Tuesday, May 4, 2010

ESDC, Have you No Shame (Or Fear) For the Irony of it All? Asking for a Court Comparison of Atlantic Yards to Battery Park City?

(Above, - click to enlarge- Battery Park City, viewed from the north on the Hudson and an image from the Municipal Art Society's "Atlantic Lots" images of what Brooklyn faces over the next several decades as Forest City Ratner slowly proceeds with his mega-monopoly. We updated the image with the Prokhorov/Ratner basketball arena. Original aerial photography of the yards by Jonathan Barkey.)

With apparently no compunction or sense of the appalling irony of it all, ESDC has gone into court swearing that they have given the time and thought necessary to compare the inexcusable Forest City Ratner Atlantic Yards project they endorse with that exemplar of large-scale development projects, Battery Park City.

For years we have been holding Battery Park City side-by-side with Atlantic Yards in order to stress by comparison what a bad large-scale project Atlantic Yards is. Even as recently as a few weeks ago we invoked the Battery Park City model when speaking with Senator Charles E. Schumer to make explicit why his continuing support for Atlantic Yards is misguided and sanctions unprecedented favoritism for a single developer mega-monopoly. (See: Wednesday, April 28, 2010, Schumer Says Atlantic Yards Area Is Not Blighted. Doesn’t See AY As A Ratner Mega-Monopoly, But Could His Support Wane?).

Atlantic Yards Report carried the story Monday that ESDC was attempting to invoke the inestimable good grace in which Battery Park City is held to counter the dismay provoked by Atlantic Yards documents that provide for the potential (some would say extreme likelihood ) that Atlantic Yards will involve“25 years of construction in Prospect Heights rather than the announced and promised ten years.” ESDC pointed to Battery Park City to argue that this wouldn’t be so bad and that presumably the promised 10 years should be considered no different from current 25 years provided for. Atlantic Yards Report’s Norman Oder pointed out that this embarrassingly little feint was despite the fact that there were some “key contrasts” between the projects. (See: Monday, May 03, 2010, The slow buildout at Battery Park City, according to the ESDC, serves as an acceptable example for Atlantic Yards. Except it doesn't.)

Actually 25 years might better be considered the new “promise” in place of the old 10 year promise. The real likelihood is that the Ratner’s mega-project will take 30 to 40 years if we heed former ESDC head Marisa Lago’s comparison of the time frame for the expected Atlantic Yards mega-project to Roosevelt Island’s progress which at 40 years and counting is still going on.

Atlantic Yards Report Identifies “Key Contrasts”

The Atlantic Yards Report listed the following “key “key contrasts” between the projects in italics below:

“Battery Park City is 92 acres, more than four times the 22-acre Atlantic Yards site, so the impact of staged development has been more attenuated.”

“It was built on a landfill, with no established neighborhood and longstanding street grid.” This, we should point out, means that there was no eminent domain abuse to seize and destroy recently renovated residences, historically valuable structures and thriving business. Destruction and eminent domain were also not being used to eliminate rival competing development. Tellingly, the approach to building Battery Park City was for each new site built upon to be immediately adjacent to, essentially laminated onto, already developed properties with development thereby taking advantage of, and continually flowing out from, a grid with existing buildings into never before developed areas. By contrast, the Atlantic Yards approach is to quickly and aggressively destroy and create a hole in the existing grid and then wait decades before filling it in again.

“At Battery Park City, large portions of the 36 acres of open space were built first, while with Atlantic Yards, the buildings would come first.” In other words the Battery Park City model involved an infrastructure-first approach to create immediate value in the area before bidding out the building sites.

“Battery Park City involves multiple developers and multiple parcels, rather than a single developer controlling one site, choosing to move forward as it sees fit, with light penalties and many excuses for delay.”
We Chime in With a Few More “Key Contrasts”

As a comment to the AYR post we offered some other distinctions not mentioned (whether they might have been implied or not- we are sorry if with the last two bullets we are a tad repetitious of what we slipped in above):
* The many multiple developers of Battery Park City also had to BID for the sites they were developing. The sites were put out to bid when the government wanted them developed and project readiness was a factor in the process so the public was getting what it specified it wanted in nearly immediate real-time terms. The public also gets top price by bidding out a prepared site among multiple developers ready and raring to go as opposed to having to take the steep discount for the land subjected to the presupposition that Forest City Ratner should get monopoly rights on property decades before being ready to proceed.

* As we previously pointed out, if all these acres were not already being handed to Forest City Ratner as a single-developer megadevelopment, the government could be putting people to work right now in the slow economy to prepare the site with infrastructure (including open space, if the design included any) just as was done at Battery park City. (See: Tuesday, April 27, 2010, Surprised? MTA Restructures the Hudson Yards Deal; Developer Cherry Picks More Benefit While Public Keeps the Risk.)

