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A Krashes op-ed in the Courier-Life: unanswered questions about modular plan, need for state oversight (and Forest City declined space to respond)

The op-ed page of the Courier-Life chain (available only through the PDF of this week's issue) was supposed to include two perspectives on Forest City Ratner's new plan for pre-fabricated modular housing.

However, Forest City Ratner declined to respond--presumably a managed press rollout two weeks ago sufficed for its purposes--so the single piece is a critique by Peter Krashes, active in the Dean Street Block Association, BrooklynSpeaks, and Atlantic Yards Watch, headlined, "When it came to Atlantic Yards, we, the critics, were right all along."

His points: Forest City Ratner won't deliver what it long promised, there are many questions unresolved, and there's no effective oversight.

Note: Krashes is described as "an outspoken critic of Atlantic Yards oversight," which I think means a critic of "the lack of Atlantic Yards oversight." Also, I'd point out that people at DDDB who'd argue they were right all along call themselves "opponents," not "critics."

An uptick in AY scrutiny

Thus Gersh Kuntzman, longtime Brooklyn Paper editor and editor of certain Courier-Life editions, leaves for a new job at CUNY and The Local at the time of an uptick in Atlantic Yards scrutiny.

I'm still waiting for coverage of, say, Forest City Ratner's use of the EB-5 program, Marty Markowitz's shilling for the latter, and the failure to hire an independent compliance monitor.

Forest City in the driver's seat

Krashes takes issue with Forest City's justification to lower costs by using modular construction, pointing out that "union rates, construction costs and subsidies for affordable housing" are unchanged since 2009, when the project was re-approved, under the state expectation of a ten-year buildout.

He notes that wages and tax benefits would be lower than predicted. And, if reports are correct, the apartments will mostly be smaller ones, in contradiction of Forest City's 2006 pledge to ensure equal coverage, in square footage, between studios/1BRs and 2BRs/3BRs.

(Krashes wrote that the units "will largely be studios;" actually, the New York Post reported "130 studios, 180 one-bedrooms and 40 two-bedroom units.")

Reasons for doubt

Krashes notes that no construction plans have been provided for public review and the use of modular construction at the proposed height is untested.

Thus, "Judgments about the impacts of the use of modular techniques on the adjacent neighborhood are speculative."

Forest City has said, I'd point out, that a shorter construction period would mean less neighborhood impact, and that sounds at least partly plausible, but surely there would be additional concentrated impacts, such as truck traffic.

Krashes also contends that the market "likely will not justify" the cost of building a platform over the railyard and notes that there's been no plan for parking for the residents of the first building.

The bottom line: need for oversight

Krashes concludes:
The lack of public oversight of Atlantic Yards stands out in contrast to Governor Cuomo's stated goal of creating accountable and transparent government. Ostensibly a 4.9 billion dollar project, it is not overseen by a subsidiary with independent directors and has only one full-time [state] employee who is not a planner. The State has delegated responsibility for planning every element of Atlantic Yards to the developer.
(This sounds consonant with Michael Kimmelman's observation in the Times.)

He ends:
Governor Cuomo has the means and the justification to reform Atlantic Yards oversight now so the project's stated goals are realized. In the absence of action by the Governor the coming years will likely see Atlantic Yards promised public benefits diminished further.
The article


  1. On the subject of “delivery of open space”: Krashes suggests that unlike projects like Battery Park that deliver open space to the public at the very beginning, Ratner’s Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly will only deliver open space at the very end, perhaps decades from now. That’s a good observation with one critical failing: It suggests that the mega-monopoly will be delivering an appreciable amount of open space to the public. That’s not really so.

    There is the fact that much of the so-called open space like the green roof and urban room has been excised from the plans in post-”done deal” cost cutting, but more important, it must be considered that whatever “open space” is being delivered to the public must be considered to be NET of the public space that is being taken away. Jane Jacobs makes clear that sidewalks, streets and avenues are open space, public space of which the public makes significant use including uses similar, the same and frequently superior to areas a developer like Ratner will sometimes denominate as “open space.”

    Ratner is from the very get-go, day-one, seizing such publicly owned sidewalks, streets and avenues from the public realm, (the “traditional commons” as professor Lewis Hyde would say) without having to compensate the public for it. What he may or may not give back decades from now will be privately-owned open space, which as recent Occupy Wall Street activities in Zucotti Park will emphasize, is in many ways qualitatively different from publicly owned, true public realm open space. Given the givens, including ESD”s (“ESDC’s) perpetual deference to Forest City Ratner and the fact that the Ratner-owned space is late generation in terms of the negotiations respecting its required use and accessability by the public, expect that what is eventually given back by Ratner won’t really be so public in nature at all and that on a NET basis what eventfully may materialize really won’t constitute an appreciably delivery of open space at all.


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