The state wants to deck over a nearly 13-acre rail yard in the South Bronx to make way for a massive waterfront development in the area, which is attracting more private investment as land costs rise elsewhere in the city.Oh.
Last month, Empire State Development released a request for expressions of interests [RFEIs] inviting developers to present offers for leasing or purchasing the land, decking over the yards, then building a sizable residential or mixed-use project on top.
The parcel sits along the Harlem River, just north of the Willis Avenue Bridge. It is currently used as a transfer station to move goods between cross-country trains and trucks that traverse the tristate area—a use the state plans to maintain going forward.
"It's exciting, and very rare to offer the opportunity to develop more than a dozen acres of prime waterfront land in New York City," ESD head Howard Zemsky said in a statement.
The parallel with Atlantic Yards isn't precise, but it's not absent, either. In this case, the state Department of Transportation owns a 96-acre area called the Harlem River Yards, which it leases, and now wants to develop 13 acres of it.
By contrast, with Atlantic Yards, the state--the Metropolitan Transportation Authority--owned an 8.5-acre railyard, but a private developer, Forest City Ratner, already had conceived a plan to tether that to private property, city streets, and other public property to make a 22-acre site. Only after that came the request for proposals, or RFPs. There was no RFEI.
In both cases, the state can override zoning.
According to RFEI document, bottom, the development objectives include:
- Preserve the designated intermodal rail facility footprint at Harlem River Yards...
- Maximize economic benefit to the State while minimizing the State’s economic and
- environmental risk
- Enhance the Harlem River Yards as an economic engine for the South Bronx and New York;
- Increase public access to the Harlem River waterfront;
- Increase the availability of high-quality affordable housing in New York;
- Maximize incorporation of green building and sustainable design practices; and
- Feature meaningful participation of Minority Business Enterprises, Women Business Enterprises and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned-Business
The missing parallel
But the true head-spinner for Atlantic Yards watchers regards the RFEIs (requests for expressions of interest), because the state official whose authority approved the project, Empire State Development Charles Gargano, said in an interview that that was how the project was being developed.
As I reported, Gargano, on 11/15/05, appeared on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC radio and was asked by the host, who'd just cited an essay by Hunter College planning professor Tom Angotti, "Is this a through-the-looking-glass version of how development should work?
The exchange occurs near the beginning of the embedded audio below.
"If you understand development and how it does work," Gargano responded, "we have a process in government, state government and I’m sure other government bodies have the same, whereby we put out, first of all, on any area we’re trying to develop, we put out what we call an RF--I, request for-- EI, expressions of interest. And the reason why we do that is we want to pick the brains of the private sector, and see what kind of ideas they have, and after all, they’re the ones with the resources who are going to build these projects, so we want their ideas. We put out this RFEI, that’s the initial—that’s the first part of the process, and it has worked very well for many, many decades."
Not this time.
The MTA did not issue an RFP for the Vanderbilt Yard--the main public property contained in the proposed Atlantic Yards footprint--until 5/24/05, nearly 18 months after the Atlantic Yards plan was announced on 12/10/03.
The ESDC never issued an RFEI. Forest City Ratner had been in discussions with city and state agencies for a long time. That's not the "process" Gargano described.