Wednesday, July 12, 2006

One Down One to Go

Last night the Yonkers City Council approved, by a 5-2 vote, the zoning permissions necessary to build the controversial Ridge Hill Village development. The approval came after a three year battle waged by those civic groups closest to the project. As to be expected the concerns rested on the traffic impacts of the $600 million mixed use development.

The Alliance's Richard Lipsky has been working with the developer, Forest City Ratner, in an effort to develop a grass roots support for the plan. As a result, a coalition of parents and teacher groups did come together in support for Ridge Hill. These groups were motivated not only by the opportunity that the project presented to significantly increase badly needed tax revenues for the City of Yonkers, but also by the developer's commitment to become a stakeholder for the improvement of Yonkers schools.

What this demonstrated is that grass roots lobbying is a tool that can be used both for and against a development and real estate firms need to learn to use this vehicle to insure political support for their developments. If done correctly, and assuming that there are enough public benefits in the project, this kind of effort can be not only effective but can legitimately be a vehicle to underscore how a development benefits a wider public (especially when a nearby community group that is opposed to the plan gets a great deal of media attention).

What struck us in this battle was the peculiar nature of Yonkers politics. Standard methods and expectations seemed to be absent and strategies needed to be constantly revised. A great deal of credit needs to go to the united front presented by all of the organized labor groups in Yonkers. Their presence was an essential countervailing force to the determined civic opposition. Also kudos to FCRC's Bruce Bender who showed the foresight to put all these forces together.

That is why we were bemused to watch the News 12 Westchester report on last night's meeting. The television reporter claimed that, "While a few people did voice positive opinions, they were largely booed by those in attendance." This is as far from the truth as possible since at least 75% of those at the meeting were supporters of Ridge Hill. In fact the real story was how small a turnout the despirited opposition was able to bring to their last hurrah (Only 100 people in all came out and if there was any booing it was mostly the union folks supplying the passion).

What this all means is that the City of Yonkers will be able to move forward with a badly needed redevelopment plan. We expect that FCRC will move quickly to take a role in the education battles on behalf of Yonkers school kids that certainly lie ahead. When this happens an even greater win-win for Yonkers will become a reality.