Saturday, November 19, 2005


Jason Kidd, "comprehensive" planning, and the Ratner p.r. machine

A 11/18/05 New York Times sports column (subscriber-only), even one that acknowledged "Step One in the community-relations phase of Ratner's grand plan," couldn't help from misconstruing a key point about the Atlantic Yards project, and giving Jason Kidd a bit of a pass.

Harvey Araton's column concerned point guard Kidd's new spiritual faith, thanks to a mentoring relationship and membership in [the Rev. A.R.] Bernard's Christian Cultural Center on Flatlands Avenue in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn.
This mega-church, likely Brooklyn's largest, was the site of a media event where Kidd and the Nets served an early Thanksgiving meal to needy families.

Kidd, we learn, has flourished:
"Jason was reluctant at first," Bernard said in a telephone interview. ''But he began to enjoy, and over time he began a transformation of his values, his relationships and his work."
Engaging in some celebrity name-dropping, Bernard said that the Jets' Curtis Martin was a member of his community, as were Starr Jones and Angela Bassett. They and the Kidds are part of a congregation of more than 20,000 that promotes conservative Christian values.

Unmentioned is Kidd's troubled history with his wife Joumana. I think it's wrong when fans taunt Kidd about being arrested in 2001 for hitting her. And it's admirable if Kidd, as it seems, has transformed his values and relationships, and, in Bernard's words, is "accepting and appreciating what he already has." But if he's going to be suggested as a role model, isn't it worth mentioning what Kidd may be transforming from?

More troublingly, Araton tries to describe the polar attitudes toward the Atlantic Yards plan, but gets it wrong: whether you believe the Nets' relocation plan is a cover for Ratner to build apartment buildings or a comprehensive development plan for downtown Brooklyn whose time has come.

Not even Borough President Marty Markowitz bills this as a comprehensive development plan, especially since the project would be in Prospect Heights and Park Slope, not Downtown Brooklyn. In Marty's latest State of the Borough address, he said, "I expect Atlantic Yards to result in two things that are vital to Brooklynites — more jobs and more affordable housing." As we know, there are many fewer jobs than promised, and a smaller percentage of affordable housing. And there's been no inkling of comprehensive planning. Marty wanted an arena, above all--the rest is a real estate project that has shifted significantly, by the developer's decision. And all the planning has been after the fact.


Brooklyn Standard mystery solved, partly: second issue relies more on Ratner staff

In a previous post, I wondered whether the second issue of Forest City Ratner's deceptive Brooklyn Standard used fake bylines, especially since Managing Editor Tom Allon wouldn't answer any questions about Brigitte Labonte and Kim Last, two bylines on the front page along with a journalist whose name was attached to a story he didn't write.

On Friday, I got a partial answer. During a walkthrough of downtown Brooklyn with Danish urban planner/architect Jan Gehl, two Forest City Ratner employees, Brigitte Labonte and Jeff Rothberg, joined the assembled journalists, urban planners, and civic activists. (FCR was invited.) Both employees have bylines in the second issue of the Standard: Labonte wrote about the "landmark" Community Benefits Agreement signed by Ratner and Rothberg wrote about a basketball camp sponsored by Ratner and the proposed arena, "the heart of Atlantic Yards." (Others might call it a tail wagging a very large dog, given that it would be near the western border of the site and would cover less than ten percent of the total square footage.)

This suggests that Forest City Ratner employees had a greater role in the second issue than the first issue. While Ratner employees are listed as editors in chief of the Brooklyn Standard, Allon and fellow Manhattan Media staffer Edward-Isaac Dovere, listed as the publication's Executive Editor, had two and four bylines, respectively, in the first issue. Neither had a byline in the second issue. Is it because they want to distance themselves from a publication unlike their more legitimate weekly newspapers?

