“OK, let’s compare our analysis to the market analysis they did,” petitioners' attorney Jeffrey Baker said sardonically. “Sorry, I can’t. They never did.”
The ESDC called recent condo conversions "isolated redevelopment" and Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden, in her ruling this past January, agreed, calling it "insufficient to outweigh the ample evidence of blight conditions documented in the Blight Study."
Market study to be included?
Now that the case is under appeal, it's interesting to note that, according to the Contract Scope (PDF, 25MB) for the environmental review to be performed for the ESDC by consultant AKRF, there were, it seems, plans for something of a market study. (I received the Contract Scope via a Freedom of Information Law request.)
The blight study was to:
A. Determine the study area for analysis of blight conditions and prepare and draft criteria that will be used as the basis for the blight study area, in consultation with state and city agencies, including ESDC and DCP.
(Note that there's no evidence the study area changed from Forest City Ratner's map.)
B. Document blighted conditions, including the following:
--Analyze residential and commercial rents on the project site and within the study area
--Analyze assessed value trends on the project site, and compare to sample blocks with comparable uses in the study area, such as the Atlantic Center
--Describe residential and commercial vacancy trends
--Compare current economic activity on the project site, such as direct and indirect employment, with relevant surrounding sites
--Review New York City Police Department (NYPD) crime statistics for the affected area; and
--Identify physical conditions, including New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) building code and other pertinent violations (e.g., New York City Fire Department, Department of Environmental Protection, etc.), and determine Certificate of occupancy compliance on the project site.
The Contract Scope states:
The characteristics of blight can include, but are not limited to: Physical deficiencies (insanitary/substandard building conditions, building/housing/fire code violations, site vacancy or underutilization), economic deficiencies (building vacancies, low rents, high rental turnovers) or other deficiencies (incompatible land uses, multiple ownerships that hamper assemblage of properties, traffic congestion, pollution). Taken together, these characteristics may demonstrate that the area under study is substandard, insanitary, or deteriorating.
What the Blight Study said
As far as I can tell, the Blight Study did not analyze rents or assessed value trends, as planned, though the issue was mentioned in one sentence.
For each property in the Blight Study, the status of "Location, Use, Zoning, and Ownership" was described, then assessed under the following criteria of blight:
Unsanitary and Unsafe Conditions
Indications of Structural Damage
Building Code Violations
Other sections include a highly-suspect crime study, an extensive projection of the benefits of Atlantic Yards, and some cursory observations about the current site.
Multiple site ownership
From the Blight Study, one paragraph in Section F addressed diversity of ownership and sales/rents:
The condition of multiple site ownership has hindered site assemblage and impeded the sound growth and development of the overall project site. As noted above, the proposed project site contains a multitude of properties where conditions are substandard or insanitary. The diverse ownership of these properties has impeded correction of these substandard conditions for many years, leading to substantially lower sales prices and rents for most properties, and thus lower revenue generating potential for the City.
There's no documentation of sales prices and rents, however, nor any acknowledgement that a rezoning could generate activity and raise revenue as well.
Section E of the Blight Study noted low residential density:
Together, the 29 businesses and institutions provided approximately 300 jobs. Residential development on the site is also sparse. There are only 171 housing units located on the 22-acre project site. This translates to an average of 13 housing units per acre, compared to approximately 52 units per acre in the ½-mile area surrounding the project site, and an average of approximately 24 housing units per acre in all of Brooklyn.
Well, given that nearly 40% of the site is a railyard, and other chunks of the footprint (e.g., P.C. Richard and Modell's at Site 5) are industrial or commercial and thus not zoned residential, a low residential density is not surprising. Again, the results of a potential rezoning are not suggested.
The Contract Scope pages