Sunday, May 15, 2005

ULURP and the Bronx Terminal Market II

We have begun the process of evaluating the Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS) on the proposed Gateway Project at the gravesite of the Bronx Terminal Market. As we have already mentioned, the Related Companies is pushing to have this project citified as early as June. Indications are, however, that City Planning is not quite satisfied with the early traffic analysis done by the developer’s consultants, making early certification problematic.

The Economic Development Corporation held a public scoping session for the Gateway EAS on September 9, 2004. What an absolute joke! By now, EDC is certainly aware that a box store development of this kind is assured of generating significant business, labor and community opposition. What did the agency do to insure that all potential stakeholders were made aware of the of the environmental review process?

The only possible answer: very little. What generally happens, in the combined interest of secrecy, speed and expediency, is that notices are put into papers with as little fanfare as possible. The agency and the developer, stable mates from the beginning, are not interested in a comprehensive vetting process. There are, for instance, close to fifty independent neighborhood supermarkets and three regional chain supermarkets within the trade area of this project. Why not attempt to notify them and give them an opportunity to become involved in a review process for a project that will undoubtedly impact their livelihoods?

We’re definitely going to delve into this question some more but just a cursory evaluation underscores our earlier comments about the shortcomings of ULURP. Developers and their agency acolytes want to have the greatest possible freedom from scrutiny while they develop self-serving data that time and time again minimizes project impacts. As a result, once the ULURP clock is started, there is a race conducted in a hyper atmosphere where deliberation becomes virtually impossible.

The Gateway Project is over a million square feet of retail. Good public policy should have mandated that EDC conduct a series of public hearings that:

1) Outlined Related’s vision for the site

2) Clearly delineated who has been signed up as a tenant for the project

3) Gave all potential stakeholders an ability to not only testify but to also develop data to aid in the deliberation process

Who Attended the Scoping Meeting?

Aside from the participation of Community Board #4, only 5 people attended the scoping session (see page 2). More significantly, no businesses or their representatives who may be impacted by the project were informed. Neither were the labor unions whose members are employed in a great many of the local supermarkets.

Why is this Significant?

When Related’s consultant examines employment impact, how well will they evaluate collateral damage? Will we know, for instance, how many of the Gateway box stores are non-union? Will potential store closings be evaluated with an eye toward estimating the impact of the replacement of union labor with non-union labor? Will the ethnic composition of the competing stores be examined in order to evaluate if store closings will result in the replacement of immigrant entrepreneurs with out-of-town big box stores?

Loss of Local Retail and Wholesale Business

As we have examined in our report on the proposed Brush Avenue BJ’s, local business has a multiplier effect so that dollars are re-circulated with local suppliers and professionals. What will be the impact of Gateway on this variable? In particular, box stores like Wal-Mart and BJ’s will bypass local distribution channels. What will this mean for our wholesale markets at Hunts Point?

Warning to EDC and City Planning

The Department of City Planning and the EDC are running the same risk that they did when they tried to hotwire the proposed BJ’s development on Brush Avenue. We warn them that they shouldn’t make the same mistake again. Instead they must be more responsive to all concerned. To wit:

1) Don’t certify this project before a full public review of Gateway is conducted in a Bronx hearing sponsored by your agencies

2) Make the applicant publicly identify its tenants

Question on the House of Detention

One last question: How does a ULURP proceed on a piece of property that doesn’t appear to have been legally transferred to the developer?