Sunday, April 22, 2007

Gateway Estates and Wal-Mart: Challenge to "Sustainable Development"

The proposed expansion of the original Gateway Estates Mall in East New York received a bit of public attention last week when the Brooklyn Courier reported that Wal-Mart was a potential tenant of the expanded retail space. As noteworthy and objectionable as this possibility may be, it occludes the sleeziness of the way in which the Related Companies has proceeded in this entire venture.

The original 1996 development that was approved, stipulated that 2,385 units of new housing was to be built with the financing to come from proceeds of the huge adjacent retail mall. Subsequently, the Related Companies bought the commercial component, leaving the residential piece totally in limbo. Related, when asked about the residential development, stated that it had nothing to do with any residential development.

Now, over a decade later, and with the Gateway Mall generating millions of dollars in profits for Related, an huge expansion is in land use review. The new project, with a greatly expanded box store component, now pledges that the housing units that were never built as promised, will be included in the expansion; but the financing will be done exclusively with public funds.

This has got to be one of the great bait and switches of all time (Where's DCA when you need it?). Not only that, it also needs to be pointed out that Related, a recognized "favored nation" in this city, was awarded the Gateway expansion without the benefit of any competitive bidding. A reward for the failure to fulfill the original housing pledge perhaps?

What's even worse is the fact that an analysis of the original traffic study will show that, surprise, surprise, it severely underestimated the number of cars that the mall would generate, a failure that the current DEIS proudly replicates. The current project will double the amount of traffic on the Belt as well as on local roads, the equivalent of approximately seven Wal-Mart super centers.

Which brings us to the mayor's about face on carbon dioxide emissions, and the concomitant need to reduce traffic in the city. The expanded Gateway development will generate approximately 40,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually, violating the mayor's commitment to reduce these emissions by 30% by 2030.

Similarly the city's gift to Related of the Bronx Terminal Market will create another auto dependent mall that hurts local shopping areas and increases CO2 emissions, in the part of the city known as "asthma alley." This has been the pattern of economic development throughout the mayor's first five years so it is just a bit glaring to witness the public Al Goring of Mike Bloomberg.

If the mayor is really serious he would, Wal-Mart or no Wal-Mart, stop the Gateway development in its track, and greatly revise the projected malling of Willets Point. Mayor Mike needs to figure out that the nurturing of neighborhood business needs to be part of any sustainable development for the year 2030.