And what of the mysterious Kim Last? The switchboard operator at Forest City Ratner didn't have anyone listed under that name. So that question remains.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Marty Markowitz stays on message, except for that affordable housing twist

I ran into Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz at a civic event yesterday and took the opportunity to shake his hand, declare my recognition for his love of Brooklyn, and then question him cordially yet steadily on Atlantic Yards. (No, I didn't tell him I would post this--with anyone other than a political official I would--but Marty is always "on.")

Yes, he still thinks the project should be smaller, but he hasn't come up with any guidelines, at least not for public consumption, since he first acknowledged the need to downscale the project at a September 19 candidates' forum. Still, a 15% cut wouldn't return the project even to its starting place. So some perspective surely would help, as well as an acknowledgement--as City Councilman David Yassky and Assemblyman Jim Brennan have observed--that the planning process has been faulty.

So I mentioned to Marty that people were troubled by the undemocratic process behind the Atlantic Yards plan. "The people spoke last Tuesday," he declared, indicating (I suppose) that the reelection of him and Mayor Bloomberg represented an implicit endorsement of Atlantic Yards.

I asked if he was troubled by the tradeoff from office space (promises of jobs) to housing in the proposed project, as noted in a recent New York Times article. "The people of Brooklyn wanted more housing," he replied. Actually, in that same Times article, Forest City Ratner's Jim Stuckey acknowledged that the company needed to build more market-rate housing to pay for the affordable housing.

The people of Brooklyn? Was there a plebiscite? Stuckey told City Council last May, as noted in Chapter 1 of my report, that he had been "educated" by housing advocates (including ACORN) that "there is a dire need for residential development in New York City." So the developer then added 2,800 market-rate condos, with a possible 600-1,000 "affordable" condos to be built on or off site, geared to families in the "upper affordable income tiers," including some earning six figures. That's hardly ACORN's constituency. Given the $1.1 billion in public costs over 30 years acknowledged by Stuckey, shouldn't there be more discussion about whether luxury housing should be subsidized?

Marty said that the scale of the project might change, "but the arena is nonnegotiable." (Remember, Marty's goal has been to bring major league sports back to Brooklyn.) What about putting it Coney Island, a site he once supported? He said the transportation wasn't sufficient. Perhaps, though there's an argument that it's easier to empty out an arena into subways at the end of the line. More importantly, only now--after the project is well into the approval process--is the question of the project's transportation impact being discussed.

At a forum on Wednesday, Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) mentioned a February 2004 meeting that community advocates had with representatives of Markowitz's office, Forest City Ratner, and architect Frank Gehry. As later reported by the Brooklyn Papers, a local architect suggested that Ratner tear down the much-criticized Atlantic Center mall and build the arena bridging Atlantic Avenue, thus avoiding eminent domain and the condemnation of private property. The developer cited security concerns. This past August, an unreleased Memorandum of Understanding dated Feb. 18, 2005 obtained by DDDB showed that Forest City Ratner may build up to 875,000 square feet of commercial office space and 711,000 feet of residential space on the Atlantic Center site. (It's unclear whether that would replace the mall or simply be placed on top of the mall.)

I told Marty that some people were skeptical about the developer. "There is no more socially conscious developer than Bruce Ratner," the borough president replied, quoting, uh, himself at the press conference regarding the affordable housing plan at Atlantic Yards. Is it socially conscious to rely on government subsidies and to impose gag orders (see Chapter 7 of my report) on those who sell property to the developer?

More crucially, when I mentioned to Marty that the developer had added market-rate housing to skew the 50 percent affordable housing promise, he barked back, "50 percent of the rentals." True, that is the letter of the housing Memorandum of Understanding but not the spirit: when the housing deal was announced, Marty and the press described it as 50 percent of all apartments at Atlantic Yards. At the time, Marty cited a "commitment to build a full 50 percent of Atlantic Yards housing as affordable." A week after that, as I've noted, the developer announced plans for the new condos.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Dispiriting debates: false premises (on eminent domain) and half-loaves (regarding the CBA)

On November 16, two forums featuring supporters and opponents of the Atlantic Yards plan showed the dispiriting divide that has emerged regarding this project. It's difficult to have a debate, the forums suggested, when there are such fundamental differences, in one case over the facts of the project, in another over the appropriate posture toward a powerful developer.

