Thursday, September 15, 2005

Community Board versus the Community

Last night Bronx Planning Board #4 voted 21-2 to approve the application for Related’s Gateway Mall redevelopment. Though the result was unsurprising, it was interesting to see the contrast between the community’s and the board’s sentiments about the project.

During the public comment period, a number of questions were raised about the development including its lack of community inclusion, its potential harmful effect on air quality and asthma, and the deficiencies in the developer’s EIS. Except for a couple of representatives from the building trades, the overall response from the crowd was one of skepticism, concern and anger.

Despite this palpable sense of apprehension, the Board overwhelmingly voted in favor of the Gateway application. Sadly, a body that is supposed to represent its community instead unquestioningly moved ahead on a project that could potentially negatively impact upon its neighborhood. As we have commented before, this just underscores the problems with the ULURP process, one that, in theory, is supposed to increase democratic participation in development but in reality often shuts out the community.

Specifically, one has to wonder how many board members actually read the developer’s 500+ page EIS? Considering that the board only had a couple of weeks in which to review the application and considering that many had already made up their minds, the educated guess is that very few knew the important project details. Instead most voted yes based on superficial knowledge gleaned from a biased developer presentation or due to political pressure from Gateway-supporting elected officials.

It must be noted that there were some notable exceptions to this sad story. Land Use Chair Mary Blassingame and another board member (whose name escapes us right now) courageously voted no due to the credible, unanswered concerns they heard coming from the community. We hope that the City Council takes this into account and demands answers from Related prior to granting any approvals.