Our worries were unfounded, and DDDB should be worried about us. We got this totally wrong. The federal eminent-domain suit against Ratner — brought by DDDB, charging that the Atlantic Yards project violates the U.S. Constitution, captioned Goldstein v. Pataki — goes on. This was a state suit filed by eleven rent-stabilized tenants, charging that they were given inadequate compensation to move, and it was dismissed only on a jurisdictional issue. Apologies to everyone; mortification to us.
That sound you just heard is the last huff of Soho's industrial grit. With unceremonious filings last night, the city cleared the Trump Organization to build a 41-story tower on one of Soho's last scraps of industrial land. The Trump Soho project calls itself a "condo-hotel," a taxonomy that lets its developer build what some might call a residential tower in a manufacturing zone without special permits. The Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation calls it a precedent for sneaking other condos into other manufacturing zones around town, distorting property values and sundering urban character. For months, GVSHP has urged city agencies to drag the project through a public zoning review to air its potential neighborliness. But on April 26, the development team promised to let shareholders use the units for a maximum of 120 days a year (and for only 29 of every 36 days). Now, GVSHP chief Andrew Berman tells us: "This is a case of the city not enforcing its own laws, and that makes them vulnerable to a lawsuit." Does that mean he's threatening one? —Alec Appelbaum
Attention, urban megaproject buffs (and perhaps the newly ombudsunemployed Barney Calame), the Empire State Development Corporation, the state entity that green-lighted Bruce Ratner's lawsuit-plagued Atlantic Yards, has a fascinating vacancy about to open up: Atlantic Yards Ombudsman. Fun! Our imagined job listing:
Short job description: A community liaison between the agency, elected officials, and the public.
Expanded job description: A volunteer willing to stand up in the multiparty crossfire over the project as it lumbers from the demolition to the construction phase — while a sizable opposition lobby calls the whole thing illegal. One of the tasks is "minimizing disruptions" to the process, which may put you in the awkward position of papering over ESDC's own previous findings. Another is providing the media with fresh information on the project, which means your every word will be viciously parsed by dozens of entities with their own agendas.
Workplace hazards: Daily flurry of Develop Don't Destroy press releases (the current headline on DDDB.net: "Ombudsperson Schmombudsperson"); collapsing buildings.
Compensation: Not nearly enough.
Ombudsman slated for Brooklyn project [Metro NY]
Ombudsperson Schmombudsperson [DDDB]
Sometimes a parking space is just a parking space — even in the glitzy new High Line district. That's what Chelsea's Community Board 4 declared last night when it swatted down developer Young Woo & Associates plan for en suite parking at its 200 Eleventh Avenue development. Plans called for a car elevator that would have allowed residents to drive right to the door of the building's fifteen floorthrough luxury condos — Madonna was said to be interested in buying one — but the Fire Department has made its disapproval known and last night the community board said the plan violated local zoning laws. (The board's decision is only advisory, but the borough president, planning commission, and city council typically follow boards' leads.) Under those rules, a new development can offer parking spots for only 20 percent of its units without a special permit. "The board has a principle that because of too many cars in the community board's confines, they want to enforce the 20 percent," district manager Robert Benfatto told us. So three spots, even hovering ones, would be just fine. — Alec AppelbaumRelated:The High Line: It Brings Good Things to Life [NYM]
Earlier:West Chelsea Car-Elevator Apartments: Going Down?