On eminent domain and more

(NOTE: Errol Louis sent me a followup note about my blog post: Rather than parse your highly misleading account of the recent forum at Brooklyn Law School, I am sending you a link to the taped event, so that readers can make up their own minds about was or wasn't said: mms://

A lunchtime forum at Brooklyn Law School featured Daily News editorial board member Errol Louis (a BLS graduate) and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn spokesperson Daniel Goldstein. The subject was eminent domain, the Supreme Court's Kelo decision, and its effects on Brooklyn. (Note that the Daily News already published a snide, error-filled editorial criticizing those who voiced concerns at the mandated hearing on environmental impact.)

Louis cited crime and poverty statistics for the general area around the site, saying "it has changed all too slowly and all too little," which disregards some of the gentrification in process. (That's not to say that gentrification solves social problems, simply to point out that Prospect Heights has been booming.) He cited Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's dissent in Kelo, suggesting that the conditions in Prospect Heights were analogous to the two cases she cited as legitimate examples of eminent domain, in which blight and oligopoly were removed.

However, the area of Prospect Heights in and around the Atlantic Yards plan is not so recognizable in O'Connor's opinion:
We are guided by two precedents about the taking of real property by eminent domain. In Berman, we upheld takings within a blighted neighborhood of Washington, D. C. The neighborhood had so deteriorated that, for example, 64.3% of its dwellings were beyond repair...In Midkiff, we upheld a land condemnation scheme in Hawaii whereby title in real property was taken from lessors and transferred to lessees. At that time, the State and Federal Governments owned nearly 49% of the State’s land, and another 47% was in the hands of only 72 private landowners...

The Court’s holdings in Berman and Midkiff were true to the principle underlying the Public Use Clause. In both those cases, the extraordinary, precondemnation use of the targeted property inflicted affirmative harm on society–in Berman through blight resulting from extreme poverty and in Midkiff through oligopoly resulting from extreme wealth. And in both cases, the relevant legislative body had found that eliminating the existing property use was necessary to remedy the harm... Thus a public purpose was realized when the harmful use was eliminated. Because each taking directly achieved a public benefit, it did not matter that the property was turned over to private use.

The level of blight, in its colloquial sense at least, is quite irregular in Prospect Heights--witness the expensive renovations of formerly dormant industrial structures. There has never been an oligopolist--until Forest City Ratner began buying up the neighborhood. And, perhaps most importantly, no legislative body has deliberated regarding the appropriate use of eminent domain, even if the mayor and governor have signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the project.

Worse, Louis kept talking about how the railyard owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been undeveloped for 50 years. That's true, but not an issue for eminent domain--such development would simply require an RFP and a bidding process, which is what took place earlier this year, however skewed to Ratner. Then Louis claimed "an estimate of 15,000 permanent jobs" at Atlantic Yards.

Goldstein, given a chance to respond, pointed out that the railyard was not subject to eminent domain, and it could and should be developed--and that the area could be developed even faster thanks to rezoning. He added that there might be 15,000 construction jobs--meaning 1,500 a year for ten years--and far fewer than 15,000 permanent jobs--an original promise of 10,000, now perhaps space for 2,300 office jobs, of which 700 might be new. Goldstein also suggested that the process--the avoidance of the city's land use rules, which require public hearings--was the biggest problems.

So where did Louis get his figures regarding jobs? He sent listeners to the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce site, saying that "most of the 30,000 jobs come from Atlantic Yards." Actually, the Chamber's May 2004 Brooklyn Labor Market Review cites (p. 8) "over 30,000 jobs being generated by significant economic development projects such as store openings, which include Target, Ikea and Fairway" and "the proposed Downtown Brooklyn Plan, which involves creating over 18,000 jobs in industries such as Finance & Insurance, Banking, Information, Legal Services and Retail over the next five to ten years." And what of those 18,000 jobs? On p. 43, it states of Atlantic Yards: "It is estimated that the development will create approximately 10,000 permanent jobs at the arena and the office towers." And, as noted, that 10,000 figure has been discredited.

