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February 20, 2010

AY Report: ED In the Post, Cautions on Affordable Housing, Another AY Miss in The NY Times

Gelinas op-ed in the Post: "How 'eminent domain' makes blight" (in Prospect Heights)

Norman Oder takes a look at an editorial in today's New York Post condemning the use of eminent domain in Prospect Heights.

Here, Oder adds additional facts to show how the ESDC, tool of developer Bruce Ratner, went out of its way to mischaracterize the up-and-coming Prospect Heights neighborhood coveted by the developer:

Let me add a couple more pieces of evidence. As I reminded readers last May, it was one of the least credible statements in the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) issued in July 2006 by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC): The project site is not anticipated to experience substantial change in the future without the proposed project by 2016 due to the existence of the open rail yard and the low-density industrial zoning regulations.

The Park Slope Civic Council and Park Slope Neighbors challenged that, commenting that a city rezoning could do just that, though it would "involve professional planners whose job is to advance the public interest, rather than a reliance on private interests to establish de facto zoning."

In the Final Environmental Impact Statement, the ESDC (via consultant AKRF) responded: While the City, if it desired, could rezone the project site, it has not. Given the attempts over the life of ATURA [Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area] to encourage development, the challenges of developing over the rail yard have resulted in the project site remaining underutilized and blighted, rendering any rezoning of the rail yard parcels unable to affect desired change.

Remember, the Department of City Planning's Winston Von Engel said in March 2006 that the city hadn't yet taken a look at the railyards: "They belong to the Long Island Rail Road. They use them heavily. They're critical to their operations. You do things in a step-by-step process. We concentrated on the Downtown Brooklyn development plan for Downtown Brooklyn. Forest City Ratner owns property across the way. And they saw the yards, and looked at those. We had not been considering the yards directly."

As affordable housing gets closer to market rate, it's tougher to find takers; experience regarding for-sale units offers some cautions for AY

While it's not exactly on point, a New York Times article yesterday headlined City’s Affordable Housing Program Faces Trouble Finding Buyers suggests some caution regarding the subsidized housing planned for the Atlantic Yards project: the closer the price is to market, the tougher it is to find takers.

That suggests that additional subsidies might be needed to move the units. If the subsidies come from public rather than private sources, that would again add costs to the any effort to calculate a cost-benefit analysis for the project.

This analysis goes on to point out how "area mean income" (a determinant of what is considered affordable housing) actually makes units unaffordable to Brooklynites. An example of an attempt to counter this problem is cited at Atlantic Terrace, across the street from the proposed Atlantic Yards project.

Atlantic Yards gets a misguided cameo in Times article, book on gentrification

The cover story in the Metropolitan section of the New York Times tomorrow is headlined A Contrarian’s Lament in a Blitz of Gentrification, focusing on sociologist and author Sharon Zukin, who's written a new book titled Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, published last November.

The article and book raise some interesting issues about Jane Jacobs and gentrification, which I'll address at a later date...


First, however, they should get the Atlantic Yards references clear--and they don't.

From the article:

The pattern in places like Williamsburg and Atlantic Yards, Ms. Zukin said, is dreary and inexorable: Middle-class “pioneers” buy brownstones and row houses. City officials rezone to allow luxury towers, which swell the value of the brownstones. And banks and real estate companies unleash a river of capital, flushing out the people who gave the neighborhoods character.

They should've checked the crib sheet. For the umpteenth time, Atlantic Yards is a project, not a place. It wasn't rezoned via a public process, but, rather, the state would override city zoning to allow much more density than allowed. And the value of the brownstones already went up.

"It's a great piece of real estate," to quote Chuck Ratner, CEO of Forest City Enterprises.

If the Times had posted a correction on the "rezoning" mistake rather than merely practicing "rowback" in 2006, maybe they would've gotten it right.

From the book

There are only a couple of references to AY in the book, but they're sloppy. Here's one:

The largest contemporary redevelopment project in Brooklyn, Atlantic Yards, on a site Robert Moses picked for urban renewal many years earlier, stirred a lot of public protest but was derailed only by the collapse of financial markets in the subprime mortgage crisis.

No, it wasn't derailed, just delayed. And the site wasn't one Moses picked for urban renewal.

Here's another:

The new development planned for Atlantic Yards has been halted by the economic crisis.

Again, it couldn't be planned for Atlantic Yards, because AY isn’t a place. And it wasn't "halted by the economic crisis."

Posted by steve at February 20, 2010 11:25 AM