Remember when City Hall's plan was for the Olympics to save our city? We had our doubts, and the IOC didn't cooperate, but, even so, Queens residents are still getting one benefit of the plan: A 50-meter pool in Flushing Meadow, originally intended to host the Michael Phelpses of the world, is under construction and set to open to the public by fall, according to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. "It's most ambitious structure ever built in a park," Benepe said of the 110,000-square-foot space, designed by local firms Handel Architects and Hom & Goldman. The Parks Department even managed to squeeze in a separate diving pool, making this the first city property usable for NCAA swim meets. We're looking forward to toting our flippers and goggles on the 7 train. —Alec Appelbaum
Dan Doctoroff has a big title — Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding — and even bigger ambitions. But as he hits the hustings to sell the mayor's environmentally friendly PlaNYC 2030 package he's finally started embracing small-ball politics. PlaNYC's proposal to build potentially huge housing complexes on decks over rail yards and highways, he said at a New School forum this morning, will proceed at a pace set by the affected community boards — not by Olympic committees or neighborhood-swallowing developers. "The lesson of Hudson Yards and Atlantic Yards is to get communities involved upfront," he told us after the event, though he wouldn't specify which areas he sees as ripe for this affordable-housing development. "We've learned, before we even go public with an idea, to reach out to the local community." Imagine that! (Oh, also, he confirmed the key non-word is pronounced "plan-why-see." Now you know.) —Alec Appelbaum
Last we checked with JPMorgan Chase, the megabank wanted to join the ground-zero scrum by building a 50-story skyscraper on the site of the contaminated Deutsche Bank building. There wasn't much opposition; in fact, city officials were ecstatic about this major score for the financial district. But there was one catch, as it turns out: It would need to be an even bigger score for Chase. As today's Times reports, the bank wants the kind of lavish incentive package Goldman Sachs got to build a tower in Battery Park City: $650 million worth of cash grants, tax-free bonds, and a whole buffet of tax breaks. Which left the government in the slightly ridiculous position of explaining how that was then and this is now; Spitzer is not Pataki; and downtown, while it could use a boost, is not exactly a wasteland anymore, either.
The battle of Atlantic Yards has moved from the rarefied arena of the literary think piece through various political fights and ongoing court battles to, now, the simplest setup possible: In one corner, protesters; in the other, bulldozers. Yesterday, Forest City Ratner began knocking down four of the fifteen buildings around Flatbush Avenue it has slated for demolition. About a hundred Develop Don't Destroy stalwarts — that's the group's turnout estimate — met the machines with some chants and signage, although no one tried to actually halt the demolition. The DDDB word is that Ratner is being hasty on purpose — to create a sense that Atlantic Yards is a fait accompli, even with an eminent-domain lawsuit hanging over it and a more thorough environmental review being demanded as we speak. It's hard to shake a guilty feeling that, crude as the tactic is, Ratner may be succeeding. There's something pre-deflated about a protest sign reading, as one did yesterday, "These Demolitions Are Premature." Premature?! How about "illegal"? "Criminal"? We know they're not, technically. But you're a protest sign; you can say these things!
Develop Don't Destroy Release [DDDB.net]
• The City Council overrode Bloomberg's veto and instituted a ban on metal baseball bats in high schools. And council members did the same with his veto of pedicab restrictions. A two-hitter, if you will. [Bloomberg]
• President Bush is in town today for a speech and a photo op at the Harlem Village Academy Charter School, because it's been doing well under the No Child Left Behind act. We're sure the city had nothing to do with the improvement! At any rate, enjoy the gridlock. [amNY]
• Historian David Halberstam, Pulitzer-winning legend of New York journalism died in a Bay Area car crash. Halberstam covered the Vietnam war for the Times and went on to write dozens of widely read books on that and other subjects. [WNBC]
• The condo-weary Upper West Side is making like the Lower East and mulling a height limit on buildings. Under a proposed plan, all new construction west of the park between 97th and 110th Street would top off at about fourteen stories. [NYDN]
• And the Waverly Inn — still not officially opened! — got slapped with 38 points for nine violations by the Health Department, including "mouse activity." We're sure our Grub Street brethren will have more to say, so let us just quickly smile at Mr. Carter's plan for a "Waverly cat" to deal with the mice. [NYT]
Mayor Bloomberg's released PlaNYC 2030, his environmental agenda for the next quarter-century, yesterday (on Earth Day! get it?) at the Museum of Natural History (nature! get it?). It's almost too sprawling to recap, not to mention hell to pronounce ("plan-why-see twenty-thirty"?), but we know we'd be thrown out of the Bloggers' Association if we didn't do our best to take the most multifaceted matter and reduce it to five talking points. Herewith, our attempt to suss out the essence of the 127 proposed projects.