Goldstein also pointed out that, in the Kelo case, the city of New London did a thorough report that the neighborhood needed redevelopment, and put out the property for bid: "Justice [Anthony] Kennedy said that, when there was no legislative planning process and a favored developer, that would be a violation [of the Constitution]."

Indeed, Kennedy's concurrence suggests Atlantic Yards critics may have a legal case against the project:
There may be private transfers in which the risk of undetected impermissible favoritism of private parties is so acute that a presumption (rebuttable or otherwise) of invalidity is warranted under the Public Use Clause....

This is not the occasion for conjecture as to what sort of cases might justify a more demanding standard, but it is appropriate to underscore aspects of the instant case that convince me no departure from Berman and Midkiff is appropriate here. This taking occurred in the context of a comprehensive development plan meant to address a serious city-wide depression, and the projected economic benefits of the project cannot be characterized as de minimus. The identity of most of the private beneficiaries were unknown at the time the city formulated its plans. The city complied with elaborate procedural requirements that facilitate review of the record and inquiry into the city’s purposes. In sum, while there may be categories of cases in which the transfers are so suspicious, or the procedures employed so prone to abuse, or the purported benefits are so trivial or implausible, that courts should presume an impermissible private purpose, no such circumstances are present in this case.

Another dispiriting failure to establish shared premises: Louis said the majority of the land in the Atlantic Yards plan is state-owned, a defense for bypassing city land use review rules. Goldstein responded that, no, "it's eight of 22 acres" (actually 8.5).

Louis called the Community Benefits Agreement "an extraordinary CBA," citing provisions for hiring minority and women workers and subcontractors, and provisions holding the developer liable if the targets aren't met. (There's ample testimony that this CBA is not legitimate.) "For the developer to have the lead here, after the city and state sat around, to me it's not all that troubling," Louis said.

Goldstein responded, "The developer should not decide the future when there are public dollars and public land involved." He noted that there's no legislative body involved, except the state Public Authorities Control Board, which would decide on state subsidies.

On the Community Benefits Agreement

A forum at the Fordham Law School featured a larger panel, with Goldstein of DDDB and Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors representing Atlantic Yards critics, and Charlene Nimmons of Public Housing Communities and Darnell Canada of Rebuild representing Atlantic Yards supporters. While at the earlier forum, there was a racial divide but not a class divide (Louis is black, Goldstein white, but Louis is a lawyer), here there were both divides: Nimmons and Canada are black and spoke the language of grassroots empowerment, while Goldstein and McClure are white emphasized the lack of a fair process.

The issues of race and class are far more complex--there are notable black elected officials opposing the project, such as City Councilwoman Letitia James and State Senator Velmanette Montgomery--but, as law professor Brian Glick put it, the community groups supporting the plan are from more outlying areas, largely working class and communities of color, while those opposing it are from closer to the project footprint and more middle-class and white.

Nimmons, who pointed out that some public housing residents live right across the street from the project footprint, cited "the importance of looking for opportunities" and how "we're now on the inside looking out." Her group is a signatory to the Community Benefits Agreement. Canada, who is not a signatory but whose group (assisting former prisoners) is a beneficiary of the CBA, said he supported the project because it would bring jobs to an economically depressed area (he cited "71-72% unemployment," a statistic that may have come from James Caldwell's numbers regarding public housing). "I support the project because this is a new way to help communities grow," he said.

Left unsaid were how many jobs would actually be created--as well as how much it would cost to create each job. The project, billed as "Jobs, Housing, and Hoops" is mostly luxury housing. Yes, jobs are created by housing construction, but they don't necessarily justify a $1.1 billion (estimate by Forest City Ratner's Jim Stuckey; see my report) public investment over 30 years.

