Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bloomberg a private property rights champion, when it's convenient

New York City is known for rigidly regulating the location and specifications of buildings within its jurisdiction. But officials of the City That Never Sleeps have suddenly turned into extreme libertarians about protecting the religious and property rights of the prospective owners of the Ground Zero mosque. That's the $100 million, 15-story mosque scheduled to be built one block from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. The city's Landmark Preservation Committee eagerly approved the GZM application, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has dismissed as religious bigots all who disagree with that decision.

Could these same defenders of every Muslim man's right to build a mosque wherever he owns property be the same ones who previously had no qualms about seizing private property to redevelop Times Square, condemning small businesses for a $6.3 billion expansion of Columbia University, or confiscating another parcel on Sixth Avenue to make way for Bank of America? Is this the same Bloomberg who led the successful opposition to a recent state legislative proposal to limit local officials' ability to use eminent domain against private property owners? Surely it was a different Bloomberg who claimed that the Empire State Development Corp. should be able to force the sale of property for any "civic purpose."

Read more at the Washington Examiner.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Traffic hearing must be rescheduled

Letter in this week's Times Ledger:

In addition to the loss of hundreds of small businesses and the jobs of thousands of employees and their dependents, the proposed Willets Point project also involves the general public, whose daily lives will be affected by the huge increase in the volume of vehicular traffic on the Grand Central Parkway and the Van Wyck Expressway.

Suffice it to say, the Willets Point businesses and their employees and the general public are entitled to a full and fair discussion of the issues, something the Bloomberg administration and the city Economic Development Corp. have sought to avoid. They are now joined by state Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Martin Dilan (D-Brooklyn), who announced the cancellation of a much-awaited and -needed meeting to consider the traffic concerns the proposed project will generate (“State cancels Willets meet,” TimesLedger Newspapers, April 12).

Dilan’s claim that the meeting was cancelled because of an “unavoidable scheduling conflict” without even describing the claimed conflict and rescheduling an early date is patent political nonsense. An investigation is called for to determine the real reason and at whose request the meeting was cancelled. The public is entitled to no less.

Benjamin M. Haber

Friday, August 20, 2010

Round one goes to the City

Justice Joan Madden's decision was handed down today with regard to Willets Point United's article 78 challenge of the City's Environmental Impact Statement. She has ruled in favor of the City of New York. Our official statement is after the judge's decision below.

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"This decision is a two-edged sword for the City. It dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the environmental impact statement adequately disclosed the project’s impacts. But in so doing, it stressed the terrible traffic effects forecast by the EIS; the need for federal approval for the Van Wyck ramps; and the fact that if the ramps are not approved, the project cannot go forward. It will be interesting to see how the City will now back away from its recent claims that the project wouldn’t be so bad for traffic after all. The City can’t paint one picture to the court and a completely different picture to the federal government." - Attorney Michael Gerrard of the law firm Arnold and Porter, representing Willets Point United.

Friday, August 13, 2010

State DOT unhappy with EDC's made-up traffic stats

From the NY Times:

Even as the Bloomberg administration promotes the $3 billion development of Willets Point in Queens as one of its signature projects, state officials whose approval is needed have privately raised concerns over highway ramps crucial to the proposal and have questioned whether the development will ever get off the ground.

State officials have repeatedly expressed frustration with the city’s inability to provide reliable information and the pressure it was placing on them to expedite their analysis, according to a review of hundreds of e-mails involving the Willets Point project that were provided to The New York Times by an opponent of the project.

Michael Bergmann, a structural engineer for the State Department of Transportation who was part of the team reviewing the city’s application, wrote to the department’s regional director and other colleagues on Dec. 28: “Unless the preparers of this report start accepting the idea that it is seriously flawed, we are going nowhere.”

About a month later, after pointing out a mistake in a document that put the development’s completion date as 2107 instead of 2017, Peter King, a project manager for the state, wrote to a colleague, “Perhaps that reference to 2107 may have been closer to the truth than anyone realizes.”

By that point, the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which was overseeing the project, was pushing state officials to finish their work so that the ramps, which would connect Willets Point to the Van Wyck Expressway, could move on to the final stage of approval by the Federal Highway Administration.

Several months later, state officials did not seem very optimistic about the project’s future.

“If I were a betting man, I’d start dropping the odds regarding success for E.D.C. on this project,” Mr. King said in an e-mail to a state transportation analyst on May 11. “Resistance seems to be building.”

He was reacting in part to a group of business and property owners in Willets Point who had organized an effort to try to derail the project. As part of that, the opponents had filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the State Transportation Department seeking copies of all communications on the plan, hoping to pry open a behind-the-scenes bureaucratic process the public often knows very little about.

They also were hoping the e-mails would provide fodder for their campaign. The messages — about 200 from May 2007 to May 2010, among State Transportation Department staff members, federal highway officials, city officials and private consultants — show the state’s concern about the safety, design and traffic impact of the ramps.

What seems unusual is the annoyance state regulators expressed with the work of the consultants hired by the city to work on the ramps’ design. The consultants submitted numerous written responses and clarifications to questions and sat with the regulators in several meetings, but still failed to satisfy them, the messages show.

This NY Times article scratches the surface, but does not describe how the involved agencies are rigging the process to ensure approval of ramps. The article also lets EDC spokesperson David Lombino get away with remarking that EDC routinely collaborates to optimize projects, which is contrary to information found in the responses to our FOIL requests.

But don't worry...more is coming to set the record straight!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

EDC afraid of allowing the sun to shine in

From the Daily News:

...some land owners - bitter over a cancelled state hearing on the project scheduled for this week - said a controversial ramp project for the Van Wyck Expressway should red light the plan.

"We could be at the beginning of a long process," said Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for the local business owners' group, Willets Point United. "This deal can't be done behind closed doors."

Some business owners had hoped to use the state Senate hearing as a platform to call for an independent review of the plan.

The meeting was to be chaired by state Sen. Martin Malave Dilan (D-Brooklyn), head of the Transportation Committee. It was cancelled two days after it was planned because of a scheduling conflict, a Dilan spokesman said.

"It's disappointing to us and mysterious that it was cancelled within 48 hours [of being scheduled]," said Lipsky...

Dozens of land owners in the so-called Iron Triangle are also calling for more transparency in conversations between the city Economic Development Corp. and state Department of Transportation as they try to hammer out an environmental assessment of building on- and off-ramps near Citi Field.

"There's too cozy a relationship," Lipsky charged of the two agencies.

Still, the city doesn't expect plans to redevelop the area to be hindered in any way.

The EDC plans to submit the environmental assessment by early next month, sources said.

The plans will then go under public review to create a revised Access Modification Report - a detailed summary of the project. It must be approved by both the state DOT and the Federal Highway Administration.

The EDC obviously is scared of allowing the public to hear and see what has been going on behind closed doors. We're here to lift the veil.

Stay tuned, this is going to get good.