Community Benefits Agreement News Weekly Roundup

March 21, 2014 -- Partnership for Working Families

Who benefits from the Secret Safeway's community benefits agreement? Greater Greater Washington

Agreement would be a win-win for developer, localsGrass Valley Union

Arena’s Meditation Room Raises Its Own Existential QuestionsNY TImes



Who benefits from the Secret Safeway's community benefits agreement?

Greater Greater Washington

by Neil Flanagan

March 14, 2014

As part of a deal to build a replacement for the Tenleytown Safeway, residents are looking for the right public benefit to ask for. But the rare opportunity to get a big donation is bringing out narrow interests.

At the February ANC 3E meeting, Steve Strazzella of developer Bozzuto presented the latest iteration of a 5-year-old plan to redevelop the so-called "Secret Safeway," located at 42nd and Davenport streets NW. Bozzuto plans a block-long, brick building with 4 stories of apartments atop a 65,000 square foot supermarket and two levels of parking.

The project is a Planned Unit Development (PUD), which gives an owner more flexibility with a property's zoning if community representatives and the DC Zoning Commission agree to it. There are basically two ways a PUD contributes to a neighborhood: through public benefits, or amenities within the project itself. But it's unclear who will benefit from what the community's asked for.

The proposal has some benefits all by itself

Safeway originally needed a PUD because it wanted a new supermarket bigger than what could fit on the part of the site zoned for commercial use. In response to community pressure, the company agreed to build the store as part of a mixed-use development that is often the foundation of a more vibrant, walkable neighborhood.

In many ways, the proposed building is good on its own. What is currently an ugly one-story building that turns its back on the street and has acres of impermeable parking lots would be replaced with a new store, 200 rental apartments and extensive green roofs, all a quarter-mile from the Tenleytown Metro station and a half-mile from the Friendship Heights Metro.

Bozzuto has hired a new architect for the project, Maurice Walters, who also designed the Arts Walk at Monroe Street Market in Brookland. The developer wasn't willing to share any images, but as before, the apartments will range from studios to three-bedroom units, perfect for an area known for its family-friendliness.

The plan will absorb the adjacent WMATA chiller plant, allowing the building to have an inviting, street-friendly facade for the entire block. A loading dock in the rear will be fully enclosed, hiding loading activities from public view.

Neighbors unsure what the public benefit should be

At the ANC meeting, the neighbors largely supported the project. No one opposed it outright. For his part, Strazzella came to the commission ready to negotiate. Owners of the adjacent rowhouses worried that the proposed building would block their sunlight, but already the building was lower than previous iterations. Residents were divided on whether the building had too many parking spaces, and whether residents should be able to get parking permits.

Everyone generally agreed that Bozzuto should close a slip lane that lets southbound drivers speed off of Wisconsin Avenue onto 42nd Street. Instead, traffic would have to slow down and turn right, reducing cut-through traffic without sacrificing connectivity. In its place, there would be a small park just outside the entrance to the new store.

Beyond these points, discussion broke down. In a preemptive gesture, Bozzuto came with plans for a 4,000 square foot community building to occupy a corner of the lot on Ellicott Street. The building would hold meeting space, but it was unknown who would own it. While the main building featured quality design, the community building was bland and uninspired.

In the subsequent discussion, one woman said it would be better used as a park. Another said it should become a new house. Commissioner Sam Serebin insisted that it should be an outdoor pool. The commissioners agreed to talk it out, but Strazzella indicated that Bozzuto wanted to file with the Zoning Commission within 60 days.

To me, the community building makes little sense. There's no clear need for this kind of functional space. More importantly, there's no reason for this kind of building to be placed on a solidly residential street. But at the meeting, it felt like everyone agreed that the ANC had to extract something from the developer.

How do you decide what a community benefit is?

Part of the problem is that there is no framework to decide what's appropriate at this site. The Upper Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Study would have identified community needs and combined them into a menu of amenities. In that scenario, either the developer or the ANC could see whether the benefit would be appropriate. In the absence of that or any plan, the public is left grasping for any chances it gets.

ANC 3E negotiated an meticulous PUD for the Babe's Billiards redevelopment nearby by focusing on the benefits and negative impacts of the project. This is a much bigger project, so there's more opportunity to toss around big-ticket items. But rather than seeing the PUD process as a mere transaction between a developer and the public, both parties should view it as a chance to build a neighborhood together.



Agreement would be a win-win for developer, locals

Grass Valley Union

Kristen Davis

March 20

I grew up in Grass Valley and will be returning this year after 10 years of pursuing advanced degrees. I’m currently an organizer for a Southern California civic advocacy organization. I was reading Dave Brooksher’s article on Russ Jeter’s Dorsey Drive development project and wanted to share some knowledge with the public.

This type of project, with its potential to generate new jobs and increase city revenue, as well as the city’s tight-knit, traditional residents and the beautiful history of our small town, is a complex and tricky one. That’s why I believe the only way to do it correctly is by facilitating a community benefits agreement between the residents of Grass Valley/Nevada County and the developer.

A CBA is a legally binding, negotiated agreement between a developer and a broad community coalition that outlines a specific project’s contributions to the community and provides legally binding assurance that the community will support the project. Forming a partnership with a project’s stakeholders (the residents) is an innovative, pragmatic approach for developers to create a mutually beneficial relationship with the community.

