As 2008 draws to a close, we present a look back on some of the major issues we covered in the first full year of the Community-Based Planning Task Force’s blog:

The Good

  • Defeat of the AIA’s Proposed Zoning Text Amendment: In late 2007, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) proposed amendments to the New York City zoning text, which the organization claimed would encourage innovative design and sustainable building practice. However, community participation in creating these amendments was minimal, and many expressed concerns that this could set a precedent for other private entities, including developers, to push through citywide zoning text changes with little to no community process. Ultimately, the AIA withdrew the amendments in order to seek “more time for public discussion.”
  • Defeat of TransGas in Williamsburg: We keep a close eye on Greenpoint-Williamsburg because their 197-a plans are two of only 10 adopted by the City, and the implementation of the plans is still spotty. One major step toward the community’s vision for a continuous waterfront park came in March, when neighborhood activists’ contentious, seven-year battle against Trans Gas Energy ended when the State Siting Board dismissed TGE’s proposal to construct a power plant on property that is slated to become the Bushwick Inlet Park.
  • The Accountable Development Working Group: In June, Community-Based Planning Task Force member organization Fifth Avenue Committee convened the People’s Accountable Development Summit in Brooklyn to create dialogue and forge alliances among residents and various community stakeholders in Brooklyn facing large developments, re-zonings and other land use changes. Building on momentum from this summit, they started the Accountable Development Working Group, an inclusive and open group that works together to learn about and address ongoing neighborhood issues, including the Atlantic Yards development and the proposed rezonings of Sunset Park and Gowanus.
  • Imagine Flatbush 2030: Admittedly this one is somewhat self-serving, as the Imagine Flatbush 2030 project was initiated by the Municipal Art Society Planning Center, along with local stakeholder organizations such as the Flatbush Development Corporation. Still, it was inspirational to see a diverse cross-section of the Flatbush community come together to create a vision around sustainability for their neighborhood. Check out the IF 2030 wrap-up and widget on the MAS website, and stay tuned for the full report in 2009.
  • Yolanda Garcia Community Planner Award: This $2,500 award was created to commemorate the work of Ms. Yolanda Garcia, a community activist in the South Bronx. Each year, MAS presents the YGCP award to a community planner who has succeeded in bringing neighborhood need and vision into New York City’s planning process. The 2008 winner was Jeanne DuPont, Executive Director of the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, a grassroots community organization that promotes public waterfront access in Far Rockaway, a barrier island in southeast Queens. Jeanne has worked closely with the community and local youth to develop long-term planning and redevelopment strategies there.
  • One City/One Future: On December 2, a coalition of civic leaders, neighborhood advocates, community development organizations, labor unions, affordable housing groups, environmentalists, immigrant advocates, and other stakeholders launched One City/One Future: A Blueprint for Growth that Works for All New Yorkers. The Community-Based Planning Task Force is proud to be part of this broad and diverse coalition that supports much-needed reforms to make city planning more participatory and inclusive.

The Bad

  • Manhattan Community Board 6 versus East River Realty Co.: This battle between community planning and a big developer clearly demonstrated the need to reform NYC’s planning process to give community-based 197-a plans teeth. Manhattan Community Board 6 created both a comprehensive 197-a plan for its eastern district, including the former ConEdison site on the East River waterfront, and a 197-c rezoning plan for the site. The Department of City Planning and the City Council chose to ignore the board’s 197-c plan, and to consider the 197-a plan at the same time as East River Realty Company’s development plan for the ConEd site. (Read our testimony to the City Council and our report from the hearing). After much negotiation, the City passed both plans. Although the 197-a plan was used as a bargaining tool, the fact remains that the City held the community’s plans in the pipeline until the developer had the chance to catch up, overlooking an opportunity to implement expressed community needs and goals.
  • 125th Street Rezoning: Early this year, the Department of City Planning proposed a rezoning of Harlem’s 125th Street. Many factions of the community opposed the project, citing concerns about issues from affordable housing/displacement and gentrification, to historic preservation, to loss of local retail and community character. The City approved the rezoning despite the community’s intense opposition. This process has been captured in a documentary, Rezoning Harlem, which is currently screening around the city.
  • NYC is a Chain Store City: The Center for an Urban Future released a study (PDF) in August quantifying what community advocates have long been concerned about: New York City has an awful lot of chain stores and restaurants. Dunkin’ Donuts boasted the most locations: 341 total in the five boroughs. We asked: could formula retail zoning be in NYC’s future?
  • Problematic Community Benefits Agreements: In January, we looked at CBA’s and asked “What’s going wrong?” Both the CBA that accompanied the new Yankee Stadium development and the Memorandum of Understanding between Columbia University and the Manhattanville community lacked the binding power of traditional CBAs.  What with the delay in community benefits from the Yankee Stadium agreement and controversy over the Columbia deal, is NYC setting a bad example for the rest of the country?

