Questions about the relationship between New Rochelle's administration and Echo Bay developer, Forest City Ratner, are nothing new to the readers of this site. The dichotomy of having one agenda for the public to witness and another "behind closed doors" agenda for the purpose of bypassing public witness of the procedure can only be characterized as self serving. Self serving for the developer, that is, and not, necessarily, for New Rochelle. On one hand, the public is asked to meet and voice concerns and/or support (as required by law mind you) and then the developer disappears behind closed doors to meet with council members, two at a time, thus avoiding open meeting laws. They did this when they were looking to get their first extension and, quite frankly, it was illegal. Will they do it again? Who knows, but it fits their pattern. Couple that with the campaign money to the mayor and the pattern repeats just as it has in Brooklyn, Yonkers and who knows where else.
Lucky for us, unlucky for them, the recent guilty plea of Senator Carl Kruger and the more recent trial of Former Yonkers Councilwoman, Sandy Anabi is providing more and more insight to the concerns that have been raised on this site and elsewhere. Until the Annabi trial, main stream media has been relatively quiet about the manipulations of Forest City, unless of course, it suited the spin requirements of the Cleveland based developer. Congratulations to LoHud reporter, Dwight R Worley, for actually paying attention to the issue and following the trial. This kind of journalism flies in the face of New Rochelle's attempts to control the media. Media control isn't limited to New Rochelle however. The politics of control and manipulation by Forest City have well documented, if one knows where to look. I'll be citing stories from a couple of watchdog sites who have been steadfast in their documentation of Forest City's actions. Atlantic Yards Report and No Land Grab both have a wealth of information and have been noted on this site before.
For example, you might have missed the recent shake up of top executives leaving Forest City just as these trials began. Senior V.P. for government and public relations Scott Cantone and F.C.V.P. Bruce Bender have decided to part ways with Brooklyn's "most powerful developer". Both are connected with the Annabi trial, though no charges have been filed. This comes on the heels of the recent shake up of FC's Board of Directors. Non independent directors James A Ratner (Bramson contributor) and Joan K. Shafran will not be renominated as the board pushes to shed independent directors from its ranks.
"Cleaning House" comes to mind as they shed land holdings in an effort to move away from its land development business unit which was once the foundation of its core services. Results of a stock price dropping from a 2007 high of $70.00 tpo its current value of approximately $14.72?
With all this turmoil, perhaps the key to success IS the pattern of operation. As Norman Oder of Atlantic Yards Report see's it, FC's modus operandi includes
" getting the inside track on potentially valuable public property and then getting the zoning changed"
. As John Murtagh (Former Yonkers City Councilman)is quoted in the Lo Hud article "little or no regard for public opinion..." "Their entire business model is to exploit every tax loophole and taxpayer-funded subsidy...promise the world and deliver far less...all by manipulation". We'll see how it applies to New Rochelle. Again Norman Oder reports on the "hardly radical" Regional Plan Association's Atlantic Yards testimony : Unfortunately, the public review process for the Atlantic Yards project is part of a pattern in which the State and the City enter into an agreement with a single developer prior to a full debate of alternatives. Ideally, this strategically vital piece of public real estate would have been the subject of a planning exercise… open bidding…. Instead, the state worked exclusively with Forest City Ratner while the MTA entered into a truncated bidding process only after a memorandum of understanding had been signed by FCRC, the state and the city.
The details of the project were largely devised behind closed doors by the developer, and only minor modifications have been made in response to public criticisms. While the developer has held numerous public meetings and provided information to the community, most of the decisions regarding the site had already been made. As a result, the public has no way of knowing if this project is the best possible one for the site.
It is greatly handicapped in assessing potential alternatives, and has less leverage for negotiating changes that would add to its community benefits. Grab the link HERE.
Patterns, politics and payoffs in New Rochelle? Connecting the dots may not be all that difficult. Six developers offer proposals for the Echo Bay Area. Little did the city know that thousands of dollars in campaign funding for the mayor was provided by Ratner family members who either now or then sat, on the Board of Directors for Forest City. Also, the now defunct HRH Construction Company also found the need to make their contribution to the mayoral campaign in New Rochelle. How is this important? If you look at the executives, you'll see that more than a couple have shared their time between Forest City and HRH.
Forest City is in. The grand plan is unveiled to both praise and critique. Questions about traffic, impact on schools, tax abatements, and the Armory start to surface. Forest City hires a local public relations firm to garner support for the project and a citizens advisory committee is established. Staring with neighborhood groups then expanding to include union officials, real-estate brokers, and anyone who would cash in on the bounty. When issues of Echo Bay parking came up, we were assured that FC could help to procure "resident parking permits" to keep the Echo Bayers from crowding the already packed East End streets and out of the exclusive Sutton Manor neighborhood. Promise the world. (could they really control the city administration?)
On the issue of overcrowding the schools, the "official" website for the Echo Bay Project states "Does this plan include residential units? Won’t this mean more students in our crowded schools?
Any impact Echo Bay will have on New Rochelle – including on the schools – will be fully examined in a detailed environmental review and though there are approximately 700 units planned, the vast majority are studios and one-bedrooms typically too small to accommodate families with children. The expected impact on schools will be minimal, similar to other recent residential buildings in downtown. (emphasis added). How did that work out in the Avalon? Maybe FC can throw in a new school. But I doubt it.
We will pay a price to develop Echo Bay. The question is how much and how will the city fare when none wants to live near the sewage plant. Who will bear the brunt of a new school build out while FC is returning their 8% to their investors? How do you justify the loss of a historic building that would stimulate trade, and community involvement in the area? What happens when parking along Stephenson Boulevard is removed to satisfy "critical mass" traffic?
I'll tell ya' the whole thing stinks.