Monday, January 02, 2006

Getting Out of the Gateway

It is now literally post time for the Related Company's controversial Gateway Mall project on the site of the current Bronx Terminal Market. As a result of the conscious timing of Related's attorney, Jesse James Masyr, this project was certified in July enabling it to avoid any real discussion or scrutiny by Community Board #4. In addition, the timing of the certification insured that the development would be sent to the City Council late in December (the 22nd to be exact).

What this all means is that the normal 50 day City Council review period has been severely truncated. Two weeks have already been lost and another week will go by before Council reorganization will permit hearings on the complex development to go forward. As a result, the largest project in Bronx history, one that has drawn the critical attention of the NY Times, the Daily News, El diary and Newsday, will undergo only three weeks of Council review.

This is utterly unacceptable. The project needs to be examined carefully from a number of critical perspectives. In the first place, the Council needs to evaluate the nature of the deal itself. The full dimensions of this project transcend the narrow parameters of ULURP. The Council needs to review the financial transaction that led to the transfer of the market lease to the Related Company to determine whether it is in the city's interest to proceed with the development, or whether it makes more sense to turn down the deal (pay Related its sweetheart $40 million bounty) and demand that the property be put out to bid.

In the second place, the question of the propriety of the eviction of the merchants needs to be examined. What we have here is the callous disregard by EDC of the interests of minority food wholesalers who, at the time of the city's ill considered action, were employing 500 workers and doing $500 million a year in business. In addition, the current ULURP plan has made no provisions for the relocation of these wholesale businesses, something that the Council needs to address.

Than there is the ever present Wal-Mart factor. Related has purposefully hidden who will tenant the Gateway Mall. There are five anonymous box stores slated for the site but if the land is re-zoned there will be no way for anyone to restrict a Wal-Mart or a BJ's from the development. The Council, if it is concerned about responsible employers, needs to send a strong message that this kind of stealth zoning won't be acceptable. Related's disingenuousness must be ended.

Finally, we come to the nature and quality of the ULURP process for this questionable development. As we have pointed out, the consultants on this project have eggregiously underestimated the traffic and economic impacts of the mall. There is simply no way for the Council to accept a traffic analysis that Brian Ketcham has called the worst he has seen in thirty years.

And what is the Council to make of an economic impact study that determines that the largest food store to ever be built in the Bronx (three times larger than Pathmark) will not effect the retail business of any supermarket in the Bronx or Upper Manhattan? All of this self-serving clap-trap deserves to be unceremoniously sent back as grossly deficient if the Council is to fairly fulfill its oversight role.

The City Council and the new Speaker has an opportunity to establish, right off the bat, that it will not only be taking its oversight role seriously but that it will also be looking to redefine what is now an outdated and inadequate land use review. Gateway offers just the right kind of challenge for this task.