McClure said Park Slope Neighbors supports development--the railyard is a "scar"--and suggested that affordable housing be mandated through zoning rather than relying on incentives. "We're support transparency and openness, which are more or less absent in this project." Goldstein said DDDB also supports jobs and "truly affordable housing. Where we differ is how it's done."

"it's a false debate: Ratner or nothing," Goldstein observed. He noted that the CBA regarding the Staples Center in Los Angeles involved 25 organizations, groups that were opposed to the project or troubled by the project, unlike the Atlantic Yards CBA, where the groups involved supported it from the beginning. He suggested that, in this situation, the city and MTA should have met with the community and put out an RFP for development. "Here, the developer proposed it and framed it."

Canada, who made a distinction between two kinds of people--John F. Kennedy and racist Birmingham police chief Bull Connor--said he looked upon developer Bruce Ratner "as a JFK." He acknowledged, "It's not the best CBA we could have, but it's the first. It's one we can work with." Earlier, Nimmons had said, "We're in support with some concerns."

McClure commented on how the threat of eminent domain is forcing out homeowners and suggested that the premise that eminent domain could increase tax yields could lead any residential property to be replaced by a higher-yielding McDonalds or big box store.

Nimmons observed, "When you know condemnation is prevalent, you don't take residency in such property." She also criticized public officials who support the Downtown Brooklyn Plan, which includes eminent domain, for opposing Atlantic Yards. (The former, however, emerged from a city process.)

Was this forum an example of a tactical shift, as Lumi Rolley observes on NoLandGrab, in which project supporters say they have concerns about the CBA or didn't initially support it? Possibly. But the two most prominent supporters of the CBA would have trouble distancing themselves from developer Forest City Ratner. ACORN is contractually obligated "to take reasonable steps to publicly support the project." And BUILD has received money from the developer even while denying it.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Finally, an Atlantic Yards op-ed from the Times: critical, but hardly coherent

So, 23 months after Forest City Ratner officially announced its Atlantic Yards plan, and some 28 months after discussion began in the press, the New York Times on 11/13/05 finally ran an op-ed piece about it, headlined The Project That Ate Brooklyn. The contributor John B. Manbeck is identified as "a former Brooklyn borough historian." The bio box doesn't mention that he has written (noncontroversial) historical articles for both issues of Forest City Ratner's Brooklyn Standard p.r. sheet.

Manbeck's critical take on the project, calling the subsidies a "misuse of public funds," likely won't be welcomed by the developer, but at the same time he misreads critics, calling them NIMBYs, and, while criticizing the approval process, basically throws up his hands. See further analysis at NoLandGrab and Manbeck's semi-explanations at the New York Observer's The Real Estate. Note that the editorial was commissioned "a couple of months ago" but ran the Sunday after the election, so it had no effect on the mayoral debate.

Note: the op-ed appears in the City Weekly section, which is part of the Times issued only in the five boroughs. Those outside city limits--the suburbs of Long Island, Westchester, New Jersey, and Connecticut--get their own weekly edition, and the City Weekly obviously doesn't appear in the national edition. Thus, debate about this project is limited. I note in Chapter 13 of my report that op-eds and editorials about this enormous project should appear in the main editorial section. Also note that the op-ed appeared after, rather than before, the mayoral election in which incumbent Mike Bloomberg and challenger Freddy Ferrer differed significantly on the project.

Manbeck sets up his point:
But just as we'll always have developers, community activists and environmentalists will invariably seek to check their greed and broaden their foresight. The tension between these two groups can be a creative one - except when it leads developers to exaggerate their ambitions and activists to simply obstruct them.
That's where we are with Forest City Ratner Companies' plan to build a sports arena surrounded by 17 imposing high-rise buildings on the Atlantic Avenue railyards. The plan is overkill, for which public officials are partly to blame. But the community's response to it - a mix of not-in-my-backyard rejection and idealized nostalgia - is overkill as well.

