Wednesday, March 18, 2009

DCP Addresses Supermarket Gap

In a post last week that we were derelict in not citing, the Observer's Eliot Brown details the city's draft supermarket stimulus proposal: "Amanda Burden thinks the city needs more C-Towns. Boiled down a bit, that is the essence of a Bloomberg administration initiative in the planning stages for many months now to boost the city’s stock of supermarkets, particularly in poorer neighborhoods. The administration believes as many as three million New Yorkers live in neighborhoods it considers to be underserved by grocery stores, and is developing ways to encourage their production, aiming to boost health and encourage job growth."

This is, of course, an issue that we have been hectoring the city on for the better part of two decades-and have we've said, the city's current draft plan is a welcome first step in devising a sound promotion and preservation strategy. So what does the plan envision?

According to Brown: "Based on recommendations from a study completed last fall and a draft of new policies shared with grocery industry executives, it is clear that the Bloomberg administration intends to loosen zoning rules and offer tax incentives to boost the development of new supermarkets. The draft of policies—which the Planning spokeswoman stressed were not yet complete and are subject to change—proposed both land use incentives and tax incentives for supermarkets in certain neighborhoods."

So who could object? Well, perhaps that habitual naysayer might find the plan wanting: "Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents grocery store workers, said the draft policies were a “good step,” but do not go far enough to counter the forces that are continually shuttering grocery stores citywide. “The more compelling policy issue is the disappearance of existing stores,” he said. He also urged the city to prioritize grocery store uses when selling off city-owned land, which was one of the Planning Department’s own recommendations last fall."

Which brings us to the question of the Kingsbridge Armory-where the developer Related has been given tax incentives to redevelop the structure with a retail mall; and there's a good chance it will seek to put a food use into the facility. As the NY Daily News reported yesterday: "With the city approving millions in tax breaks for the Kingsbridge Armory redevelopment, community groups are now hoping to claim some of that public largess through a community benefits agreement. The city Industrial Development Agency voted Wednesday to give $17 million in tax breaks to the Related Companies to redevelop the armory, over the objections of a local coalition and representatives of City Controller William Thompson and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Both had sought to delay the agency's decision on tax credits until after Related signed an agreement."

Good for the community coalition; if the developer's gonna get the cash from the tax payers-just like AIG?-it will have to give back to the community. But that's not the only issue here. What the $17 million of tax incentives underscores is that, should a food use be proffered for the site, it would in essence be providing that food use with a subsidy to compete against the local supermarket that has occupied the site across the street for over 50 years!

So the Armory fight highlights the weakness of the DCP draft supermarket stimulus plan; and by ignoring existing markets, the current plan might actually increase the efflux of supermarkets from local neighborhoods. But, as the planning department says, this is still a work in progress: "The Planning Department spokeswoman, Rachaele Raynoff, said the initiative is a work in progress. It’s something where we need to hear from people in different areas what their concerns and objectives are, and incorporate that as we go forward,” she said."

And here from us she will-especially as the Battle of Kingsbridge begins to heat up. After all, a local market that serviced a neighborhood for years, without the benefit of any tax or zoning benefits, doesn't deserve to have its business threatened by a city policy designed to promote supermarkets.