Council Hands a Rare Defeat to Related Over Armory Project [Updated]

The City Council is preparing to hand a defeat Monday to the Related Companies, the normally-successful development powerhouse that sought to turn the giant Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx into a mall.

The forthcoming rebuke–the Land Use committee Monday morning voted 17-1 against the project–is an extremely rare action for a Council that, in the end, almost always supports proposed development projects throughout the city.

But here, the debate evolved into a binary choice about living wage and whether to mandate that all retailers in the $323 million mall pay their employees at least $10 an hour. Related said this would be impossible–no bank would lend it the money to build, and no major retailer would agree to come in when wages could be different at a nearby store.

But the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union applied heavy pressure on the issue, saying no jobs were better than “poverty jobs” (not noting that a major portion of the mall’s jobs were to have been above $10 an hour), and proceeded to demand, successfully, that the Bronx delegation on the Council make an example of Related, and vote the project down. The Bloomberg administration tried to save the project, putting more subsidy into the deal and offering an optional living wage program for retailers.

In a sense, the vote injects a new sense of hazard into New York’s land-use fights, in which the Council often threatens to vote against a given project but never actually pulls the trigger (concessions are always thrown its way to avoid a defeat).

The only other defeat in recent memory of a major development project at the Council was also a Related project: In 2005, the Council voted down a planned big-box development on Brush Avenue where Related wanted to put a BJ’s.
Lobbyist Richard Lipsky, who opposed Related on both projects, called Monday  morning’s move a “precedent-setting” one in a chat with The Observer‘s Azi Paybarah.

Update: 2:10 p.m.

The final vote in the full Council was 45-1, with the lone no vote coming from Councilwoman Helen Sears. Numerous speakers called the moment “historic,” though Ms. Sears and one other member, Councilman Peter Vallone, questioned the logic in defeating a job-creating development in a recession.

ebrown@observer.com