First, it's 16 buildings, not 17--a mistake several writers have made (including me). More importantly, the project would not be "on the Atlantic Avenue railyards." The railyard would represent 8.3 (or, to some sources, 8.5) acres of a 22-acre site. The Times's then-architecture critic, Herbert Muschamp, made this mistake in his initial 12/11/03 assessment ("It is now an open railyard") and now Manbeck makes it again. Why can't the Times get this right after two years?

Worse, Manbeck does not identify the NIMBY rejection and "idealized nostalgia." After all, the leader of the opposing coalition is called Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, and it was DDDB that helped sponsor the UNITY plan for developing the railyard and also found Extell Development Co. to bid on the railyard after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority belatedly opened it up for bidding. Remember, Extell outbid Forest City Ratner, but the MTA still took FCR's bid.

As for "idealized nostalgia," it's Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who solicited Bruce Ratner to buy the Nets and bring them to Brooklyn, who regularly invokes how the Brooklyn Dodgers 50 years ago brought the borough together. See his most recent State of the Borough address:
Meanwhile, new residents, businesses, and cultural institutions — not to mention the upcoming arrival of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets — are increasingly making Brooklyn a true land of opportunity.
Now, I fought hard to get a national sports team to call Brooklyn home.
I know of three things that bring people together like nothing else — music, religion, and sports.
As a boy, I’m happy to say that I was able to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers play every summer, just a few blocks from where I lived.

Manbeck continues:
This arena proposal makes good sense. The neighborhood's residents fear a traffic snarl, but with 10 subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road serving Atlantic Avenue station, that's unlikely to be a problem. And the arena would stimulate construction on Boerum Hill's vacant lots while helping to increase ridership on the underused Flatbush branch of the L.I.R.R.

The author betrays some stunning naivete. There was never a proposal for just an arena; announcing the project, Bruce Ratner told the New York Times (12/11/03), "This started with basketball... But it became clear it was not economically viable without a real estate component." Thus residents fearing increased traffic have based their concerns on the project as a whole. The Daily News reported, a 2/29/04 article headlined Arena concerns hit home:
Basketball games will generate a fraction of the traffic compared to Ratner's nearly 7 million square feet of planned residential and office space..."

Manbeck continues:
But the Atlantic Yards proposal doesn't stop with the Nets. The 14-million-square-foot project includes a 620-foot-high office building, taller than the neighborhood's landmark, the 512-foot-high Williamsburgh Savings Bank. The proposal replaces 162 dwellings with 8,300 new units, 40 percent of which will be allocated to low- and middle-income housing. The influx of new residents will swiftly overload the neighborhood's social services and commercial amenities, and the project's footprint will encroach on historic neighborhoods like Prospect Heights.

Hm, 14 million square feet? I thought it was just over 9 million. As for the residential units, there would be, at most, 7,300 at the project site, and 600 to 1,000 condos built offsite. Only if the full 1,000 offsite condos were built would the 40% mark be reached and, as I've noted, relatively few of the units would be truly affordable.

Manback then makes a point about the total project cost:
Still more disturbing than the scale of the project is the active support that Forest City Ratner, a private company, has received from the borough, city and state governments. All told, Forest City Ratner's Brooklyn plan will cost the public $1 billion in tax breaks, subsidies and noncompetitive bidding. (Forest City Ratner is also the development partner for the new headquarters that The New York Times Company is building in Manhattan with the help of $26.1 million in tax breaks.)
The idea behind such generous infusions of public money into private enterprise, presumably, is that the returns will benefit government as well as the developer. But quite apart from being a misuse of public funds, a project that relies heavily on subsidies rarely works. If anything, the very fact that a developer can't make a project float on its own should signal that something is wrong with its scale.

A misuse of public funds--that's a serious accusation, and one that should have entered the debate two years ago. Note that the direct subsidies are for the arena, and many of the indirect subsidies for the rest of the project.

