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"Why should people get to see plans? This isn't a public project."
Bruce Ratner in Crain's Nov. 8, 2009

Jeffries Rails Against Special Favors for Ratner

Norman Oder went to Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries' Town Hall meeting last night, and came back with the only press account of the meeting, on his Atlantic Yards Report. Mr. Jeffries, as Oder reports, held a meeting on bread and butter constituent issues, and when Atlantic Yards came up in the Q&A the Assemblyman took out his carving knife, calling for a completely new review of the entire project if the special tax provision for Forest City Ratner gets past Governor Spitzer's desk:
Jeffries calls AY carve-out "offensive"--and his base agrees

As a candidate last year, Hakeem Jeffries was a qualified supporter of Atlantic Yards. And as a freshman member of the State Assembly, he still welcomes the project’s affordable housing.

But Jeffries' posture has gotten tougher lately, and last night he delivered an eloquent criticism of the project, declaring that promised affordable housing was easily matched by government support for developer Forest City Ratner and that the “Atlantic Yards carve-out,” a tax break available only to the developer, was “offensive” because it promoted “economic segregation.” And his audience, responding to the notion of special treatment, seemed to agree.

(While the "carve-out" would treat the project differently, it also would preserve the project configuration as approved last year before revision of the tax break. So it’s a matter of perspective.)

Jeffries’ Town Hall meeting last night, "My First Six Months Serving You," was actually less about Atlantic Yards than about bread-and-butter constituent service. Jeffries, wielding the power of his position, brought officials from state housing and health agencies, and the city education department to the Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Clinton Hill to address his base.

And while Jeffries, a local guy done good, may be a former corporate lawyer who wears cufflinks, that base, at least from the 100-person crowd last night, is mostly working- and middle-class black folk. The yuppies (of whatever color) who’ve bought the luxury condos popping up in Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, and environs were in scarce supply.

The AY issue

But it didn’t take Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, one of the few Atlantic Yards activists in the audience, to raise the Atlantic Yards issue. It was a black woman of a certain age, who, speaking with dismay more than outrage, crystallized the issues that have emerged in the interregnum since the project was approved last December.

“Bruce Ratner has gotten lots and lots of money from the city and the state, with no guarantee that there will be affordable housing,” she said, also questioning whether “he’s going to ameliorate the congestion that is bound to be caused by that many people coming into the community. It’s a real concern… Can you update us on that?”
After a detailed primer on the 421-a property tax and the reform bill passed by the legislature, Jeffries went to the special provision in the bill for Forest City Ratner:
Then Jeffries got to the Atlantic Yards "carve-out," deeming the episode “one of those things you find out when you’re in Albany.” He noted: “I don’t really find out until the law has been amended, this provision has been negotiated to treat Atlantic Yards differently than any other project in New York City. I finally found out about five or ten minutes before the reporters started calling.”

“Of course I’m a little bit annoyed. I voted against that particular bill, 9293, the carve-out provision, because I’m of the view, consistent with your question, that enough subsidy has already been given to this developer. There’s absolutely no reason to treat this project any more favorably than any other project that’s being built. So subsequent to voting against this, we [he and State Senator Velmanette Montgomery] sent a letter to the developer, saying ‘you need to comply with the law as it applies to everybody else."

"'And anything short of you complying with the law—Bruce Ratner, Forest City Ratner—anything short of you doing that, means to me, that the government should review completely the entire merits of this project.’ Because the project was sold to us in large part as one that would bring needed affordable housing to our community. But you can’t on the one hand sell it to us as a project that’s going to bring affordable housing to the community and on the other hand, at the eleventh hour, negotiate a special provision where you get treated differently than everyone else in the city.”

“And how is he being treated differently? The most offensive way, to me—to his credit, the developer has agreed, as it relates to the rental units, to do 50% of the rental units affordable. He should be credited with that. What they said to me was, ‘We have this dramatic rental agreement, so that should be enough. We shouldn’t really have to comply with the law as it relates to the luxury condominiums.’”

Honing in

Then Jeffries took it up a notch, if not to the passionate level of Council Member Letitia James (a project opponent who endorsed Jeffries’ opponent, Bill Batson, but was in the audience last night), but with a definite edge.

“And my view was, yeah, this is an extraordinary thing, that you made 50% of the units affordable. But there were extraordinary steps that were taken by government to make this project happen,” he declared. The audience began murmuring call-and-response agreement.

“The state gave $100 million. The city gave $200 million. They waived the ULURP process. You don’t have to comply with the zoning requirements, so you can build ten, 15, 20 stories higher than anybody else, making additional money. And beyond all that, you have the ability to use the extraordinary power of eminent domain. So, your 50/50 deal is extraordinary, and there were extraordinary things that the government did in return. So as far as I’m concerned, that deal is done, signed, sealed, and delivered, let’s deal with the future.”

Several people clapped.

(Note that the 50/50 program, more precisely a 50/30/20 program of market, middle- and low-income housing, is a city subsidy program available to other developers, and other developers who participate don’t get the private rezoning and extra subsidies that Forest City Ratner has been promised for Atlantic Yards.)

“And as far as I’m concerned, you can’t have a condominium building going up in the Atlantic Yards project where, if it went up in any other part of the 57th Assembly District, that developer would have to build 20% of those units affordable to people in the community. But because of the Atlantic Yards carve-out, he doesn’t have to do that. And I just think that that’s wrong. And so I’m fightin’ it. The city and Mayor Bloomberg, to his credit—he’s been a big supporter of this project--is working closely with me and has said to the developer, ‘If you don’t comply with the law, we’re holding $100 million of the money that we promised to you back.’” More claps.

Jeffries identified the tax break as being worth up to $175 million, as initially reported; city officials have also said the value is closer to the $300 million.

Economic segregation?

“On the one hand, the developer sold to us the notion, as it relates to the 50/50 housing, that there would be no economic segregation. That’s a good thing," he pointed out. "In the law, they negotiated a provision that would allow them to have all luxury condominiums and still get the tax break.”
Full article.

Posted: 7.25.07
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Eminent Domain Case
Goldstein et al v. ESDC
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November 24, 2009
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