Community benefits are part of a win-win development strategy: meaningful, upfront communication between the developer and a broad-based community coalition decreases a developer’s risk while maximizing the positive impact of development on residents and economies. The developer benefits from active community support of the project, and community members gain when the project responds to their needs.

Starting this process early allows the developer to creatively address the community’s needs at a practical time in project planning and generates early community buy-in, saving time and money.

I wanted readers to know that this tool is available to the public in hopes that we can have a win-win development plan for the future of our beautiful community.

Kristen Davis currently attends school in Long Beach. She will be returning to Grass Valley this year.



Arena’s Meditation Room Raises Its Own Existential Questions

NY TImes

Andrew Keh

March 20

Construction has barely begun on the 2,250 promised affordable housing units. Just one of the 15 proposed towers has even started to take root. The leafy plazas remain mere sketches on paper.

Except for the glittering Barclays Center, which opened in 2012, the giant Atlantic Yards project has moved at a glacial pace, to the frustration of many in Brooklyn. But now, those impatient souls can search for solace in the project’s latest amenity: a locked, windowless, cinder-block room tucked near the arena’s first aid office and a sushi stand.

The humble space on the arena’s main concourse is called the meditation room, a place apparently intended for quiet reflection amid the din of Nets home games.

It is, perhaps, the least the developers could do. With the big-ticket items still unfulfilled, the opening of the meditation room means they have lived up to this small promise, laid out in Section E of Part VII of the lengthy community benefits agreement.

Very few Nets fans have heard of the room, and even fewer use it, at least not for meditation. It appears to sometimes double as a storage room; several pieces of luggage sat in the corner on a recent night.

The room has been mostly ignored since its official opening last week, but a few fans have stopped to puzzle over it.

“Why would you want to do that when you came here to watch a game?” Roger Kunch, a Nets fan from Long Island, said when informed of the room’s existence.

The meditation room counts essentially as an asterisk in the long list of promises that Forest City Ratner, the project’s developer, made to the borough after years of tense negotiations and bitter disputes over the 22-acre parcel of land near Downtown Brooklyn.

In the end, Forest City got the land, and the arena, thanks in large part to $305 million in public subsidies. In exchange, the developer promised jobs, affordable housing and $100 million for a rebuilt rail yard. Much of that has yet to materialize.

While Brooklyn waits, its residents can visit the new meditation room — provided they buy a Nets ticket and come on a game day, and visit the guest services office to request that the room be unlocked.

Last week, Bruce Ratner, the developer’s founder and chairman, stopped by the room to address a sparse crowd gathered for a dedication ceremony.

“Among this busyness and this craziness,” Mr. Ratner said, “you do need some time that you come and just” — he stopped to exhale — “relax and see words like ‘love,’ ‘rejoice,’ ‘forgive’ and remember why we’re here.”

The meditation room was the brainchild of the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, 83, a Brooklyn pastor who has long been one of Atlantic Yards’ most ardent supporters.

At one point, Mr. Daughtry had dreamed of constructing an atrium for a chapel inside the stadium. That never happened; he said he had been told that the room could not be dedicated to a particular denomination because the project had used public money.

Instead, the vision was scaled back to this modest room, about the size of a comfortable living room. Inspirational quotations line the walls, and a decorative water fountain recently sat unplugged, its cord drooping to the floor.

Mr. Daughtry insists that he is not disappointed in the meditation room.

“Life is more than stone and steel and stuff,” said Mr. Daughtry, who heads the House of the Lord Pentecostal Church. “It’s about values, decency, fairness, trying to teach people that there’s more to life than materialism.”

Mr. Daughtry’s opponents argue that he has been co-opted by Forest City, and they point to the group he founded, the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance, which was seeded with $50,000 from the developer. Mr. Daughtry’s family members oversee other programs that the developer funds to benefit the community. One of Mr. Daughtry’s daughters is in charge of distributing dozens of free tickets for each Nets game. Another daughter will run the arena’s community events program. His wife picked out the meditation room’s furnishings.

Mr. Daughtry said he was used to being criticized as “a sellout,” but he has taken a pragmatic approach. “Can you imagine all this is happening three or four blocks from my church, and all I had done was criticize from the side?” he said. “And my members and children are asking: ‘Can we get tickets? What happened? Why aren’t you involved?’ ”

Fans at Barclays Center are used to unusual amenities, like artisanal pickles, pulled-pork banh mi and a pop-up tattoo parlor. The arena has a barbershop and an art gallery filled with paintings of Nets players. And still, the meditation room is a bit anomalous.

Eric McClure, a co-founder of Park Slope Neighbors, a group that has opposed Atlantic Yards, said the empty meditation room distilled many of the project’s flaws. (He has not visited to meditate, or for anything else.)  

“It’s a fig leaf,” Mr. McClure said. “They’ve done the absolute minimum necessary. People don’t know about it. They haven’t publicized it. Even if they did, I don’t know who would use it.”  “But it allowed them to check the box and say they provided this meditation room,” he added.

Brooklyn fans have been bewildered by the room, though few have stepped inside. Not a single fan entered the room during the hour and a half before a recent game against the Phoenix Suns.

Jimmy Wong, a fan from Sheepshead Bay, said the notion of meditating at a basketball game seemed deeply incongruous. “I’ll stay out here, with the noise,” he said.