We always knew that the Atlantic Yards project would afford The Brooklyn Paper with many occasions over the next 30 years to say, “We told you so.”
We just didn’t expect to get them so soon.
The latest occasion was generated by outgoing Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, who publicly admitted this week to one of the Bloomberg Administration’s signature failures.
In an interview in the New York Observer, Doctoroff finally said what this newspaper and Atlantic Yards opponents have been saying for four years: the largest project in Brooklyn’s history should have gone through the city’s normal — and rigorous — land-use review procedure rather than being handed off to a state business development agency with little interest in local concerns.
Community input is at the heart of the city’s Uniform Land-Use Review Procedure, a jargony name for an eight-month public vetting that empowers affected community boards, the borough president, local councilmembers, the city Planning Commission and the full City Council to hold hearings, analyze projects and exact real concessions from developers who want zoning changes or land-use variances that will earn them countless millions of dollars.
In the past, such as during the rezoning of the Williamsburg and Greenpoint waterfront in 2005 or during the negotiations over Donald Trump’s Riverside South project in the early 1990s, ULURP hearings and negotiations led to substantial positive changes. Trump, for example, wanted to build the world’s tallest building on the Upper West Side, but was forced to downsize that out-of-scale dream and pony up millions to fix the 72nd Street subway station, whose overcrowded conditions would be exacerbated by all his new residents.
There is no question that if Atlantic Yards had gone through ULURP, many of the project’s worst excesses — its massive scale, its overly generous public subsidies, its use of eminent domain — would have been softened.
At the very least, developer Bruce Ratner would have been forced to pay far more than $100 million for development rights to the Vanderbilt Yards — air rights that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority itself had valued at $214 million (what irony: the agency is now trying to close a $115-million budget deficit with a fare hike!).
Doctoroff’s change of heart on Atlantic Yards is less than a stunning surprise, given that the Bloomberg Administration is finally engaging a local community on the West Side as a result of its failed plan to ram a football stadium down that community’s throat. This time around, the plan for building over those MTA-controlled rail yards will go through ULURP.
It’s too bad Doctoroff and others didn’t see the value of the city’s own land-use review process earlier. Brooklyn’s biggest development project — and the people of the borough — would have benefited greatly.