A New York State judge announced this afternoon that she won't stop Bruce Ratner from razing several Brooklyn buildings to start construction on his Atlantic Yards project. Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn appeared in a lower Manhattan courtroom Tuesday to request a temporary restraining order against Forest City Ratner, keeping the developer from starting demolition pending a May 3 hearing on DDDB's lawsuit claiming in inadequate environmental-review process. Justice Joan Madden promised a decision today, and she has now denied the DDDB request. FCR showed Madden a schedule Wednesday outlining the demolition of fifteen buildings between April 18 and the end of June, she wrote. Reasoning that a restraining order "is a drastic remedy which should be sparingly used," she wrote she failed to find "factual support" that the first nine buildings on the block will "affect the nature and character of the area." DDDB chief Daniel Goldstein quickly issued a statement. "The court expressly stated that in making today's TRO decision it was not pre-judging the merits of petitioners claims filed on April 5th," he said in a press release. He has called a protest for Monday at 8 a.m. at 191 Flatbush Avenue, where he expects demolition work to begin.
In the Matter of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn v. Empire State Development Corporation [PDF]
Score one for the renters: Über-developer Kent Swig has hit a major snag in his plans to add a nine-story condo atop 201 West 92nd Street and 200 West 93rd Street, two adjoining six-story rental buildings he owns along Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side. The Department of Buildings has issued an immediate stop-work order on the project and is said to be revoking a previously greenlit application for construction.
The public will soon get a long-deferred first look at Hudson Yards, the vast swath of rail depot and waterfront that Bloomberg once targeted for a Jets/Olympic stadium. Amid reports that the MTA has considered awarding the whole site to one nervy developer — remembering, perhaps, how much efficiency Larry Silverstein brought to ground zero — civic activists have demanded public review of the design rules for the site. And that's what they'll get: Last night, Hudson Yards Development Corporation president Ann Weisbrod said there will be a public presentation on May 8 at 6 p.m. Of course, this is a public-review sprint for a development marathon: MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin says the transportation agency, which owns the land, will ask for bids by the end of May and then quickly go through the required public process, reviews by the local community board and so forth. But at least you'll get an early peek at what you'll have to live with for the next hundred years. —Alec Appelbaum
No doubt you remember the hype: Architect Annabelle Selldorf's design for 200 Eleventh Avenue included private car elevators, which would lift owners, still in their vehicles, to their apartments. Selldorf was allegedly inspired by the body-shop flatlands of West Chelsea, but it was no coincidence that this extra layer of privacy made the building attractive to celebrities; there was a report that Madonna was scouting a unit. But now the Fire Department might put an end to all that fun. Howard Hill, FDNY's chief of fire prevention, in early February wrote to the city's Buildings Department, to object to the plan. "For obvious life-safety reasons," he wrote, "this design concept and use should be prohibited."
We reported earlier on today's groundbreaking for the Second Avenue Subway, and we told you that "stations on the line will have natural light and column-free corridors (and, according to renderings, odd shards of Daniel Libeskind–esque glass)." Here now, renderings of those stations. (There's a larger version here.) Libeskinn-esque, indeed. —Alec AppelbaumEarlier:Daily Intel's coverage of the Second Avenue Subway
Maybe visionary architects can do more than concoct condos and museums in this town. A competition to design affordable housing in the South Bronx, which ended with the January selection of U.K. architecture firm Grimshaw and local good-guy architect Richard Dattner, went so well that the city's Department of Housing, with other agencies, is planning another, similar competition for later this year. The city will collect proposals for a 150-unit complex, dance theater, and retail space in Brooklyn, near BAM, by May 4, Housing commissioner Shaun Donovan said at the Center for Architecture last night, when he also announced another, unspecified competition for later this year. Architect Markus Dochantschi of StudioMDA, part of the runner-up team for the Bronx project, told us that he and his group will submit to the Brooklyn competition, and last night, for the first time, he showed off their Bronx proposal — a scheme of colorful mid-rise buildings that absorb sunlight and eschew dark hallways. The Brooklyn winner would face Frank Gehry’s Miss Brooklyn and her gargantuan friends — unless, of course, it's built while lawsuits keep all those titanium panels waiting on the loading docks. —Alec Appelbaum
The usually indefatigable Develop Don't Destory Brooklyn, which media outlets across the city can typically rely upon for Ratner-castigating press releases pegged to almost any occurrence, sent this today:
From: Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn
Sent: Tuesday, April 10, 2007 10:36:46 AM
Subject: Sol Lewitt Wall Paintings in Ratner Building Slated for Atlantic Yards Demo
Artist Sol Lewitt, a giant in the conceptual and minimal art movements and one of the great innovators in the past 40 years, died on Sunday at the age of 78. Lewitt was famous, amongst other works, for his wall paintings …
644 Pacific Street is in the footprint of Bruce Ratner's proposed "Atlantic Yards" project, specifically in the footprint of the arena itself. In that building, once occupied by one of Mr. Lewitt's studio assistants, are at least two wall paintings by the artist. The building is in the list of the first round of demolitions the developer intends to begin in the coming weeks. These wall paintings should be photographed for historical documentation and the Sol Lewitt catalogue.
