Monday, April 10, 2006

Don't put zoning up for sale in NY

Date: Sun, 09 Apr 2006 17:21:46 -0400
From: "Tenant" View Contact Details Add Mobile Alert
Subject: Now for a good laugh

Don't put zoning up for sale in NY
By Alair Townsend

(see article below)

NB - I agree. Stop the Community Benefits Agreements.

But Crains' weeping on this one is just too much. As long as anyone
can remember, developers have bought zoning from politicians through
any number of means.

If zoning were really on the merits, there would be no Hudson Yards,
no West Chelsea, no Atlantic Yards and no Williamsburg/Greenpoint
rezoning. If the Broadway producers hadn't bought the 1998 rezoning
of 8th Avenue, it wouldn't have happened. Just ask the campaign
contributors to C.V. Fields and Peter Vallone. These days look at the
campaign bank books of Christine Quinn and Scott Stringer, both of
whom have gone over to the other side in anticipation of their
running for higher office.

If ill-informed construction workers weren't getting paid to show up
at City Hall, then zoning would not be sold for promises of jobs
(usually fake to begin with) or some notion of social equity. Of
course, that gives Democrats cover to support otherwise bad
development. Witness last week's City Council approval of Yankee
Stadium where all but two rolled over allegedly for the community
benefits (supported by no one in that community), but now controlled
as a slush fund by the Bronx machine (similar to the slush fund being
amassed on Manhattan's west side).

Developers buy the zoning changes, but they also get an Easter basket
of goodies, ranging from tax-free bonds, tax abatements, PILOTs
(Payments in Lieu of Taxes -- frozen at reduced rates) and so on.
They get huge zoning bonuses such as the 400% bonus for Inclusionary
Zoning where that can add the ability to add (in some cases) fifteen
floors to a building. How much are fifteen floors of $3 million
condos worth to those developers?

When Stephen Ross of Related bought the entire half block on 42nd
(between Dyer and 10th Avenue) for a song, he also bought a location
promised for the No. 7 subway stop (increasing its value), huge
development rights and most likely fancy financing and tax abatements
from the city. Of course Community Board 4, Christine Quinn and the
Manhattan Plaza Tenants Association (now a wholly-owned subsidiary of
Steve Ross, Inc.) shilled for the tower.

And yes, zoning wouldn't be for sale if it weren't for the likes of
Acorn, Working Families Party, The Pratt Institute and other
so-called progressive groups that have done their best to stand in
line for the largess. Leaving things up to them you might get a dog
run or other bread crumbs, but your neighborhood will be overwhelmed
with towers.

Let zoning be for light, air, bulk, use and motherhood. Stop the
Community Benefits Agreements. If a proposal is bad, then stop it or
mitigate it. Don't sell out even before the haggling starts.

Don't put zoning up for sale in NY
Published on April 10, 2006
By Alair Townsend
Published on April 10, 2006

Memo to Mayor Bloomberg and Council Speaker Quinn:

Get a grip on this community benefits agreement thing. It's out of

So-called community groups have been negotiating commitments for all
sorts of things from developers who want their support for projects
they want to build. Now, large wads of cash--some $50 million over 20
years from The Yankees for Bronx groups--are being sought and handed
over in what looks like bribes for support.

You've been applauding such agreements. Please understand what's at
stake and set some ground rules. Stop the appearance--and
increasingly the reality--of zoning for sale in New York.

These agreements are a radical departure from the recent past. The
city's land-use review procedures were changed in 1976 to provide a
standardized and public process, and to end what many saw as the
buying of favors by developers. Under the revised process, the City
Planning Commission, City Council and mayor must approve projects
requiring land-use changes. The community board and the borough
president also review them, but have no formal approval power.
Developer-funded mitigation measures are supposed to be related to
adverse impacts, such as damage to the environment. Deal-making is
supposed to be public and conducted by public officials.

The process has been supported and enforced by all mayors since that
time. Until now.

Today, developers are being pressured by one and all--including
elected officials--to sign community benefits agreements. These
packages have less to do with mitigating adverse impacts than with
buying off opposition. The rezoning process is now being used as
leverage to extract whatever anyone can.

Among the items in recent CBAs are provisions requiring developers to
build affordable housing; hire workers from the borough the project
is located in; hire contractors based on their borough location,
gender and ethnicity; fund job training programs; pay warehouse store
membership fees; provide offices for community groups; set up day
care centers; not lease space to Wal-Mart; compel stores to accept
food stamps; and put cash into community trust funds. Each agreement
is ratcheting up the expectations and the stakes.

You both have chosen to sit back and watch the action unfold, even
with projects you seem to support. This way, the most serious
opposition will have been bought off by the time projects come before
you for approval. Developers have sought guidance from the mayor, who
has asserted that such negotiations are a private matter.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Are you comfortable with CBAs that involve cash payments to community
groups for whatever purpose? Should there be any oversight to ensure
that the processes for selecting who gets the housing, contracts and
jobs are fair and not just sleazy patronage? You need to decide how
far you're willing to let this go.

No comments: