Thursday, June 24, 2010

Rubber Stamping Flushing Commons

The Flushing Commons project was passed along by a supine City Planning Commission yesterday, with Chair Amanda Burden, managing to keep a straight face in praise of the white elephant-and, at the same time, sounding as if she were part of a hostage video. Crain’s reports: “The concept for the Flushing Commons project emerged from a community visioning and planning process that was initiated early in the Bloomberg Administration, which noted the void in the center of Flushing created by the large municipal parking lot,” said City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden in a statement. “This proposal is a prime example of the Administration's commitment to create economic opportunities throughout the five boroughs, and it exemplifies sustainable, transit-oriented development that capitalizes on Flushing's exceptional subway, bus and commuter rail access.”

The municipal lot is a void? We think that the location of the empty space is closer to Burden’s cerebellum-and the idea that the linchpin of Flushing’s business community is considered a void by this planning chairperson underscores the extent to which the Bloomberg administration is, well, devoid of any clear sustainable planning instincts. And what’s up with all of her transit hub nonsense?

Someone needs to send in Delta Force to rescue Amanda from her captivity before she really begins to sound totally incoherent. The 7 Train is above capacity and downtown Flushing is at a standstill because of existing traffic gridlock-but all Burden sees is, “community visioning,” whatever that may be. With the Bloombergistas it almost certainly doesn’t mean the active collaboration of any actual community. Community visioning is so much more effective without that local encumbrance anyway.

But if you listen carefully to the party line-and employ hermeneutics to interpret the message-you get a deeper understanding of how anti-neighborhood and anti-small business this fatuous group of elitists really are. But let the Mayor speak for himself: “The transformation of an underutilized five-acre parking lot into a mixed-use urban center will establish a new center of activity for this vibrant community,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a statement. “

The lifeblood of Flushing is now considered underutilized-but by eliminating the parking for the existing 900 businesses (since the project itself will absorb those spaces) you will certainly transform Flushing. But, as we have pointed out, it will be a transformation that will make the former graveyard site at 39th Street a truly symbolic historic artifact.

That is why the Flushing Coalition for Responsible Development was at city hall yesterday to protest the planning commission’s rubber stamping-and how weird is it that the commission abjures any contact with its commissioners while the item is being deliberated? In essence, then, we have EDC (operating as a lobbying entity) and the mayor’s office, orchestrating the planning commission vote, while opponents are left to three minute testimony before a somnambulant group of handpicked lackeys. What are they afraid of-that a commissioner might develop an independent thought?

But NY1 captured the mood of the press conference (view the entire story)-and in particular the pleas of Ikwan Rim, a local jeweler, and SJ Jung of the Minkwon Center, who talked about the importance of parking for the neighborhood retailers. Crain’s underscores these concerns-and highlights our own involvement as well: “Opponents of the project argue that it will hurt small businesses in the neighborhood. To help block the project, small business owners have hired lobbyist Richard Lipsky to assist their efforts. In a sign of how deep the divisions run in the area, earlier this month, Jim Gerson quit as chairman of the Flushing Business Improvement District to protest some of his board members' support of the project.”

Also attending the presser where two of the city’s leading advocates of a living wage-Bettina Damiani of Good Jobs NY, and Paul Sonn of National Employment Law Project (NELP). Both of them questioned the absence of a living wage in this subsidized development that is IDA eligible (kind of like a player to be named later). If Speaker Quinn can come to the steps of city hall to protest the low wage practices at Wal-Mart, then we wonder why she can’t look to be consistent on all development fronts. Poverty wages to replace mom and pop shops shouldn’t be part of any NYC economic development agenda.

The Coalition’s task is made more difficult because of the support for the project from the local council member Peter Koo. But Crain’s reports that Koo still may have some concerns that need to be addressed: “Mr. Koo has only expressed some concerns about parking and traffic; he has met with business owners to address their concerns and will have another meeting first week of July, said a spokesman. “Dialogue is open and we plan to help businesses during construction,” he said, adding that the city's Economic Development Corp. has set aside $2 million for small business assistance.”

But given the catastrophic potential impact of the project, a $2million set aside is really as effective as a roll of Charmin-and the pledge to, “work with the local merchants,” has the ring of, “work them over,” unless the real issues of parking and traffic are addressed. We’ll give ourselves the last word here by reprinting the Coalition’s alternative vision for the site:

WHAT MAKES SENSE: Alternatives to Unsustainable Development

1- Eliminate the retail/commercial portion of the project, which is the source of the gridlock.

2- Add back the previously agreed components of the project including the amount of parking and the cap on parking rates in order to save the small business community

3- Since the project will involve the conveyance of land at a below-market price and include other subsidies, require that the developer include a living wage in any of his leases.

4- Require a timetable with remedies to repossess the project in the event of default by the developer.

5- Alternatively: Require that the project be rebid after a thorough independent analysis of its effects and the needs of the community.