Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Forest City Ratner’s Two Buildings In Brooklyn Heights Need to be Condemned!

(Above: Sidewalk cracks outside Forest City Ratner's movie theater on Court Street. Why are we showing them? Read on.)

We have been writing about the prevalence of sidewalk cracks in the city. Why? Because sidewalks cracks are supposedly a characteristic of “blight” that can allow the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) or any other eminent domain abuse-minded agency to seize and hand over entire city blocks to politically-connected developers who want to “redevelop” those blocks (typically at a much higher density with a zoning density increase or zoning override). We last wrote (supplying documenting photographs) about how, applying this criteria, the homes and blocks where Atlantic Yards supporters Senator Charles E. Schumer and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz live need to be condemned. (See: Thursday, January 21, 2010, Senator Schumer’s Block Is (Super) “Blighted”! (And Back to You, Marty).)

Before that we wrote (again supplying pictures) about:
how ubiquitous “blight”-qualifying cracks in the sidewalk can be, how they can be found surrounding Brooklyn’s Borough Hall, anywhere in Manhattan that you might glance down, and in prestigious Brooklyn Heights, running the entire route from the premier homes on the Promenade to Borough Hall, no matter the street you pick to travel, Montague Street, Remsen Street, or whatever.
(See: Friday, January 15, 2010, Up and Down, "Blight" Is Everywhere: Just Glance Down “At Any Point” and Find “Blight” Smiling Back to You.)

Look Sharp, Brooklyn Heights. Pay Attention, Mr. Ratner.

Brooklyn Heights residents better start getting ready for a lot of demolition and zoning increases because we are ready to write about the “blighted” condition of the Heights one more time: This time we are going to write about how the blocks with the two Brooklyn Heights Forest City Ratner-owned properties need to be condemned- - Lots of sidewalk cracks there too! . . .

. . . Surprise! Forest City Ratner, the politically-connected developer that is utilizing the sidewalk crack “blight” pretext, as a eminent domain-invoking device to consolidate a mega-monopoly hold on 30 contiguous acres of prime Brooklyn real estate can be hoisted on its own petard. As soon as Forest City Ratner completes the proposed Atlantic Yards megadevelopment (if it ever does, and even then it may be forty years), the project can be seized from it because of sidewalk crack blight! (Maybe seized even sooner!) At least that’s the evidence in Brooklyn Heights.

This shouldn’t to be a surprise. We recently mentioned in an article a point made by Connecticut eminent domain-abuse victim Carl Yacobacci that “eminent domain is a never-ending cycle of perpetual exposure to abuse.” (See: Tuesday, January 19, 2010, U.S. Supreme Court to Get a Doubleheader on NYS Eminent Domain Abuse? Pretext and Lack of Due Process PLUS No “Just Compensation”.) In that case he was making the point with respect the perpetual possibility of increasing density as a reason property can be taken, but the concern about “a never-ending cycle of perpetual exposure to abuse” applies to the wielding of any and all flimsy excuses.

Taking the Sidewalk Crack Standard of “Blight” to Ratner’s Brooklyn Heights Buildings

Let us show you the photos documenting the sidewalk cracks by virtue of which Forest City Ratner’s Brooklyn Heights buildings and the entire blocks they are on should all be condemned. First, below for visual reference, is the relevant standard for objectionable blight-establishing sidewalk cracks. Photos documenting the sidewalk cracks are from the "professional" blight-finding study prepared for Atlantic Yards by AKRF.
Ratner’s Blighted One Pierrepont Plaza

We start with the Forest City Ratner building that has sides (and sidewalk) along Clinton Street, Pierrepont Street and Cadman Plaza West.

To be fair, while there are cracks in the sidewalk in front of that building, those cracks are not the worst that can be found near the building or on the block as a whole. (There are also sidewalk cracks across the street.) In addition, we must note that some of the most atrocious looking sidewalks outside the Ratner building look atrocious not because of the way that they are cracked but because of the way that they were repaired.

