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April 28, 2010
Community Pacts Questioned in the Zoning Process
The New York Times
by Terry Pristin
Now, in a report that is likely to have considerable influence on policy makers, the New York City Bar Association has urged the city to stop allowing community benefits agreements to be part of the zoning approval process. The report warns, among other things, that the agreements could create an opportunity for corruption.
“It is our recommendation that the city announce that it will not consider C.B.A.’s in making its determinations in the land-use process,” the bar association said in the report last month. The report, which was in the works long before the armory proposal was defeated, also urged the city to declare that it would no longer play a role in “encouraging, monitoring or enforcing the agreements.” The report acknowledged that there was no way to prevent developers from making deals with community groups. But it said the city should get involved, if at all, only when the developer was seeking a public subsidy.
And when don't developers seek a public subsidy?
In recent years, city officials have opposed these private agreements on the ground that the city review process provides ample opportunity for community groups to seek concessions from developers. But previously, the Bloomberg administration championed or helped foster the agreements for projects like the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn; the Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market, a Related Companies project; and the expansion of Columbia University.
Of course, in the case of Atlantic Yards, there was no city review process.
While acknowledging that many residents believe that the city’s formal zoning process, known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or Ulurp, “fails to adequately consider or protect their interests,” the bar association report raised these and other questions about the private agreements:
¶Do the groups involved in the C.B.A. truly represent the community or are they simply seeking advantages for themselves?
¶Are they experienced enough to strike a good bargain with the developer, or will they sell out too cheaply?
¶Could benefits that require public subsidy — like affordable housing, for example — be awarded to a particular neighborhood to win acceptance of a project rather than on the basis of where these benefits are needed most?
NoLandGrab: The Atlantic Yards CBA, of course, fails all those tests, and badly.
A New York Times Real Estate page (Square Feet) article today headlined Community Pacts Questioned in the Zoning Process takes off from the critical report on Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) issued last month (my coverage).
Notably, while the article makes but a glancing reference to Atlantic Yards, the abuses referenced all relate to projects that go before the City Council; Atlantic Yards didn't even face that level of oversight, given that it was shepherded by the unelected Empire State Development Corporation, ignoring the role of both the local Community Boards and the local Council Member.
Moreover, the report contains what might be considered a slap at ACORN, given that one influential lawyer warns against a Council Member designating which affordable housing group should be selected. In the case of Atlantic Yards, there was not even that minimal level of local involvement; the decision was made by Forest City Ratner.
Posted by eric at April 28, 2010 10:10 AM