, Bridge Plaza, DUMBO, Fourth Avenue in Park Slope, and Washington Avenue in Prospect Heightsm" thus offering a bonus if affordable housing is included.

Also, he will seek rezoning "of carefully selected manufacturing areas for other uses, including districts that allow for live-work spaces. Such areas include the Gowanus Canal (although clean-up needs to be resolved before extensive rezoning should proceed), the Atlantic Avenue corridor, extending east from the Atlantic Yards, as well as the 62nd street corridor from Eighth to Seventeenth Avenues."

That would make such property more valuable along Atlantic, though the eastern end of the Atlantic Yards site might not be built out for decades.

How balance growth and neighborhoods? Here's his proposal:
Continue to advocate for up-zoning residential areas where appropriate. A careful review of the City’s residential zoning districts is needed to help encourage more housing production. While doing this, the City should continue to provide density incentives based on producing affordable housing in these underdeveloped areas. Considerations like infrastructure, capacity and the feel of neighborhoods should be examined and balanced with development.
The "feel of neighborhoods" is a key issue when it comes to Atlantic Yards. Approach from the west and it's a frontier between major avenues. Approach from the south and it's a low-rise neighborhood.

Funding transit

Markowitz doesn't support bridge tolls or congestion pricing, but proposes a modest increase in the gasoline tax in the 12-county Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District, increased vehicle registration fees, consolidation of MTA properties, and--shazam--a lottery dedicated to mass transit.
2011 Strategic Policy Statement Marty Markowitz

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