NYC council says yes to Yankees plan

Okay, so turns out the suspense didn’t amount to much after all. This morning, as an overflow throng of Bronx residents and construction workers sat waiting in a City Hall hearing room, staring out the windows at a freak spring snowstorm, the New York city council huddled behind closed doors for two hours to decide beforehand how the vote would go on the Yankees‘ $1.2 billion stadium project. The answer when the council finally emerged: The stadium’s land-use plan was swiftly approved (or at least, swiftly after much speechifying by councilmembers) by a 44-2 vote, with two abstentions.

The reasons given for supporting the plan by councilmembers – nearly all of whom gave nods to the “community concerns” over the project – were all over the map, from fears that the Yankees would leave town to the desire to “revitalize” the Bronx, and many sounded unconvinced even by their own words. Inez Dickens asked: “Is it the answer to all [the community concerns]? Absolutely not. But there must be a beginning somewhere.” The project “will bring 18 acres of parkland to the Bronx,” enthused council chair Christine Quinn, carefully not mentioning the 22 acres of parkland that would be displaced. Gale Brewer gave a speech detailing the dangers of trusting corporations to live up to community benefits agreements, and decrying the rushed taking of parkland last summer, then voted yes anyway. And Tony Avella, who’d penned a strongly worded letter on Friday detailing the many reasons he was opposing the stadium deal, announced that the deal was “much better” now, specifically citing Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki’s last-second declaration of support – but no funding commitments – for a new Metro-North station near the stadium. “Is it perfect?” Avella told me. “No. But you have to balance these things out.”

In the end, the only two “no” votes came from Helen Diane Foster, the Bronx rep who’s been an increasingly vocal opponent of the plan to drop a stadium on the doorstep of many of her constituents, and who gave a speech practically begging her council colleagues’ forgiveness for voting her conscience and not the will of the Bronx leadership; and from Brooklyn’s Charles Barron, a frequent Bloomberg critic who likely has bigger things on his mind than possible council retribution, if the “Barron for Congress in 2006” pin he wore to a morning press conference is any indication. (Barron even dared question why Yankee Stadium couldn’t be renovated or rebuilt in place, insisting, “When you have the power to tell the Yankees that they cannot have the park, that they have to build somewhere else, you still can get jobs – you can get everything that you want, if you use your power.”) Two others, including Brooklyn Nets arena foe Letitia James, abstained; one other voted for the stadium but against the accompanying parking garages.

And that was the ballgame. The Yankees stadium bonds still must be voted on by the council on April 28, but given today’s events, it’s nearly inconceivable that they’ll be defeated. That means the best hope for the House That Ruth Built to avoid the wrecking ball – and taxpayers to avoid $420 million in stadium subsidies – is for the National Park Service to ride to the rescue with a ruling that the replacement parkland doesn’t meet federal requirements, or to win the same judgment via a lawsuit. The fat lady may not be singing yet, but Frank Sinatra is warming up his pipes.

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5 comments on “NYC council says yes to Yankees plan

  1. Does the National Park Service have a public comment period when reviewing changes under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965? It seems clear from the LCWF history that this new use of Maccombs Dam does NOT meet the standards of the law.

    From ” The third legacy, and the one with the greatest impact on long-term protection of recreation resources, is the provision of Section 6(f)(3) of the Act that requires all property acquired or developed with LWCF assistance be maintained perpetually in public outdoor recreation use. Consistent enforcement over the years has ensured permanency of LWCF’s contributions to the national recreation estate. The most tangible evidence of the program in future years will be the tens of thousands of recreation sites across the country that remain available for our children and our grandchildren.”

    What is the process at the National Park Service? Jack Howard, head of the LWCF, said they had not even received the plan from NY. I think the smart thing for opponents of destoying the existing Stadium (I’m for rebuilding in place) is to give the NPS review system as much attention as possible. Get parks and environmental groups experienced in the review and public comment process involved and make sure the NPS review isn’t politicized. The LWCF was written during the Kennedy administration. Has anyone thought to involve RFK Jr. from Riverkeepers in keeping the greenspace in the Bronx open? Maintaining greenspace to keep the water tables healthy is one of Robert Kennedy’s biggest issues.

    I can’t see how the new Stadium squares with Section 6(f)(3) of the LWCF Act “that requires all property acquired or developed with LWCF assistance be MAINTAINED PERPETUALLY in public outdoor recreation use.” Keep the NPS review public and open and in the daylight with public comment and all deadlines posted in advance and opponents can still be heard.

  2. Metro New York has more on the Land and Water Conservation Fund review:
    “But this reasoning may not meet the federal requirements set forth in the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965, which says a park receiving federal money can be converted to another use only if ÔøΩall practical alternativesÔøΩ have been evaluated. The converted parkland must also be replaced with parks of equal value, ÔøΩusefulness and location.ÔøΩ

    ÔøΩThereÔøΩs no way they can meet this criteria because elected officials made a deal that didnÔøΩt allow an exploration of alternatives,ÔøΩ said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates.”

    For a sample of the National Park Service public comment and review process see the site listed below. I’m not an expert on these laws but getting the new Yankee Stadium listed in the public comment section would be a great opportunity for the populist opposition to voice their concerns.

  3. Alhough the NPS hasn’t received an application for grabbing Macombs Dam yet, I heard the public comment period runs out on Monday.

  4. Has NY state legislature approved the use of the parkland for the new Yankee Stadium? New York courts have applied the “public use doctrine” to require that parkland may not be used for non-park purposes without approval by the state legislature

  5. The legislature alienated the parkland last June, eight days after the stadium proposal was first unveiled. As a parks advocate told me, “No alienation has moved as fast as the Yankees’.” (See “Two Stadiums, No Waiting” in the “Recently by Neil deMause” section on the right-hand side of this page.)

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