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Fourth Avenue rising right

The Brooklyn Paper
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A few members of the editorial board grabbed a late beer on Wednesday at a new bar on Fourth Avenue — a few blocks from where Bruce Ratner plans to build his Atlantic Yards mega-development. The fact-finding mission clarified once again why this newspaper has opposed Ratner’s plan, yet has consistently supported sensible development like the kind that is transforming the once-dour Fourth Avenue into a vibrant strip.

The 4th Avenue Pub was packed — at midnight on a weeknight! — and it provided a fitting symbol of the good things that can happen when the city gets out of the way and lets development take place organically.

By upzoning Fourth Avenue in 2004, the city gave the green light to property owners to put up taller buildings along a wide boulevard that is well served by mass transit.

Certainly, not every building that is rising between Flatbush Avenue and 16th Street is an architectural treasure. A report last week in our Park Slope Edition made it clear that many Slopers don’t share Shaya Boymelgreen’s taste for buildings that look like dormitories covered in dun-colored brick.

But the market, not the city, will dictate whether Boymelgreen and his fellow builders will be successful. If Boymelgreen can’t move apartments, he and other developers will make improvements that will drive buyers to their buildings.

The market will encourage better and better development on Fourth Avenue. And it won’t all be luxury housing. As we’ve seen elsewhere, many developers will choose to partner with the city — and accept subsidies — to build below-market-rate units.

As a result of such positive developments, more and more people will move to what was once an area dominated by flat-fix shops and taxi garages, continuing a trend towards making it an energetic neighborhood that’s perfect for a late night beer or a top-notch meal.

If, 20 years ago, the city and state had done the same with the nearby Long Island Rail Road train yards, we would not be stuck with Bruce Ratner’s master-planned monstrosity.

As Fourth Avenue proves, an urban area’s so-called “blight” is best remedied by allowing individual developers to build what the market will bear, not by condemning family-owned businesses and recently renovated condo buildings so that a hand-picked developer can de-map streets in favor of superblocks that stifle urban life.

On Fourth Avenue, developers are assuming the risk and, if successful, will merit the rewards. Contrast this with Ratner’s mega-development, where taxpayers are assuming the bulk of the risk by underwriting the project with hundreds of millions in direct subsidies and billions in low-interest loans. Such subsidies are not an investment; they’re a payoff.

The Fourth Avenue renaissance cost taxpayers nothing — outside of an inexpensive beer in a friendly new place.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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