In softball Times interview, AKRF president shrugs off challenges to credibility, but the AY blight study tells a different story
Q Speaking of all these clients, some groups have questioned AKRF’s objectivity when conducting studies for them, charging that more often than not you reach conclusions in their favor, as with Columbia’s plans.(Emphases added)
A If it’s an impact study, that’s really being done for the decision-making agency, and it becomes their document. It’s not an advocacy document — it’s a disclosure document.
In New York nothing’s easy. Communities care about what gets built, and adjacent property owners often care the most. Of course there is a lot of controversy surrounding some of the projects we are involved with, as was certainly the case with Columbia’s Manhattanville proposal. This is New York City and people have strong competing opinions they express in different forums, but we would not be as successful as we are if the quality and accuracy of our work could not be sustained.
AKRF in action
More often than not? Let's recall this sequence from a 1/5/10 oversight hearing led by state Senator Bill Perkins, querying Anita Laremont, then General Counsel of the Empire State Development Corporation.
"Has AKRF ever found a situation where there was no blight?" Perkins asked, drawing laughs from the audience.
"Let me just say," Laremont responded, a bit sternly. "AKRF does not find blight. Our board finds blight. AKRF does a study of neighborhood conditions. They give us a report, and we make a determination based on that as to whether the area is blighted."
(Not true, actually. AKRF was hired to do "a blight study in support of the proposed [Atlantic Yards] project.)
"Have you ever differed with their point of view?" Perkins asked. "Have they ever come back with a determination that was, in your point of view, not blighted?"
"No," acknowledged Laremont.
"Have they ever given you a determination that you concluded was not blighted?" he continued.
"No," she said.
"So from your point of view, they're 100 percent blight?" Perkins asked. "Wherever they go, they come up with blight?"
"What I would say is that, in each case, where we had a blight study done by AKRF in respect of a project, the project has been upheld through all legal challenges, and in each case, the courts of this state have found that our finding of blight was warranted" Laremont said, relying on the state's broad deference to agencies like the ESDC.