The Compromises

  • Willets Point: In February, the Pratt Center for Community Development released a report in response to the City’s proposed redevelopment of Willets Point, an industrial area of Queens near Shea Stadium. The report, Making Willet’s Point Work: a Plan for Neighborhood Success, was based on a community-based visioning process and called for fair treatment of existing businesses and workers, a wide range of affordable housing options, good jobs targeted for local residents, infrastructure improvements, and respect for the surrounding neighborhoods. The City Council agreed that the plan was flawed, and a negotiation process began. Ultimately, the Council approved the plan, after guaranteeing more affordable housing and fair-wage, union jobs. However, the use of eminent domain may still be necessary for the City to acquire some property there.
  • East Village/Lower East Side Rezoning: Although Manhattan Community Board 3 created the rezoning plan for the East Village/Lower East Side through an open community process, the plan quickly became controversial because of its potential negative impacts on adjacent neighborhoods. Local organizations were split on the issue, with groups such as the Coalition to Protect Chinatown calling for a stop to the plan, while other groups such as Asian Americans for Equality supported the rezoning and called for a similar process for Chinatown as a follow-up. In November, the City passed the rezoning, with a promise for an expedient rezoning process for the Bowery and Chinatown next year.

The Ongoing

  • Atlantic Yards: 2008 marked the fifth year since the Atlantic Yards project was announced. The spring and summer were busy times: local organizations held a rally opposing the project, and the Municipal Art Society imagined a partial buildout of the site as Atlantic Lots. In response, developer Bruce Ratner manufactured a pro-Atlantic Yards rally. By August, the footprint was a mess, the stadium opening date was pushed back again, and nine property owners were challenging the state’s proposed use of eminent domain in State Supreme Court. In September, the State Supreme Court rejected the ESDC’s motion to throw out the case, which will now be heard in spring 2009. Most recently, Ratner stopped all work at the site, citing the ongoing lawsuit and the financial meltdown, and local organizations called for an audit of public funding spent on the development.
  • Gowanus: Residents of the Gowanus area of Brooklyn are faced with many coming changes. New development is planned for the canal’s shores, including the Gowanus Green/Public Place site, as well as a huge complex from developer Toll Brothers. In addition, the City is planning a major rezoning to encourage both development of new housing and some retention of manufacturing/commercial uses in the area. South Brooklyn residents have been organizing and were recently visited by City Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden, who encouraged residents to support the City’s plan. Still, some speculate that the City is discouraging public input, perhaps because of the extreme amount of remediation necessary to clean up the toxic canal and surrounding area. Certification of the City’s plan is expected in 2009.
  • Coney Island: In June, the City made changes to its proposed rezoning, shrinking the size of its proposed “amusement area” and focusing instead on the elusive “entertainment retail” concept. After Astroland amusement park failed to successfully negotiate with landowner Thor Equities, it officially closed its doors in September, leaving the future of Coney Island as an amusement destination uncertain. Shortly after, the Municipal Art Society launched Imagine Coney to collect ideas from the public and from designers and amusement experts from all over the world, and to advocate that the City’s plan could hinder the development of Coney Island as a worldwide entertainment destination. Still, certification of the City’s rezoning is expected early next year.

On Our Radar for 2009

  • Environmental Remediation in Greenpoint-Williamsburg: In case you thought that environmental problems from the Newtown Creek oil spill were enough to worry about for residents of Greenpoint-Williamsburg, now there’s the Meeker Avenue Contaminant Plumes. With the help of the Newtown Creek Alliance and HabitatMap, residents are learning about the chlorinated solvents (TCE & PCE) in their neighborhood’s soil and groundwater and are organizing to get the area cleaned up. A community meeting is coming up on January 14.
  • NYCHA Developments and Public Process: In August, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer released a report titled “Land Rich, Pocket Poor” stating that the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has enough air rights available to build the equivalent of 30 one-million-square-foot skyscrapers on or adjacent to its Manhattan housing projects, but no plan for how to manage this potential revenue generator that could have dramatic effects on the city skyline. In October, NYCHA announced that it had selected private developers to purchase property and construct or renovate 1,000 units of affordable housing on four public housing sites in the South Bronx. However, because the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) controls all city housing authorities including NYCHA, developers building on NYCHA property can side-step ULURP. How can we make sure that New Yorkers who live in public housing have their voices heard?

What’s going on in your neighborhood that we should cover in 2009? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll see you next year!

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