Skip to main content

Daily News, ignoring conflict of interest, staunchly defends Forest City's modular construction plan in wake of lawsuit

The New York Daily News editorial page, always willing to go to bat for the Atlantic Yards arena, has moved on to support developer Forest City Ratner's modular construction effort to the hilt, taking up the defense against a suit filed last week by trade groups representing plumbers and fire suppression contractors. 

Today's editorial, Building blocks: City must clear the way for affordable prefab housing construction, somehow omits the newspaper's conflict of interest: it's sponsor of the arena plaza.

The editorial begins:
A groundbreaking, money-saving system for building housing has sparked hope that New York can boost production of badly needed affordable apartments.
Bruce Ratner, developer of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and nearby Atlantic Yards, has introduced to the city the first structurally sound method for erecting pre-fab high rise housing.
In partnership with multinational builder Skanska, his Forest City Ratner company is erecting a 32-story residential tower whose rooms and hallways are assembled in a factory at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, then trucked to the site near the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Aves.
Mass producing bathrooms, bedrooms and kitchens and then stacking and bolting them together holds the promise of cutting the building’s cost by 20%. Which is a big reason why half its units will go for below-market rents.
All 181 of those will be affordable to families with annual incomes of less than $132,000, with apartments set aside for people with lower incomes, all the way down to $24,900.
The mass production cuts costs because union workers are paid less in the factory than on site, and are cross-trained to perform work previously done (or supervised) by specialists.

And while such lowered costs may make the subsidized housing more plausible, note that such lowered costs did not stop Forest City from reneging on plans to devote 50% of floor space to 2BR and 3BR units. Also note that Forest City has no plans to pass on such savings to the market-rate tenants.

So the "groundbreaking, money-saving system for building housing" has also sparked hope that Forest City can increase its profit.

What about the plumbers

The editorial continues:
When a building is erected the standard way, they and their employees are, by law, the only ones allowed to fit pipes together. So, every time a fire sprinkler or water pipe is assembled, all throughout a building, it’s money in their pockets.
Ratner’s factory construction uses union labor to put together one kitchen after another, one bath after another, in a process approved by the Buildings Department. The licensed plumbers fit only the final pieces together.
The plumbers’ trade group has sued to block the pre-fab work without their participation. The courts should toss this wrongheaded claim. If not, the City Council and mayor must enact legislation specifically authorizing the pre-fab process.
Note that the plumbers were not the only petitioner.

More importantly, the editorial skates over the issues raised in the suit: not only are the petitioners' claims backed by two former Department of Buildings Commissioners, but the DOB itself, according to the suit, was prepared to disallow such offsite work without the presence of specialists, but then refrained from issuing a document circulated as a draft.

There are some legitimate factual disputes here. And if the City Council and mayor consider such legislation, they should hold hearings to air those disputes, rather than simply do a developer's bidding.

What's at stake

The editorial closes:
Far more is at stake than Ratner’s project.
Affordable housing is a rare commodity in New York because astronomical building costs drive new construction sky high. To bring rents within reach of the working and middle class, the city spends billions of dollars to subsidize projects.
Lower costs would translate into lower rents and enable the city to subsidize more apartments. Ratner’s experiment will help determine whether this new method of building can be expanded at great savings across the city.
Everyone — led by mayoral candidates, who claim that making New York City more livable for the middle class is their top priority — ought to be cheering. In fact, they should be jockeying for a place at the front of the crowd when the ribbon is cut at the new Atlantic Yards tower.
As with so many things related to Atlantic Yards, there's another way to look at it. Yes, it's worth exploring whether current building rules are too costly, but it's also worth exploring why credible people believe it's hazardous to allow the modular process.

The Daily News frames this as a boon for affordable housing. Maybe. But it's also clearly a boon for the developer, and until we see how that balances out--does the developer, as with the Atlantic Yards arena, gain more than the public?--there's reason for skepticism.

Comments

  1. Anonymous3:05 PM

    The Modular Structure may be a fire hazard. The Plumbers Union should engage a fire engineer. The tubular construction and the space between the modules are chimneys and may accelerate a small fire.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The issue of whether it is a fire hazard has been raised before, though not publicly addressed.

      I would very surprised if the developer hasn't done studies--for the purposes of insurance, etc.--that indicate that the fire hazard issue has been addressed.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

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…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…