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14th February

First Published in The New York Sun, February 14, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

The events of Thursday mark a low point in the recent history of the City Council. The zoning and franchises subcommittee of the land use committee, and then the full committee, rejected an application from BJ’s Wholesale Club to build a new store in the east Bronx.The full council will, unless decency and common sense prevail, ratify those votes this week.

This constitutes a dangerous precedent. Decisions on land use are supposed to be made on grounds relating to land-use issues. This decision was a demonstration of the raw political power of organized labor. BJ’s is one of those “big box” stores that sell consumer goods at low prices. They also typically have a non-union workforce — the real reason the zoning application was denied.
In allowing unions to dictate decisions on land use, the council also destroys its own tradition of giving members the courtesy of determining the fate of projects in their own districts. That is the power that is exerted by the person who might as well be the speaker of the council, Bertha Lewis of ACORN and the Working Families Party.

The land-use chairwoman, Melinda Katz of Queens, maintains that her committee based its choice on traffic issues. That is nonsense. While the proposed BJ’s is at the busy center of the intersection of some of New York’s busiest highways, most of the traffic generated by the store would take place at off-hours and represent a minuscule portion of the cars that pass by.

In rejecting the application, the committee also rejected the judgment of their colleague who represents the area, Madeline Provenzano. Her support is seconded by the local community board and by the president of the Bronx, Adolfo Carrion Jr. Does Ms. Katz know more about what is best for this area of the Bronx than do the residents, public officials, and neighborhood leaders who sit on the community board?

The loss to the Bronx community is ironic, given that it was promoted by the very factions that purport to be supporters of the disadvantaged. BJ’s Warehouse would create 300 jobs in the city’s poorest borough, home to its largest minority population.

Nearly a decade ago, when Home Rejection of BJ’s Marks Low Point Depot opened its first Bronx store, more than 15,000 applicants sought the 400 jobs. When a supermarket opened a couple of years ago, thousands applied for a handful of new jobs. As educrats wring their hands over strategies to turn around the borough’s troubled high schools, consider this: How motivated can Bronx high-school students be when they see their older brothers and sisters standing unemployed on street corners with diplomas in hand?
The Bronx needs jobs. There is nothing wrong with this troubled borough that 100,000 new jobs couldn’t fix. The council, in denying this application, brings us further from that goal.

Why are big-box stores like BJ’s,Wal-Mart, and Ikea so popular? Low prices. In denying the people of the Bronx the ability to benefit from the low retail prices enjoyed by the more well-to-do in the surrounding suburbs, the council is picking the pockets of the most deprived of our neighbors. The Bronx is the poorest of the state’s 62 counties, but the needs of the unions seem to come before making sure that Bronx residents have easy access to lowpriced consumer goods.

Ultimately, the city, too, will lose.The big-box stores exist in nearby suburbs and are expanding. It is those towns and villages that will benefit from the sales and payroll taxes that will be lost to us in the city. Remember that when we hear how suburban districts spend more on their schools than we do on ours. They are doing it in part on our nickel, the legions of New York City residents regularly trekking to New Jersey, Westchester, and Long Island to shop at discount prices.

This store was rejected because of the power of the unions, but, perversely, it is also a reflection of their weakness. Because they know that they will fail in efforts to organize the workers of the big-box stores, they are pulling out all the stops to make sure that the jobs never exist.

We can debate the business practices of the big-box stores in the proper forum. But the land-use process of the city is not that venue. Land-use decisions should be about the buildings,not what goes on in them.

Employees will determine whether they wish to be organized into a union. And the marketplace will ultimately determine the viability of the commercial endeavor. By pursuing an agenda unrelated to land use in making this decision, the council may open the city up to well-deserved legal action.

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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