Thursday, January 12, 2006

Gateway Deadline for City Council

In today's NY Sun Jill Gardiner reports on the looming deadline faced by the City Council with the Gateway Mall application that was sent over from City Planning on December 22nd. As she points out, the project "could be the first litmus test for the newly constituted council." The key public issues of course revolve around the relocation of the BTM merchants and the desire of the developer to put BJ's into the mall.

While the Sun is reporting that the administration is optimistic about the chances for Gateway's approval, an optimism seconded by Councilman Joel Rivera, the issues facing the council are complex and, given the truncated time-frame, not easily resolved before the February 8th ULURP deadline. As we have been reporting, the most serious issue facing the council devolves from the mayor's usurpation of the City Council's Charter-mandated powers, a power grab that was unfortunately ratified by a misguided legal opinion.

The fact that the city made an end-run of the standard procedures for the transfer of public property means that the entire deal before the council lacks legitimacy. The lease transfer, done without appraisals or the benefit of a competitive bid may have, under the proper scrutiny, failed to pass muster from the standpoint of the public interest. That is precisely why those procedures were put in place when the Charter was written.

Some Further Interesting Observations

The Sun piece is not without a certain degree of comic relief – you just need to know where to look. For instance, the developer and the city are arguing that the project has "overwhelming support" from the borough's leaders. Well, this remains to be seen but what we already know is that a great deal of the putative support reflects that old Bronx aphorism, "Not for nothin'."

As the Daily News has highlighted the Related folks have been very busy spreading good cheer throughout the borough. In addition the Bronx BP, the project's biggest cheerleader, has also been treated royally by those very same special interests that the mayor excoriated in his campaign.

Of course if we want to deal in theological terms the special interest original sin, what we have called an "immaculate deception," was Related's miraculous entry into the BTM in the first place. The entire project, hot-wired and greased as it is, reeks of legal short-cuts and egregious special pleading.

One last point here. The Marino Organization, the former neighborhood boys gone uptown, is always good for a laugh. Their spokesman tells the Sun that "the council generally yields to elected officials that represent the area and noted [referring to our effort to excise BJ's from the project] that land-use approvals have nothing to do with the stores that occupy a site."

Is he kidding? This is the same Marino group that has colluded with some members of the Bronx delegation in an attempt to put BJ's back on Brush Avenue after that application was soundly defeated last year-- even though both local council members are opposed. And the character of the potential tenant has always been an issue, a point that was underscored when Wal-Mart ran into a buzzsaw last year in Rego Park, Queens.

The reality is that all of these issues will be played out in the coming weeks and there is nothing that is written in stone about the kind of outcome to expect from the process. We have learned over the years that it is better not to speculate and keep working on behalf of the cause we represent. Talk is really cheap.