Note that Forest City Ratner's Jim Stuckey identified a total public cost over 30 years at $1.1 billion; other analyses suggest it could be even more. Manbeck here presents an apples-and-oranges situation when comparing the Atlantic Yards and Times Tower project. Atlantic Yards supporters could say that they would receive only $200 million in direct subsidies; the rest of the monies would be indirect subsidies. As for the Times Tower, the total public cost would be more than Manbeck acknowledges. The Village Voice reported last August:
The deal calls for the Times to get $26.1 million in tax breaks, but the real price for the public depends on the additional cost for the land.
That could add another $79 million.

Manbeck then offers some general guidelines for development:
There is a responsible role for government to play in urban development, and it isn't the role of share-holder. Rather, the city should provide oversight, offer input and, if necessary, exert control over such projects to prevent overbuilding, particularly in areas where growth is as vibrant as it is in Brooklyn.
Officials need to consider the existing profiles of neighborhoods as well as the immediate goals of developers.
There are plenty of good precedents to look to. The developer Greg O'Connell created an environmentally friendly Red Hook waterfront where once there was simply blight. In Dumbo, David Walentas reconfigured vacant factories and storage spaces to create housing. The city's planning commission needs to hold developers' feet to the fire, to make sure that they are always aware of the responsibility they bear to the city.

Implicit yet unstated is the huge difference between the above projects and Atlantic Yards. The city has allowed the Atlantic Yards project to completely bypass the city's land use review process, ULURP; it will be managed by the state. Also, neither of the above projects required eminent domain, and they proceeded in large part as renovations of existing buildings, not new construction.

Manbeck continues:
Brooklyn's developers have a habit of submitting audacious initial proposals. That way, when the public balks, as it inevitably does at new development, the developer can retreat to a more conservative plan that satisfies his true ambitions while allowing the public to feel that it has staved off disaster. When Brooklyn Law School faced community resistance to its proposal for an oversized dormitory building, the developer pulled back and compromised.

There's a huge difference, however, between scaling back one building, and scaling back a project with 17 buildings. What's the proper balance between the "overkill" Manbeck identifies on both sides? Nine buildings? Maybe we must first agree on basic principles, like whether the project is "on the Atlantic Avenue railyards" or not. Ratner's plan would cover an area nearly three times the size of the railyard; the plan by Extell (or another plan just based on the railyard) would not.

Note that state Assemblyman Roger Green, who first floated the idea of moving affordable rentals offsite to reduce project density, in today's New York Daily News suggested moving both types of housing:
Green is proposing to move up to a third of the residential units - a mix of market-rate and affordable apartments - in the area between rapidly gentrifying Prospect Heights and Crown Heights.

Note that one-third of 7,300 units would be 2,433 units, leaving 4,867 units--still more than the original 4,500 units, though, due to the current planned reduction in office space, probably resulting in a project somewhat smaller than the original 7.7 million square feet proposed.

Here's Manbeck's conclusion:
Now Forest City Ratner has revised its plan, but the size has jumped and the costs escalated. Too bad the company did not instead retreat to a place that balances a forward-looking vision with respect for Brooklyn's heritage.

Now? Forest City Ratner revised its plan at the 5/26/05 City Council hearing, announcing up to 2,800 additional luxury condos, and in mid-September confirmed it when the ESDC released a project outline. And can Forest City Ratner retreat? Sure, it could downsize a project that has grown significantly and changed character. But it never was going to propose just an arena, and its plan has always relied on eminent domain for properties in the non-railyard component of the footprint.

So, what next? Will another op-ed or editorial urge the environmental impact statement to address the scale? Will a commentator urge the state Public Authorities Control Board, which still must sign off on the state subsidies, to withhold the subsidies? Will the New York Times soon print editorials from known supporters and opponents of the plan? How about Assemblyman Roger Green vs. City Councilwoman Letitia James?

One more thing: the "pull quote" for the article says "A stadium for the Nets is a good idea. But 17 high rises?" Again, a press outlet confuses an arena with a stadium.

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