Friday, July 11, 2008

Pointing to Disaster?

In yesterday' Observer Real Estate Blog, Eliot Brown takes a look at the gathering storm that is Willets Point. He concludes that the jury is out whether the Bloombergistas can get this development to the ULURP finish line: "The road to approving a mega-project in New York City often follows a similar formula, with a months-long political dance carried out between the city or developer and local member/members of the City Council. Last-minute compromises and agreements are routine, and once a project starts the city's land-use approval process, defeats are almost without precedent. However, the dynamic surrounding the planned redevelopment of Willets Point is proving far less simple than the typical fare, as both observers and those involved seem genuinely unsure as to how the Council will ultimately vote on the project."

The sticking point? Why our good friend Hiram Monseratte, of course. Hiram type cast as a gadfly and an obstructionist has played himself into contention as a potential title holder; having amassed considerable support in the Council for a No vote. As Brown points out: "A majority of the Council, led by local Councilman Hiram Monserrate, publicly opposed the city's move to start the rezoning process three months ago. And while the Bloomberg administration has won some victories recently--the community board endorsed the plan; the city has reached acquisition deals with three property owners; and organized labor now supports the project--Mr. Monserrate and others still express clear opposition to the project as currently planned."

Brown also indicates that the Speaker may be weakened so that the normal bogarting role of the leader may not be as effective with this project. To which we would add that the "pig-in-a-poke" nature of the ULURP sans developer does directly challenge the institutional authority of the Council: " atypical approval structure whereby the city selects a developer post-rezoning..." This is something that may also come back to haunt the ULURP efforts in East Harlem that we've referred to in the past.

So Willets rezoning has along way to go, and if Hiram has his way the Council will get a deserved second bite at the apple-a thumbs up or down on the developer after the city makes its choice (something that should be emulated for the East Harlem and 127th Street site as well). Here's what Hiram told the Observer:

"Developer Approval--The plan currently calls for the city first to rezone the land with Council approval and then select a developer (the city believes it has to go this route to comply with eminent domain law). Mr. Monserrate and others, including the Land Use Committee's chairwoman, Melinda Katz, have expressed concerns with this structure. (The Council often wrests concessions from a developer, and without a second approval round, would be unable to have much say in the final plan.) "It has to come back to the Council," he said. "We are the check and balance system in city government."

That's a good standard to uphold, here and any where else. Once the land is re-zoned the council is sidelined with nothing else to say on a land use question; a bad precedent indeed.