Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bar association comes out against community bribery

From the NY Observer:

The Association of the Bar of New York City doesn't seem to think all that highly of the process of landlords cutting formal, non-standardized deals with community groups—known as Community Benefits Agreements—to win approvals for planned developments.

CBAs proliferated in recent years, particularly in the late real estate boom, as community groups and elected officials rushed to try to wrest concessions and mitigations from developers who may or may not be financially prepared to shower a bounty on the community. The use of CBAs has been criticized, in part because of the somewhat arbitrary manner in which they are formed (there is no standard for which groups end up being signatories in a CBA or participate in the negotiations with a developer, for instance), and the offerings from developers may not necessarily benefit the larger public interest, but rather just assuage a certain small constituency that happens to be negotiating the CBA.

CBAs have popped up at Atlantic Yards, Columbia University's planned West Harlem expansion, and recently at the Kingsbridge Armory development in the Bronx, which was voted down by the City Council after the requirement of a "living" wage became a make-or-break for the elected officials involved.

The well-researched Bar Association's report piles on more criticism and suggests that the tit-for-tat linking of a council land-use approval with a CBA is improper, if not illegal, given that developers are effectively buying zoning changes by paying certain community groups.

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