* Eminent domain abuse (and pretext of blight) was not being used to quash other naturally occurring, ongoing competing and desirable development.

* Lastly, a distinction nobody thinks about: In the case of Battery Park City the developer(s) selected for the sites to go forward did not own other immediately adjacent developable sites (outside the formally designated project) which will now lie fallow and undeveloped for many decades because of the preferential deal given to Ratner that helps him wipe out competition from neighboring property. Remember that together with property that Ratner previously acquired for development from the government Ratner owns and controls 30 contiguous acres of development rights on which he intends to have 20 towers, plus his malls plus his arena when (in forty or so years) he is done. (See: Wednesday, April 28, 2010, Schumer Says Atlantic Yards Area Is Not Blighted. Doesn't See AY As A Ratner Mega-Monopoly, But Could His Support Wane?.)
The List of“Key Contrasts” Goes On When We Think About It

To the above bulleted points let us add some more contrasts:
• The design of Battery Park City is carefully superb. It avoids (which Atlantic Yards doesn’t) the discredited tower-in-the park approach. (See: Tuesday, August 5, 2008, Two, and Fro? and Monday, September 22, 2008, Should a Teardrop be Shed- Considering the Burden?)
(Above, in the archaic and discredited superblock tradition, the two largest blocks above are comprised of what were previously five individual blocks. Even accommodating the insertion of the massive arena into the brownstone neighborhood there should still be at least four individual blocks and there is an attractive opportunity for there to be more than five blocks as suggested in the community's proposed UNITY plan which would probably be the case if this were fit into the grid of Battery park City.)

• It also shuns the superblocks embraced by the Atlantic Yards project for the wrong reason, see next bullet. (See again: Monday, September 22, 2008, Should a Teardrop be Shed- Considering the Burden?)

(Above, a generic rendering showing scale from the Municipal Art Society's Atlantic Lots. Original aerial photograph by Jonathan Barkey.)

• The reason that Atlantic Yards involves superblocks is so that by virtue of the city’s having given Forest City Ratner private possession of the city’s streets, sidewalks and avenues for free Ratner will be able to construct at an unprecedented higher density, a density that will be the densest area in North America. At almost twice the density of Battery park City (which has the relief of looking out at the Hudson) it does not constitute good planning. (Saturday, November 29, 2008, Jane Jacobs Atlantic Yards Report Card #4: Appropriate Density? NO.) Battery Park City doesn’t involve abrupt changes in density and scale from adjacent city areas to another with the density being piled onto the property owned by a politically-favored developer at the expense of neighbors deprived of the right to own property of a comparable density. (See: Friday, September 26, 2008 Weighing Scale.)

(Below, a rendering that shows the abrupt and huge change in scale density of Atlantic Yards as opposed to the surrounding community.)

• Battery Park City is about 40% parkland with 36 of its 92 acres devoted to park space. Atlantic Yards has no true comparable public park areas and some of the green roof area that was once considered to be part of its “park” or “green” space has been eliminated form the designs.

Will Justice Marcy Friedman Pay Attention to the “Key Contrasts”

In the best of worlds all of the above really ought to matter to the judge in the case. However, the comparison of Atlantic Yards is coming up specifically because ESDC is arguing that Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman should not order new more suitable environmental findings because of the change in time frames from the promised 10 years to the currently acknowledged 25 years (or the not yet officially unacknowledged 30 or 40). (This despite what Justice Friedman has already euphemistically termed ESDC’s “deplorable lack of transparency" with more of it having come recently to light.)

That means that what should matter most to Justice Friedman among the bulleted items are:
• those that relate to project readiness (like the way that Battery Park City proceeded by giving sites to developers ready to go, not those endeavoring to restrain competition), and

• issues concerning the ways that Atlantic Yards affects the livability in the city, like the way it is destroying an existing city fabric to replace it with nothing for decades.
(Above, the Prokhorov/Ratner basketball arena- aka "Barclays Arena" the first and only part of Ratner's mega-monopoly likely to be built in the near term which will be a very expensive net loss for the public.)

Does it matter from an environmental standpoint that the harm to the public is being done specifically to benefit the developer with no thought to benefiting the public? Because that is almost certainly what accounts for all the ways these two projects are so dramatically different from each other. This favoritism is the most key contrast of all.

(Below, two more photos Battery Park City.)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Mr. White, can you just briefly state why the initial IBO projection on the AY arena showed a net gain for the city, while the revised report in 2009 projected it as a net loss for taxpayers?

Did it mainly have to do with the economic conditions that existed in 2009 vis a vis 2005, which led the IBO to believe that there would be less events held and fewer tickets sold, ultimately resulting in lower tax revenue?