Beacon Press has just brought out Stacy Mitchell's book Big Box Swindle. For anyone interested in preserving local commerce, this is a big event.
Red Hook, Brooklyn, is a peninsula reaching into New York Harbor, with spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan. Red Hook has no highway, no subway, and narrow cobblestone streets. Opponents say it may be the least appropriate place in New York City for a big box store. For information about the lawsuit that concerned Red Hook residents and businesses brought on February 10, 2005, represented by attorney Antonia Bryson, see this blog.
Here are ten reasons, not all of them included in the Ikea-Red Hook lawsuit, why the far-reaching consequences of Ikea-Red Hook will damage not only Red Hook, Brooklyn, but the City of New York.
1. Ikea – Red Hook will create bad precedent for New York City’s future dealings with big box stores. It will encourage big boxes to pick inappropriate sites and to insist on building blank-walled warehouses, without sidewalk entrances, without show windows, and without any attempt to fit into New York City’s traditional neighborhoods and urban streets.
2. It will introduce a gigantic suburban transplant into the street grid of Red Hook, Brooklyn. It will tilt the balance in Brooklyn away from New York City’s tradition of transit-oriented neighborhoods and towards suburban automobile-dependency. It will lead inevitably to the demand for additional expressways, with additional suburban sprawl, inside New York City.
3. It will cause traffic to back up on the already-overburdened, and soon-to-be-rebuilt, Gowanus Expressway. It will so greatly increase traffic on local streets that it will imperil local businesses whose trucks need to use the streets as well as endangering local residents.
4. It will create bad precedent for New York City’s future treatment of neighborhood planning, encouraging multinational corporations to come into New York City, create their own pressure groups, and use big spending to override community 197-a plans like the Red Hook 197-a plan that the City Planning Commission approved in 1996.
5. It will blight the historic New York City waterfront with a mammoth billboard for Ikea, visible from the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan.
6. It will raise real estate values in Red Hook from the modest level for manufacturing, with its high economic multiple, to the level for big retail, which adds little to the local economy, thus increasing demand for re-zoning from manufacturing to retail and driving out manufacturers who lease their space, plus manufacturing jobs. This is just when the Mayor is announcing the importance of manufacturing areas.
7. It will send local income away from New York City to Ikea headquarters, instead of that income’s flowing through New York City’s banks, professional firms, service businesses and suppliers.
8. It will deaden the creative synergy of New York’s manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, and designers. It will substitute an out-of-town formula for local ingenuity.
9. It will force local shopkeepers out of business, deaden local shopping streets, and destroy more jobs in local retail stores and distributorships than it creates.
10. It will tear up cobblestone streets, bulldoze historic structures on the Erie Basin, and incapacitate the historic graving dock. ####
& THE ECONOMY
All big boxes, including Ikea and Wal-Mart, say that they create jobs and increase tax revenues. These are claims we should not take on faith. I have looked at the evidence. So far as I can see now, the big boxes' promises are largely false: the costs of big boxes to the city, to other businesses and to the environment are huge. They claim to create jobs, but economists' studies show that they actually destroy jobs. I report that research in my Newsday op-ed Superstores Come With Too High a Price.
There has never been a full public debate in New York City about whether we want to let in big box stores and, if so, what they should have to look like and how they should have to pay their employees. There is an urgent need for public discussion. For my reasons for opposing Ikea in Red Hook, see my Brooklyn Papers op-ed, Why Red Hook Ikea Project Should be Rejected. There are considerations in city planning, aesthetics, urbanism, law, historic preservation and economics to think that an Ikea store is not the right use for the Red Hook waterfront. Read Ten (10) Reasons to Oppose Ikea-Red Hook.
This blog aims to paint the whole picture. I will be posting all of the court documents in the litigation.
About me. I am a professional writer and speaker, a business owner and non-practicing lawyer, and I live in Manhattan. I have no personal economic interest in these issues in general or Red Hook in particular. As a citizen, however, I think that we need to constrain the big boxes, make them look like other New York City stores, locate near New York City public transit like other New York City stores, and behave like other New York City employers. Otherwise, I am concerned about what the big boxes will do to our lively New York City high streets and our urban way of life.
Boilerplate. I am delighted if you want to refer to or even use short excerpts from this site, as long as you credit me and link back to this site. If you want to quote a larger chunk of my material, please send me an e-mail.
