Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sins of Commission

As the NY Times reports this morning the City Planning Commission, continuing its long standing record of kneeling slavishly at the feet of the mayor, has voted 8-4 to approve the land use application for the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory. At this juncture we're not sure whether or not Commission chair Burden was able to alter the project by adding at least two or three extra trees to the outside facade.

Still, the four No votes are noteworthy-an indication perhaps that the support for the development isn't rack solid; and going over to the city council, the eventual fate of the plan is up in the air. As the Times indicates, the opposition is gearing up: "But the development has many detractors, among them Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. and a coalition of labor, religious and local groups. They argue Related should promise employees a “living” wage, allow workers to form a union and provide community space on the site, among other demands. The vote was 8 to 4, with one member of the commission, Maria M. Del Toro, having recused herself from the vote. Dozens of protesters holding placards — “Say no way to poverty pay” — packed the room."

Burden, for her part, continues to give evidence of fuzzyheadedness-transforming herself from an informed and skeptical critic at last month's hearing into a loyal cheerleader explaining why she is now following her marching orders: "The armory project “represents the most significant private investment in the northwest Bronx in generations,” Amanda Burden, a planning commissioner, said before she voted in favor of the development."

But, of course, it is the nature of the public side of the investment in the Armory that has roiled the opponents-from the supermarket owners peeved at the use of close to hundred million tax dollars to put their investments at risk; to the living wage proponents who believe that when this kind of public investment is made, people need to be provided with decent wage jobs: "Related has been offered extensive subsidies and tax incentives for the project, including more than $40 million in federal and state historic tax credits. The city also spent $30 million to replace the roof. Under the terms of the proposed deal, Related will pay $5 million for the property, which is a landmark."

How Burden is able to elide this elephant in her Reade Street room is a subject for her analyst. But, the living wage issue will soon become front and center-and its presence in the debate will throw into some relief the question of just how much good the Bloomberg investment and development strategy really is. As NY1 reports: ""I am not kidding around. There are too many young people and families suffering in the Bronx," said Heidi Hynes of the Northwest Bronx Community Coalition. "This plan they are putting forward is not good for the Bronx. We demand good jobs for the Bronx." "The fact still remains these jobs are not allowing for Bronx families to get themselves out of poverty, to support their families, to pay for their kids to go to college, to pay for a mortgage," Diaz Jr. said."

And the controversy will not be easily resolved-as Councilman Oliver Koppell reminds NY1: "There has to be some serious negotiation on issues raised by the community and the labor movement before I am ready to vote," said City Councilman G. Oliver Koppell." And we still haven't even discussed the fate of the proposed supermarket-an inclusion in the project that has garnered the opposition of all Bronx council members.

Clearly, the entire Armory project has raised serious concerns-ones that will be complicated by the leadership struggle that will certainly take place as the speaker attempts to engineer a second term at the head of the council. And the growing opposition of labor may prove to be the key here. As the Times tells us: "On the other side, presidents of five of the city’s largest labor unions recently sent letters to City Council members urging them to demand a living-wage pledge, while Richard Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., visited the armory last month to offer his support."

The battle lines are drawn-ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. This is going to heat up pretty soon.