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September 1, 2009: Vol. 1, No. 6
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Meet Councilman Tony Avella

The Brooklyn Paper

Mayoral hopeful Tony Avella revealed his own plans for Atlantic Yards — and his own plans for planning in general — when he sat down with reporters from The Brooklyn Paper and its parent company, Community Newspaper Group, last week.

The Queens Councilman said he would shrink Bruce Ratner’s stalled mega-project, which currently calls for an arena and 16 skyscrapers near the junction of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues.

“They have to reduce the density, I think it’s too much for that area,” said Avella, who in June called for a reduction in the scale of a planned 17-story high-rise near the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge in DUMBO.

Mirroring comments made by Mayor Bloomberg during his endorsement interview with The Brooklyn Paper, Avella also scorned the kinds of community benefits agreements that Ratner inked with several groups, some of which did not exist before they signed a contract offering their support for the project in exchange for financial backing.

“I’m not a fan of having private individuals negotiate [with developers] outside the public view,” he said. “That leads to corruption.”

Though Avella was critical of the Atlantic Yards project, he saved much of his ire for Gotham’s style of city planning in general, which he claimed simultaneously favors developers and fosters a “not-in-my-backyard” mentality.

“We need to fix planning in the city,” said Avella, an outspoken opponent of the city’s Coney Island rezoning. “We don’t do planning. We do knee-jerk reactions to developers.”

Instead, the Bayside councilman calls for a bottom-up model of city planning that puts community members and city-paid land-use lawyers in charge.

When a reporter skeptically whether Avella could point to any example of such a planning model ever occurring in New York City, he admitted he could not — but said that the lack of such an example demonstrated the problem with development in New York.

He said that the city of Seattle uses an approach that he favors.

“When you give people real power, they generally do the right thing,” he said.

If elected, city planning isn’t the only thing that the 57-year-old plans to shake-up.

Avella said he would fire Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan because the agency steamrolls its agenda with little community imput, he claimed.

“Whether it’s a bike lane or putting down pedestrian walkways … there is no communication,” said Avella, who noted that many communities have become opponents of cycling paths because of the haphazard way that they have been installed.

Avella also said he would sack Department of Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri and Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz — though Avella’s jury is still out for Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

It will be an uphill battle for any Democrat to defeat Mayor Bloomberg, who is using his immense personal fortune to seek his third term — this time on the Republican ticket.

But before Avella can have a chance to go after Bloomberg, he’ll need to win the Democratic nomination, which is also being sought by Comptroller Bill Thompson. Our interview with Thompson also went online today.

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