Friday, November 11, 2005
Forest City Ratner absent when it comes to ULURP discussion
But FCR prefers public events where Atlantic Yards critics don't get equal time. Yes, company representatives have appeared at a few open meetings with mixed panels, but they've also avoided other meetings. Last February, the Fort Greene Association announced that that FCR pulled out of a meeting at which its presence had already been confirmed, and that representatives of BUILD and ACORN, two backers of the Atlantic Yards project, had not even replied to invitations. The FGA press release pointed out that FCR's Bruce Bender had told the New York Times:
"We've [FCRC has] gone above and beyond to meet with the community. We've met with all the community boards. We've never turned down anyone. We have been very open. To say we haven't is wrong, deceitful and outrageous.”
Yesterday, a Municipal Arts Society panel addressed the case of "Large-Scale Plans Removed from the Public Review Process: Focus on Atlantic Yards." Last week, the New York Observer's blog The Real Estate commented:
[N]one of the panelists, however, look ready to take Forest City’s side, or the Empire State Development Corporation’s, for that matter.
However, as moderator Tom Angotti announced at the session, Forest City Ratner "was invited several times to speak and declined the invitation." This was also noted by the New York Sun, in a 11/11/05 article headlined Critics of Ratner Plan Say Oversight of Project Too Lax. Spotted in the audience, however, was a Forest City Ratner public relations representative.
As the Sun article pointed out:
Because the state maintains oversight of the project, as stipulated in a memorandum of understanding signed in February, it is not subject to the city's Uniform Land Use Review Process. Under the more vigorous ULURP oversight procedure, community boards, the relevant borough president's office, the City Planning Commission, the City Council, and the mayor review proposals. Some of the panelists said they see a worrying trend of circumventing the city's land use procedures, which are designed to involve neighborhoods in development decisions.
"The evasion of ULURP looks like it's becoming a habit," the panel's moderator, Tom Angotti, a professor of urban planning at Hunter College, said. "Everything is backwards. Two years ago, a developer comes up with a proposal. It is essentially adopted and approved by the governor, mayor, and borough president. Two years later, the scoping process is mapped out. The planning process is after the fact."
Did it have to happen that way? After all, most of the land either belongs to the city or private parties, not the state:
Panelist Daniel Goldstein, who heads the most vocal opposition group to Atlantic Yards, Develop - Don't Destroy, said that while only about 30% of the development's footprint belongs to the state, the city is now locked out of the oversight process. Both the city and the state will contribute about $100 million to the Atlantic Yards development.
Mr. Goldstein faulted Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council speaker, Gifford Miller, for handing off the project to the state. "If the administration said to the state, 'We want to maintain some oversight on this,' they might have listened," he said.
By the way, a search of the New York Times archive on ULURP and "Atlantic Yards" comes up blank. As noted in Chapter 6 of my report, the only thing I could find was a glancing reference in a general article (What the Teams Want And What the City Gets, 1/16/05) about three sports teams and their demands:
All three projects would be built on public land and use tax-free bonds for financing. All three are also designed to bypass the city's land use review process and a vote by the City Council, thereby avoiding potentially troublesome public hearings.
More recently, the Times, in an 10/20/05 article that followed up on the ESDC season, did mention the land-use process without the acronym:
Because a state agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, is sponsoring the proposal, it will not have to wind through the city's labyrinthine land-use process, which requires input from the local community boards and a vote by the City Council.