Monday, April 21, 2008

Pointing in the Wrong Direction

According to Eliot Brown's post at the Observer's web site, the city is preparing to certify the Willets Point redevelopment today against the wishes of the City Council that has the job of approving the massive project. This appears to us as one really bad move. As Brown points out: "The Bloomberg administration is plowing forward on its plan to redevelop the industrial area next to Shea Stadium, as it intends to start the rezoning process on Monday despite objections from the City Council. “We have asked them not to certify Monday,” said Melinda Katz, chairwoman of the City Council’s land use committee. “My feeling is that there are a lot of outstanding issues.”

So what's going on with this? The council, embroiled in its own external and internal turmoil, doesn't appear to be amenable to letting this project move forward without any designated developer or any concrete development plan. It would be allowing the administration carte blanche in deciding what will go into the area; and with so many Queens polls running for new offices in the borough this appears to be a gigantic waste of time and resources.

As Brown points out: "The decision to jump into the seven-month approval process without the blessing of the Council suggests a rising anxiety among members of the Bloomberg administration, which has 18 months left in office and a slew of large development projects left to implement. The vast majority of rezonings that start the approval process make it to the conclusion with approval from the Council, and should the city ultimately see defeat on its Willets Point plan, it would surely be a high-profile rejection."

So why do it? Apparently because it believes that the pressure of ULURP will expedite the negotiations: "Thus the city seems to be of the mind that by pushing ahead, with a deadline of November before the City Council must approve or deny the plans, they can hasten a resolution of the outstanding issues. “The administration has taken the position that they just want to start the clock and get the progress moving,” said Councilman Hiram Monserrate, who represents the area."

Given a lame duck mayor, and a speaker who's seen her power eroded by the slush scandals, this approach is fraught with difficulty-and it appears to us that it will be added to the list of major Bloomberg development blunders: "Both Mr. Monserrate and Ms. Katz have a long list of concerns with the plan as it stands right now, and neither professed confidence that they could all be resolved in the next seven months. Chief among them, in addition to the use of eminent domain, is affordable housing—the city has committed to mandate that 20 percent of the apartments be affordable, though the Council and advocates want more. Also at issue is the selection of a private developer—by rezoning the area first, the Council allows the city to select a developer of its choosing, without any oversight from the Council."

Unlike the Bronx Terminal Market, where local pols abdicated their responsibilities to proclaim their obeisance to developer largess, Willets Point will be the mayor's swan song-an epitaph to his political skills and negotiating acumen. In the years to come, in order to examine the mayor's body of work we're gonna have to exhume it.