Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Housing on the Hudson

"Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game."

Donald Trump (1946 - )

There are unconfirmed rumors that Community Board #2 Chair Brad Hoylman may decide to pursue an initiative aimed at dealing with the pathetically weak response from City agencies towards rent-control/rent stabilized complaints and tenants. The number of allegations that landlords have been harassing and retaliating against tenants who complain about housing conditions with impunity -- have increased dramatically – as have illegal efforts to evict them or litigate them out of their homes.

Instead of helping tenants, however, the HPD, DHCR and Department of Buildings have more or less cooperated with landlords by ignoring dangerous conditions and instead have been focusing on complaints by landlords about tenants. HPD prosecutors have been lax to the point of incompetence and Judges have appeared to be indifferent when tenants have instituted HP actions. The 311 system has been so ineffective that many tenants no longer bother to register serious housing complaints – which may weaken a tenant’s legal defenses -- but has become an irrelevancy with regard to action by the City to coerce landlords into making repairs.

A community forum, much like the Town Hall meetings that affected the S.L.A. response to over saturation of liquor licenses could have a beneficial affect on the “legal method” of evicting tenants in Manhattan through financial intimidation. You can’t fight a phony eviction and pay rent without being forced to accept a buyout at some point.

While Speaker Quinn has been criticized for inaction on some downtown issues, it is Hoylman’s view that she has been an advocate of tenants rights and effective in dealing with landlord abuses.

Organizations like the newly formed UNYTE may choose to make their views more focused and present them to Quinn’s office.

Trump SoHo is moving upward and the controversy does not seem to quit.
Stu Klein, the SoHo Alliance attorney, has advised the Buildings Department that there are serious violations that need to be addressed and that the permit to build should be pulled.

After having outlined his reasons in a letter to D.O.B., he waited for their response.

He’s still waiting.

And, the wait is really the answer. It never ceases to amaze activists downtown how completely rude and insensitive this City distraction is to residents.

The lack of response and avoidance of even a feigned community-relations pretense is what has become the hallmark of the Bloomberg Administration.

Essentially, Klein’s objection cites three reasons why the Trump project should be stopped. For one thing, the Restrictive Declaration is a joke. There is no way that the Department of Buildings will enforce the restrictions that have been written. There is no enforcement unit in place that will stop hotel-condo tenants from exceeding their stay. Currently, no owner of one of these condo units can occupy a unit continuously.

Who’s going to put them out if they stay over?

Which is exactly why they are selling so well. A recent piece reports:

The Co-Exclusive Marketing and Sales is Prodigy International Development Sales and Core Group Marketing. The Post ran the following article on 8/16:

Early demand for developer Donald Trump's condominium hotel in Soho is impressively high, says the New York Post. Sources claim that 2,800 applications have already been received for 500 units, catching prices of nearly $2,700 per square foot. The units have an occupancy limit of 120 days per year. Trump's condominium hotel project has been controversial from its inception. Opponents have criticized what they believe is a manipulation of the neighborhood's designation as a manufacturing zone.

The Department of Buildings, by allowing the project to continue, also appears to be violating Federal Security laws.

When a condominium has substantial restrictions on its use, it is treated as a “Security” in the eyes of the S.E.C. In this instance, the restrictions on the use and temporary occupancy rise to the level of being substantial – thereby relegating the sale of condominiums to the level of selling an investment instrument that is considered a security.

It appears that further legal challenges may occur – which could result in the project being stopped by the Securities and Exchange Commission for violating Federal securities laws.

Stay Tuned.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Bigger Easy

Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.
-Groucho Marx (1890 - 1977)

While New Orleans has been known by that moniker, Manhattan is also starting to become “The Bigger Easy.” Developers, and developments that are known to have contributed to local politicians campaigns and projects that offend downtowners are rapidly expanding.

The politicians and government are appearing to be selling lower Manhattan for a nice price and thumbing their noses at residents.

What seems to be happening is a sense that local government, from the Mayor and his appointees down through the City Council has disconnected from the electorate – and is bent on selling off to the highest bidder.

Trump SoHo
continues upwards towards it 42 stories on a parcel on Spring and Varick streets where contextual zoning would not have permitted anything higher than an 18-20 story structure either as a hotel or commercial building – or 8 to 10 stories as a condo development. Under current zoning there is no community input.

