Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #35: Is Eminent Domain for Greed Being Avoided? NO

This is evaluation item #35 (of 47) of the Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card

Is Eminent Domain for Greed Being Avoided? NO

Though Jane Jacobs did not dwell on it she certainly thought that in worst case scenarios eminent domain would be wielded not just out of misguidance but with greed as an operative factor. In the first pages of her book she quotes from the Old Testament’s Job talking about reaping fields and stripping of vineyards wrongfully seized and not properly owned. That possibility raises the moral stakes of the question. But in a realm such as eminent domain where power to seize financial wealth is vast and where the air is clouded by the murk of mistakes, it is highly appropriate to be on guard for the way that greed can propel error beyond honest mistake.

Looking at the proposed Atlantic Yards it is virtually certain that naked greed is an operative factor in how eminent domain is being used. It cannot be regarded as an accident that the planning of the footprint was the megadeveloper’s own work. Furthermore, the peculiar wrench-shape footprint of the project highlights that the way in which eminent domain is being used is suspiciously odd. The shape of the footprint emphasizes how one block, the Ward Building block, is being condemned for little or no good ostensible purposes, while next to it the footprint curves around to avoid condemning an adjacent block with very similar characteristics. The adjacent block not being condemned involves ownership by a developer who has political relationships and who was in another set of negotiations with the official public agency supposed to be doing the condemnations at approximately the time the footprint was established. It is probably not an accident that Ward block which has probably the least reason to be condemned on an allocable basis may yield the greatest net profit because construction on it does not involve the expense of building a platform.
In the case of Atlantic Yards, eminent domain is being used as a tool to establish a no–bid mega-monopoly. The developers’s (and assisting agencies’) immediate priority is to build an arena that will be a $220 million net loss for the public. Recent disclosures have made it clear that the mega-monopoly being given to developer Forest City Ratner entitles the developer to have control over land being seized by eminent domain without building anything on it for decades even though the land was taken out of the hands of active, currently building developers. In fact, even though Forest City Ratner is being given this mega-monopoly, even though they are making haste to tear down useful existing buildings, they may actually build nothing on much of the land in the end since Forest City Ratner is essentially being given an option on that land without a corresponding obligation to build.

All these things clearly bespeak greed.

(Above: Why is eminent domain being used to take the properties on this block that used to have the Ward Bakery Building on it? Why cross the rail yards to take down all the buildings visible on that block in the Google Earth image of the site outlined below? For more about the oddity of including this block in the site click here.)

(Image of interlocking project site where condemnation will be used and Prospect Heights Historic District by Tracy Collins.)
(Image from Atlantic yards Report: Henry Weinstein’s building on the same block where the Ward Bakery Building was torn down.)

(Photo by Tracy Collins of the very inhabitable 475 Dean Street which the developer is rushing to tear down although to do so may destroy something of value quite prematurely.)

JJ Cites: [Here are men that alter their neighbor’s landmark. . .shoulder the poor aide, conspire to oppress the friendless. Reap they the field that is none of theirs, strip they the vineyards wrongfully seized from its owner . . . p.5]

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