Mail to: MCG@BigCitiesBigBoxes.com
CONTACT: Antonia Bryson, Esquire
RED HOOK GROUP ALLEGES
IKEA LAND GRAB ILLEGAL
NEW YORK, February 10, 2005. A diverse group of Brooklyn residents and businesses seeking to promote the waterfront has filed suit in New York Supreme Court to stop Scandinavian retailer Ikea from building its proposed 22-acre tax-subsidized suburban-style superstore project on the waterfront in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
According to attorney Antonia Bryson, when the New York City Planning Commission and City Council approved Ikea’s Red Hook superstore project in October 2004, they acted illegally, betraying the commitments they had made to the Red Hook community and to the City--commitments backed up by years of work and planning--to keep the site for maritime use.
City planners have always considered the Red Hook waterfront a critical piece of New York City’s industrial infrastructure. Over a two-year period between 1992 and 1994, with help that the City Planning Department itself provided, people from all parts of the Red Hook community hammered out a plan for developing and re-populating their isolated Brooklyn waterfront neighborhood, which faces the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan. The City Planning Commission ("CPC") sponsored, encouraged, and finally approved the Red Hook plan. As reported in The New York Times and other media, the Red Hook community’s plan was one of the first community plans in New York City under section 197-a of the 1989 New York City Charter, designed to give citizens a voice in development.
The Red Hook community plan adopted the recommendations of the City Planning Department’s 1992 Waterfront Plan for the site on which Ikea wants to build. The site has unique maritime features, and the plan recommended that it remain zoned and dedicated to continued maritime activity. It also recommended that commercial activity and public waterfront access be fostered in another area of the peninsula nearby, where in fact a new Fairway is about to open.
In 2001, however, after citizens in both New Rochelle, New York, and nearby Gowanus, Brooklyn, emphatically rejected Ikea’s efforts to build a New York-area superstore in their communities, Ikea next turned its attention to the remote Red Hook peninsula. Although it has no subway, no highway, and narrow cobblestone streets, the Red Hook waterfront will provide tax subsidies to a developer, because it is within a New York State Empire Zone. Such tax subsidies for Ikea are unfair, the petitioners allege, because they come at the expense of local Brooklyn shopping streets and New York City businesses. The City Planning Commission and City Council, however, jumped at this chance to turn the New York City waterfront and the Red Hook community over to Ikea. They examined no alternative uses for this waterfront site.
The lawsuit asserts that the CPC and the Council exceeded their legal powers when they re-zoned the site to allow Ikea to build its gigantic big box store--probably the largest store in the city--with a 1400-car parking lot in a mall-like setting right on the water, destroying a number of historic structures in the process, including one of the few working graving docks in New York harbor, and vandalizing the City’s waterfront.
The lawsuit asserts that in order to justify turning the site over to Ikea, the City Planning Commission and City Council used a manifestly faulty environmental review, and an Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") that employed unrealistic assumptions and specious reasoning in order to minimize the project’s significant environmental impacts, both on the socioeconomic character of the neighborhood, and on traffic conditions in Red Hook and in greater Brooklyn.
The lawsuit emphasizes that the huge suburban Ikea store will damage the waterfront, bring excessive traffic to Red Hook’s streets, produce gridlock on the major traffic corridors surrounding the neighborhood, including the already-overburdened Gowanus Expressway, and fail to produce any real economic development in Red Hook. The Ikea project will consume 22 acres of industrially-zoned waterfront land that recent trends show is in increasing demand, and that employment trends show will continue to be in demand. On January 19, 2005, in fact, Mayor Bloomberg announced that preserving industrially-zoned land in NewYork City is vitally important.
Among the failures of the EIS with respect to traffic impacts, meanwhile, is the fact that on a typical Saturday there will be almost 2,000 vehicles driving to and from the Ikea store in the peak hour. The EIS the Commission and City Council relied on, however, contends that these automobiles can be squeezed down the funnel of Red Hook’s narrow streets to the waterfront with no disruption to any part of the neighborhood, including a large, heavily-used park and recreation area just across the street and the City’s new Passenger Ship Terminal being built nearby.
The lawsuit seeks to annul and vacate the Environmental Impact Statement and the Planning Commission’s and City Council’s actions with respect to the Red Hook site, and to enjoin Ikea and the other defendants from beginning demolition or construction in connection with the project. Petitioners’ court submissions will be posted on the internet.
IN THE MEDIA