A 17-story hotel is nearing completion on Watts street that may a stopping point where tourist buses flood lower Manhattan and in a location where traffic congestion is so bad that it is like adding open sewers to the 19th century streets of Calcutta.

The Department of Sanitation has chosen Greenwich Street for a 10-story garage and fuel storage depot instead of placing it on 30th street (block 675) even though it has obtained approval to build it there -- long before Joe Rose (former head of City Planning) and his family have been attempting to obtain approval to build. There is already a condo development in close proximity to that site. Do you think there is any connection with the City's decision to instead dump the project in Hudson Square -- despite the fact that the project was approved and even accepted by that area's Community?

Pier 40 is under siege with the probable selection of Related’s “Vegas on the Hudson” development – despite the fact that the community, kids, parents, ballfield supporters AND politicians feeling the pressure – because the Trust Board clearly wants to see the project built. There is no doubt that the Hudson River Park Trust Board, using the excuse that the infrastructure needs repair, is clearly in favor of the Related proposal. Spitzer is weakened and Doctoroff may have the upper hand since he is reportedly the real de facto Chair with Bloomberg the other major Trust controller at this point. And, there had been rumors afloat that Joe Rose had in interest in the appointment as Chair of the Trust Board -- but it has just been awarded to Diana Taylor, Bloomberg's "friend." It will be interesting now to see how this plays out for the community.

The “we know better about what’s good for you” approach was most evident at the last public meeting of the Trust Board where Marc Ameruso, Chair of the Advisory, reported on the community suggestions largely extruded by Arthur Schwartz (as Chair of Waterfront at CB2 and previous Advisory Chair). The Trust Board received the Advisory’s report with ho-hums. It speaks reams that Doctoroff said nothing at all at that meeting. He may not have needed to – since whatever needed to be said had already been communicated – behind the scenes. The connections between the Related proposal, the Trust Board, and government may need to be delineated more clearly at some point.

The Gansevoort Recycling plan has been kicking around for years. Under the tutelage of the EDC (Economic Development Corporation) via the efforts of Kate Ascher. The most recent PR plan, however, involved using a kid suffering from asthma in a commercial to support Bloomberg and Doctoroff’s push to get Albany to push through the plan for Pier 52 – by emphasizing the need to protect our children from pollution. Of course, there was no mention of the huge increase of truck and vehicle traffic downtown caused by the Verazzano toll reversal that gives free rides in and out of downtown to New Jerseyites and Staten Islanders. Of course, since Staten Island created the Republican win for both Giuliani and Bloomberg, that was never mentioned.

The other part of the Gansevoort deal was a political push to win quid pro quo from North Manhattan politicians who found it necessary to use the NIMBY theory of waste disposal. The rational location for a downtown recycling site was, and still is, Pier 76. But that would interfere with another Bloomberg/Doctoroff redevelopment site – the Convention Center and its cross-West Side Highway overflow.

Selling out the West Village and inundating them with diesel particulates is acceptable. Impeding a development site is not.

So, what is really going on?

It appears that there is just so much money around – although liquidity may soon start to ebb as a result of the current banking crisis – that financial pressures are just too hard to resist.

For one thing, Hudson Square is still a “No-man’s-land” that bears a resemblance to the Great Plains of the 1930’s and the resulting dust bowl from which that term emanates.

With no coherent zoning, the foot dragging from the Speaker’s Office where pressure for change should come from, and the gleeful selling off of downtown by Bloomberg/Doctoroff’s Batman and Robin team – there is clearly no interest in stemming the new Homestead Act for Manhattan. Parcels can’t be given away for development fast enough. The pressure to give downtown away makes Robert Moses and his sell-out of the Brooklyn Dodgers look mild by comparison.

The fact that Speaker Quinn has accepted at least $262,000 toward her mayor campaign already, is a significant signal as to what we have in store.

Tony Avella, Council Member of Queens joined the picket line in front of Trump SoHo. Where was Speaker Quinn – at a site that exists in her own district? What does that say about representation?

From Trump SoHo to the Gansevoort Recycling proposal, to the Pier 40 development, to the DSNY project, residents are being treated as children who don’t really know what’s good for them -- and maybe they don’t. Even scarier, maybe they shouldn’t know what is really going on.

