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Pol Drops Opposition to Big Brooklyn Project

Crain’s New York
August 1st, 2013
By Matt Chaban

Brooklyn Councilwoman Letitia James has withdrawn her name from a lawsuit against the massive City Point development in her downtown Brooklyn district.

The lawsuit was launched in May by a group of unions who oppose the 1.9-million-square-foot mixed-use development because it is an open shop project employing non-union workers. Ms. James joined the suit, along with Brooklyn Assemblyman Walter Mosley, over contractors paying what she has called “poverty wages.”

Ms. James has now changed her position, though nothing about the project has changed, according to those involved with it. Her switch came hours before a planned Wednesday rally that was to be led by three dozen community activists who had attacked the councilwoman for failing to support her constituents and the jobs they were hoped to get building City Point and later working in the residential and retail complex on the former site of the Albee Square Mall.

“Given your longstanding concerns about local jobs and af­fordable housing as well as your recent support for the BAM South project, we do not understand why you insist on working against City Point and jeopardizing the jobs currently supported by the project,” a letter prepared by the activists and obtained by Crain’s states. The letter goes on to point out that an all-union project would likely limit minority and women employment on the development, as well as jobs for locals, since many union jobs are dominated by men from outside the city.

This is the second time in as many months that Ms. James has reversed her position on a major development in her district over employment issues. She came close to scuttling the BAM South development over her concern that it was not being built with union labor, before ultimately supporting it despite the absence of any significant changes to the project from the developer, Two Trees Management.

Ms. James has been courting union support in her campaign for Public Advocate, a race in which a recent poll had her in first place.

Ms. James said in a statement she was now satisfied with the work being done at City Point, even though a source with the project noted that no deal had been struck and no changes made. “In light of the good faith efforts that have been made to address my concerns surrounding City Point—including committing to the completion of any remaining phases of the project by 2020, utilization of union workers, affordable and market rate living spaces, office space, and job opportunities for the residents and workers of downtown Brooklyn—I am proud to lend my support to the development,” Ms. James said.

The first phase of City Point was completed last year along the Fulton Mall, and the 55,000-square-foot space is home to an Armani Exchange and a Century 21 store. The next phase has just begun to rise. It will boast 660,000 square feet of retail in a four-story base stretching along Flatbush Avenue. Above that will rise a pair of apartment towers, one 19 stories, the other 30, with a total of 680 apartments–125 of which will be set aside as affordable.

The lawsuit, which is being led by the ironworkers and mason tenders unions, contends that a city environmental review of the project completed in 2004 is invalid because it measured the socio-economic impact of the project assuming union-equivalent employment on the job, known as prevailing wage. “The project was sold as a substantial boon to the community because of its substantial construction jobs,” said Tom Kennedy, attorney for the plaintiffs. “The process has been completely fraudulent.” He also insists that his suit will survive the loss of Ms. James’ backing. He also said the suit would proceed unhindered by Ms. James departure from it.

Meanwhile, the developer, Acadia Realty Trust, has pointed out that local residents make up 80% of the labor force on the job, that half of the firms on the project are women- and/or minority-owned, and that wages start at $20 an hour.

The city has argued in court that the project’s opponents have no standing to sue, because they are not directly involved with it. A decision by the court is pending.