Skip to main content

In Times article on blight reform, city lawyer recognizes opportunity for "thoughtful change," AKRF relies on Thor's flack

A New York Times reporter attended the January 5 public hearing held by state Senator Bill Perkins on eminent domain, and the article, Lesson on Limits of Eminent Domain at Columbia, offers a reasonable overview of the criticism of and support for current eminent domain laws.

(The article appears on the Real Estate page in the Business section, though it more readily could appear on the front page or in the Metro section, given that it's an important public policy issue. Still, it contains an atypically responsible double disclosure: Forest City was The New York Times Company’s partner in the development of its headquarters building on land on Eighth Avenue that was acquired by the state through eminent domain.)

Notably, the Times cites strenuous opposition from the Bloomberg administration as blocking any effort to reform state eminent domain laws in the wake of the Supreme Court's controversial 2005 Kelo v. New London decision--but a Bloomberg official says the city would not oppose “thoughtful change” in the eminent domain laws.

And ubiquitous environmental consultant AKRF, which works simultaneously (Columbia University expansion) or consecutively (Atlantic Yards) with project applicants and the Empire State Development Corporation, is apparently feeling a bit of heat, relying on a public relations consultant to issue a boilerplate statement in its defense.

The Columbia case

The Times reports on the surprising 3-2 decision blocking the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) pursuit of eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion, one which seemingly conflicts with a Court of Appeals decision allowing eminent domain for Atlantic Yards and, even if overturned, "as several land-use lawyers expect," has provided momentum for reform.

The city's leading defender of eminent domain gets her say:
The Columbia decision “is the first thing that’s happened in New York that suggests the threat of a change in our eminent domain law,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, a leading business group. “I think it’s frightening because there are few more important investments in our city’s future than that which Columbia is making.”
Well, it's the first thing that Wylde is taking seriously. She, apparently, was not quizzed on whether she thinks that underutilization, for example, is a legitimate indicator of blight--something criticized by syndicated columnist George Will.

Blight and AKRF

The Times reports on the state's favorite consultant:
The ruling also labeled the blight designation obtained by the state agency “mere sophistry” that was concocted years after Columbia developed its plans. The court chastised the state agency for commissioning its study of neighborhood conditions from the same consultant, Allee, King, Rosen & Fleming, known as AKRF, that Columbia had hired to help plan the project and prepare the environmental impact statement.

...Accusing the consultants of having a “particular agenda in mind,” Mr. Perkins said that “it just doesn’t look good.”

...Lee Silberstein, a spokesman for AKRF, said in a statement: “For more than 25 years, AKRF has built its reputation through the objective gathering and analysis of data. Any suggestion that the firm — widely recognized as a trusted industry leader — would compromise the quality of its work is incorrect.”
Silberstein is not an actual AKRF employee but rather a public relations consultant, noted for his work on behalf of Joe Sitt's Thor Equities, which bought land in Coney Island.

AKRF should be pressed on why, for example, it considers minor cracks in the sidewalk to be blight.

While ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont is quoted as saying AKRF is most qualified, the article does not tease out how the ESDC's practices--preferring a consultant that already has a head start on a project by working for the developer--favor AKRF or Laremont's dubious claims that the agency's board, rather than AKRF, finds blight and that AKRF was hired to do a study of neighborhood conditions in the AY case.

New York an outlier

Critics of the current law get their say, with civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, successful so far in the Columbia case, pointing out, as he did at the hearing, that only in New York do those resisting condemnation not get the opportunity to have their case heard in trial court--rather than the Appellate Division, where witnesses cannot be called.

Perkins advisor Amy Lavine, a staff attorney with Albany Law School’s Government Law Center, says new legislation could include such trial-level review.

Blight revised?

The article concludes:
At the top of [Lavine's] list is substituting a specific definition of blight for the current standard of “substandard and insanitary.”

One model might be Pennsylvania’s law from 2006, which permits a blight finding only when a substantial number of properties meet certain conditions like being “unfit for public habitation” or having been tax delinquent for two years.

...Lisa Bova-Hiatt, a deputy chief at the New York City Law Department... said the city would not oppose “thoughtful change” in the eminent domain laws.

“What you don’t want to happen,” she said, “is for the hysteria of the moment to force ill-considered action.”
Well, the "moment" began in 2005. But the Bloomberg administration's support is key to getting more legislators on board.

Another solution to blight would be abatement, enforcing existing laws and regulations.

City attorney in 2007

But Bova-Hiatt knows that eminent domain law needs reform. At a panel in May 2007, Bova-Hiatt acknowledged that “New York State has adopted a very broad definition of what constitutes a public use. And in fact, the definition, through case law, is anything that benefits the general health safety and welfare of the municipality… And I think you can pretty much fit anything into that definition.”

She also used the word “thoughtful” to describe needed changes in state law, noting that, when the city acquires property by eminent domain, it must go through the many-layered Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which was bypassed in the AY case.

“I’d like to think that the process that we have, at least with respect to acquisitions by the City of New York, is already thoughtful, and to the extent that it can be made more thoughtful, great,” she said.

After citing the use of eminent domain for Melrose Commons in the Bronx, she was asked if the thoughtful planning in that case had been applied to the Atlantic Yards case.

Her response: “Well, the city of New York is not the condemning authority with Atlantic Yards. And because it’s pending litigation, I don’t want to offer my opinion, because that might not necessarily be the opinion of the city of New York. But, from what I’ve heard, there was a difference between what happened in Melrose Commons and what happened in Atlantic Yards.”

Which is why new legislation has some legs.

Comments

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…

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 …

For Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting Sept. 19, another bare-bones agenda (green wall?)

A message from Empire State Development (ESD) reminds us that the next Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life Meeting--which aims to update community members on construction and other issues--will be held:
Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 6 pm
Shirley Chisholm State Office Building
55 Hanson Place
1st Floor Conference Room
Brooklyn, NY 11217 The typically bare-bones, agenda, below, tells us nothing about the content of the presentation. One thing to look for is any hint of plans to start a new building on the southeast block of the project by the end of the year.

If not, ESD is supposed to re-evaluate a longstanding request from project neighbors to move back a giant wall encroaching on part of Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues. It's said to enclose construction activity, but, in recent months, has significantly served to protect worker parking.

Also, by the way, if you search for Atlantic Yards on Google or the ESD website, it leads to this page for the Atlantic Ya…