As Jack Nicholson said, while playing Jessep from A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Maybe residents need to consider candidates who represent them instead of those that represent their own interests and the interests of developers.

Note: As a postscript to the discussion on development pressures, there is a new tenant push to address the issue of development and lack of enforcement by that corrupt of all city agencies -- The Department of Buildings -- an agency that is in the business of making money from all comers. And, it is the agency that politicians would have us believe will scrupulously watch how the Trump SoHo people restrict usage at their new heinous condo-hotel. The new organization, called UNYTE is meeting on August 15th and they deserve your attention.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


"In politics, absurdity is not a handicap."
-Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 - 1821)

After the dust has started to settle in Albany we find that the Prosecutor as Governor is no longer the fair-haired warrior who will right the wrongs for New Yorkers. Last year, the SoHo Journal, wrote an article in support of Tom Suozzi for Governor. There was criticism for that - not the least of which pointed out that Spitzer was going to win and being on the winning team is key to political survival.

But, as Jim McManus, the respected leader (McManus Midtown Democratic Club) once pointed out, winning is not everything - even in politics. What is most important is integrity and fidelity. At lunch, McManus told Spitzer - when he was asked for his support - "Eliot, I'm supporting Tom Suozzi. This is a race for Governor but you're a prosecutor."

Spitzer was not happy and basically told McManus that he was going to win big even without his support.

But, McManus knew that Spitzer, like Aeschylus, had his head in the clouds and was not really a man of the people. He was, and is, at heart a bully and a prosecutor.

Joe Bruno has taught him a lesson. A very expensive and likely, a terminal political lesson. The degree to which this lesson will contribute to the end of his political career will be played out in the months and possibly years to come. Who could have imagined that anyone would be sympathetic to Joe Bruno? But, here we are.

Of course, how this plays out should be instructive.

Giuliani is calling for a Special Prosecutor and thinks that Cuomo might just be the right guy. Cuomo, of course, would love to be Governor, and it would seem quite plausible for him to step further into the limelight.

Giuliani, a Presidential hopeful, is actually getting some sympathy from Democrats in New York for tiptoeing around the issue without verbally nailing Spitzer. While Police and Firefighters don't buy the hero routine over 9/11, Giuliani might actually hit a nail on the head with the Bully and his abuse of power.

No one, of course, believes that Spitzer didn't know what going on. The idea that his "Haldeman and Erlichman" told him nothing about what they were doing - is ludicrous on its face - with a politician who bragged about his micromanagement style.

We are left with what threatens to be a political witch-hunt and a Mexican standoff - while the important matters of appointments and funding goes begging. The HRPT for example, is just one agency that Board Chair appointment is being held up by the prior Bruno/Sptizer antagonism. Many think that Spitzer did not do his homework on political appointments but the fact of the matter is that Bruno was holding them up.

We now have a Governor consumed with his political survival and who knows when these necessary slots will be filled. Even more disturbing - would we really want the positions to be filled by Spitzer's people?

The unpopular Business Committee of Community Board #2 has been the focus of its new Chair, Brad Hoylman - who has acted quickly after hearing from some of his Board members.

The application for a new bar/restaurant/burlesque location on Kenmare Street ("forty deuce on kenmare") was approved by the Business Committee and slipped through the Full Board. This occurred despite the fact that several Asian community members appeared in prior meetings to protest the excessive number of liquor licensed establishments - arguably 30 in a radius of 500 feet. Normally, this would automatically trigger a "500 foot rule hearing" required by the Padavan Law.

Sensing that the Board, previously under the control of Maria Derr and her anti-community, pro-bar Board Chairmanship - was being perpetuated by this decision - Hoylman decided to take action.

The matter is now being reviewed by a group of Board members in conjunction with the Borough President's Office.

Questions as to the wisdom of retaining Ray Lee as Chair of this committee - someone who was an associate of Bob Rinaolo, Phil Mouquinho, Roscia Sanz, Judy Paul and Lisa Canistraci - bar owners who often voted as a bloc with other supporters when a liquor license was being proposed - is being questioned by the community.

The cozy relationship between those Business committee members who also enjoyed Chamber of Commerce membership and consequent business respect for being able to be helpful to applicants - while no impropriety is being suggested - is not a good situation.

Hoylman has made a good start and will hopefully balance business interests with the demands of the community.