Skip to main content

Missing from the Blight Study: documentation, as planned, of rents and assessed value trends

Remember the 5/3/07 oral argument in the lawsuit over the Atlantic Yards environmental review? In response to the petitioners' contention, based on newspaper articles and citations of recent and new development, that the area in and around the AY footprint was undergoing redevelopment, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) called that claim speculative.

“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.


Blight characteristics

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
Vacancy Status
Underutilization
Environmental Concerns

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.

Low density

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


Comments

  1. That documentation of the trends in real estate values is missing from the blight study even though the contract for the blight study called for it to be part of that study aligns with so many other indicators pointing strongly to what is almost undeniably true: The study was prepared as an advocacy document to promote the developer’s plans rather than as a neutral document prepared for evaluative purposes.

    Think about the way these contracts are executed. This AYR post makes it impossible not to think this through. AKRF’s contract for the environmental review was a $4.78 million contract. Even considering the contract’s “official” lower starting amount of $1.5 million, it was a big contract. Work on a contract like this starts out with a check list. The checklist is essentially a transposition of every nit of the contract. People are probably cutting and pasting the text of the contract using word processing software into the checklist to create it. The checklist is the easy part. Nothing falls off the checklist by accident.

    Yes, the fact that something so important called for by the contract is not provided in fulfillment of the contract is not an accident. If the trends in real estate values actually indicated blight they would have been included in the study. They would not have been “excluded” because they would not have fallen off the checklist. They would also not have been “excluded” because if there was real blight manifesting in this fashion, people visiting the site would have had a sense that this was an important part of the story to remember to tell.

    (As the accompanying AYR post of this same date reports, the scope of the blight study received extra attention when it was revisited with an expansion of work for the blight study that was approved with a contract increase 4/27/2006- In other words, more funding was provided for AKRF to redouble its efforts to find blight. The contract increase at the time was more than one third of the original contract and was quickly followed, not quite five months later (9/20/06) with an even bigger contract increase, almost doubling the already increased contract. One must wonder whether some of that second increase related back to the immediately preceding changes including the redoubled efforts to find blight. Again, what was left out of the blight study was NOT oversight.)

    Leaving the trend information out of the study reflects a tactic of “elision.” “Elision” is what you do when addressing something would be to your disadvantage, and when saying you are NOT addressing it would similarly call attention to a problem best left unaddressed. So you simply “elide” the issue by leaving something out hoping the elision will not call attention to itself. The tactical elision bespeaks the fact that this is an advocacy document, not a neutral study.

    Would ESDC personnel have caught the fact that this part of the checklist was unfulfilled? Maybe not. If there was a sense that real estate values were trending toward blight, an omission would most likely have been caught. If the contract were being administered with checklist precision it would also have been caught. In either of these situations, ESDC personnel would have had to discuss the tactical elision with AKRF. In either such case we would have to infer ESDC’s collusive participation in the tactical elision from the final outcome.

    Perhaps the contract was not administered with such checklist precision. Contracts are not always administered in this careful way, but if it wasn’t administered with this level of care that doesn’t mean that ESDC personnel weren’t supporting production of non-neutral advocacy document. A state agency might have administered the contract from the standpoint that the delivered report seemed generally on target with what was desired. AKRF’s competence might have been assumed together with certain things about AKRF’s motivations. When it comes to keeping track of motivations there is always a ‘vibe’ about what is going on and how people are interacting and relating: It tends to have a lot to do with money flow. What should state personnel have assumed about AKRF’s motivations? Should they have assumed that AKRF was motivated to produce anything other than an advocacy document? Probably not. And that has a lot to do with how this huge and important contract was given to AKRF without bid as a result of Forest City Ratner’s initiative. For more on this see my comment on the other AYR post that went up with this one. (See: Friday, August 15, 2008, “Was AKRF's work for Ratner a hindrance to hiring by ESDC? No, it was a justification.” http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2008/08/was-akrfs-work-for-ratner-hindrance-to.html)

    Michael D. D. White
    Noticing New York
    http://noticingnewyork.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete

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…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

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…

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming (post-dated pinned post)

Click on graphic to enlarge. This is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change, and the project is already well behind that tentative timetable.


Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

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…