Not fair to Ratner? When was Ratner ever fair to anyone else in this process? Furthermore, it doesn’t matter how bad the cracks are outside the Ratner buildings in particular are: Proceeding in the same way that our public agencies abuse these assessments. All that is required is to find cracks somewhere on the block and the whole block can be seized by eminent domain. As far as repaired sidewalks go, although repaired sidewalks don’t count as blight, the blight assessments our government agencies commission by contract simply assume that sidewalks can’t be repaired and that it is therefore more cost efficient to tear down the neighborhood to eliminate blight. The other reason that there might not have been as many cracks outside of the Ratner building is that in one area an expanse of new sidewalk was just recently put in. The building is relatively new (circa 1985) so the sidewalk must have deteriorated fast. We just didn’t get there in time to take photos before its recent replacement.
(Above: Upheaved sidewalk directly by main building entrance has been ground down to level out surface creating discoloration. Sidewalk has also been patched with concrete mismatched in color.)(Below: Entrance to Ratner building is in background as we proceed around the block.)
(Below: Having rounded the corner we are looking at the main Cadman Plaza West entrance to the Ratner building in the background.)
(Below: Front entrance to the building on Cadman Plaza West. Sidewalk is cracked in foreground.)
(Above: View from across the street.)
(Above and below: Back to the condition of sidewalks directly outside the Ratner property.)

Depths of Sidewalk “Blight” at Ratner’s The Heights at 94-110 Court Street

This building is another new (even newer, circa 2000) building. Again, were we to be fair in this process which is not meant to be fair, we would acknowledge that though the Ratner building has sidewalk cracks, there are worse cracks elsewhere on the block. No matter, either set of cracks could provide an eminent domain abuse-minded government agency to seize and demolish the full block.
(Below: The view from across the street.)
(Below: Proceeding around the block.)
How Well Does Forest City Ratner Take care of Its Property? Let’s Get a Little Windy

Given that we are writing today about how well Forest City Ratner takes care of its property we cannot help commenting on what happened only yesterday: Due to flying construction debris Forest City Ratner caused a shutdown a 15-block area of the city, including– and this is quite thematically fitting– all of City Hall (see the map below from the Tribecca Trib). Shutting down City Hall seems thematically fitting because when agencies like ESDC jump on the Bruce Ratner bandwagon to do his bidding, no-questions-asked, it often seems as if nobody is home in this city’s government offices.
According to WYNC, “On Sunday, the buildings department warned contractors to secure their construction sites because of the weather.” Forest City Ratner, now building what will be the city’s tallest residential building (77-stories, designed by Frank Gehry), didn’t follow those instructions at that site. It was big stuff, with the “fifteen block” area of the city, including City Hall shut down as a “frozen zone” for a substantial portion of the day the Commissioner of the city’s Office of Emergency Management had to get involved. A piece of metal flew all the way into City Hall Park. The City Buildings Commissioner went on WNYC radio to say that a stop work order had been issued against Forest City Ratner but sounded strangely solicitous of Forest City Ratner’s public relations interests when he proclaimed, almost in the same breath, that the Ratner site is “relatively well-run” and “It's such a large site and there are so many moving parts . . . . but I have to say this site in relation to other sites is one of the better sites.” As we just commented: “Anybody home?” When Forest City Ratner says `jump’, government officials say `how high?’

The WNYC story goes on to say:
The building, on Spruce Street, received nine other violations over the past six months for failing to keep the construction area free of debris, and other housekeeping issues.
(See: High Winds Scatter Debris from Beekman Tower, by Matthew Schuerman, January 25, 2010. See also WYNC’s: Stormy Weather Forces Downtown Street Closure, January 25, 2010)

For other coverage, see the Tibecca Trib at: High Winds Bring Debris Down from Beekman Tower, by Matt Dunning, Jan. 25, 2010. In the New York Times coverage which did not mention Ratner (or the Times relationship to Ratner), the event sounded less impressive and as if fewer city blocks were shut down. (See: January 25, 2010, Wind Wreaks Some Havoc, by Andy Newman and Micheline Maynard.)

And speaking of how much of the city Forest City Ratner should be able to take over or shut down. . .

Parting Words: The Real Reason to Condemn Forest City Ratner’s Property

Eminent domain can be used for a reason entirely different reason from sidewalk cracks. One of the most precedent-setting and conceptually challenging cases in which the U.S. Supreme Court dealt with eminent domain was Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff, 467 U.S. 229 (1984) which held that Hawaii could use eminent domain to break up and redistribute to a wider population land that was overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of a few private landowners. We suggest, not entirely in jest, that a diminishment of Ratner’s mega-monopoly on prime Brooklyn Real estate is reason enough to use eminent domain to take Forest City Ratner’s properties away. We suggest this notwithstanding that the reason that government agencies are seizing properties from their owners in very desirable Brooklyn neighborhoods is almost certainly not really because there are sidewalk cracks, but because those public officials desire to accommodate the politically-favored Ratner in his quest to extend the range of his government-assisted mega-monopoly ever further.

(Below: A map of the proposed Forest City Ratner Mega-monopoly.)

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