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It’s not a fair fight.
That’s what opponents of overdevelopment are charging this week after learning that developer William Stein paid George Arzt Communications, Inc. $35,000 this year to lobby New York City Councilman Bill de Blasio on his behalf.
Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association (CGNA) member Katia Kelly posted the information on her “Pardon Me for Asking” blog earlier this week after being tipped off about the existence of the information on the nyc.gov Web site.
“I thought that this was for big companies,” Kelly said. “If this is going on, no wonder our neighborhoods aren’t getting protected.”
Critics like Kelly are still upset with de Blasio for his refusal to join with them at a Board of Standards & Appeals (BSA) public hearing held last month to determine if Stein will be allowed to construct his Oliver House condominium project at 131 2nd Place/360 Smith Street under old zoning regulations.
The councilman did write a letter reminding the BSA of Carroll Gardens’ downzoning efforts. The BSA decided not to render a decision and instead scheduled a second hearing on Stein’s application for later this month.
De Blasio said that he’s known George Arzt for some 15 years and that he’s agreed with him on some occasions and disagreed with him on others, but that he has always made his decisions on behalf of the greater community.
“The central issue in Carroll Gardens is achieving downzoning,” de Blasio said. “That’s the number one mission. The wide-street text amendment was a major step forward. It was never about 360 Smith Street. Stein repeatedly tried to make a public issue that this was an underhanded effort to limit him, it never was, it was about protecting the larger neighbor.”
Arzt, who called de Blasio “a man of integrity” and “one of the best public officials around,” could not say exactly how many times over the last year he has discussed the Oliver House development with the councilman.
“It’s tough, any time you talk to a public official it’s considered lobbying, so you have to put in for it,” Arzt told the Courier.
Kelly stressed that she is not suggesting any wrongdoing on de Blasio’s part.
“I just felt that the community should know it could lead to decisions in favor of developers,” she said.
Arzt dismissed such claims.
“These are people who don’t understand Bill and certainly don’t understand what Bill is all about,” he said. “It is mind-boggling that they would make up charges or innuendos like this.”
Kelly’s husband and fellow CGNA member Glenn Kelly maintains that a situation where affluent developers can hire dedicated lobbyists to fight for them while the community at large has to fend for itself, is inherently unfair.
“We all know that corruption exists,” he said. “You hear about these big Washington lobbying firms and it just seems like it’s far away. Then you stumble across something in your own back yard. The playing field is not level. We’re contending with people with a vested interest and deep pockets. It’s not a fair fight.”
Katia Kelly insists that de Blasio’s absence at last month’s BSA hearing was “very telling.”
Arzt maintains that such conclusions are erroneous since after a year of lobbying “Bill went against the project.”
“I did the best I could,” Arzt said. “I could not get the project carved out from the zoning text amendment.”
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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