Photographed?! That's it? Either they're crappy Lewitts, or Daniel Goldstein is going soft.
On Sol Lewitt [DDDB]
The Atlantic Yards standoff has entered a stage probably best described with the help of a folksy simile, maybe something about a man haranguing a bear that, meanwhile, is quietly chewing his leg. How so? Well, today there's news of the fourth and latest lawsuit against Forest City Ratner, this one filed by Assemblyman James Brennan. It demands that the Yards' business plan be made available for public scrutiny. On the ground, meantime, there's conspicuous activity (deliberately so, say critics): Bulldozers are humming, an old bus parking lot is gone, and asbestos is being ferried out of a Pacific Street building in preparations for demolition. Come to think of it, the situation is beginning to look less like a standoff and more like a game of chicken. But, then, we wonder if Brennan even needs to win his suit for it to be a success: Demanding transparency on a high-profile city project is probably not the worst thing to do if you're running for city comptroller.
UPDATE: Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's indefatigable Daniel Goldstein emails to point out that the most recent lawsuit against Ratner, fresh out of the legal oven, was filed today by 26 co-petitioners seeking to annul the Yards' environmental-impact statement. The Brennan suit has been kicking around since last month. The more the merrier!
Clearing of Atlantic Yards’ Site Proceeds as Legal Thicket Grows Denser [NYT]
When the stalwart seventies-era TKTS booth in Father Duffy Square — it's not Times Square, mind you, but the square just north of it — came down a year ago, we were promised a new version, complete with a shiny red staircase as a roof, a public space to rival Rome's Spanish Steps, in time for last New Year's Eve. No dice. What happened? An ownership change at the manufacturer originally slated to provide glass for that new hull derailed things, architect Nick Leahy of Perkins Eastman tells us. But the team is finalizing its choice for a new supplier, Leahy says, and expects the goods by late summer. "It was a hiccup that we managed," Leahy says. "The ticket booth is in place and the geothermal heating [underground] is in place, and I would expect installation by early fall." Which means it'll be ready for next New Year's or whatever autumn events — the World Series on the Jumbotron, the Macy's parade, impeachment hearings — you might be looking forward to. —Alec Appelbaum
• The Times reveals that the Garden State has been regularly raiding its own state-worker pension fund, funneling billions into other government projects. Given the size of its public sector, disaster looms; New Jersey, we thought better of you. [NYT]
• Activists in East Harlem faced bulldozers in a dramatic, and failed, showdown over a community garden. The site, on 110th and Fifth, is being cleared for the future Museum for African Art — and, of course, a luxury condo tower. [amNY]
• The Giuliani campaign, God's gift to tabloids, has turned to Rudy's international-policy experience: "I've probably been in foreign lands more than any other candidate" as a private consultant, he assured New Hampshire and hinted he'll hit Iraq next. [NYDN]
• The Knitting Factory, the Tribeca music institution, is promising not to go the way of Tonic, Sin-é, CBGB, and many others: Should the rent skyrocket when its lease runs out, the club will try buying the whole building. [MetroNY]
• And midtown's old-money hangout/tourist trap '21' Club has even longer arms than previously thought: It just stopped the Pittsburgh Pirates from naming a stadium sports bar "Club 21." Because otherwise the two would be indistinguishable. [NYP]