Sunday, May 31, 2015

Atlantic Yards, Pacific Park, and the Culture of Cheating

I offer a framework to analyze and evaluate Atlantic Yards (in August 2014 rebranded as Pacific Park Brooklyn) and the Barclays Center: Atlantic Yards, Pacific Park, and the Culture of Cheating.

Note: this post is post-dated to remain at the top of the page. Please send tips to the email address above, rather than posting a comment here.

model shown to potential immigrant investors in China in 2014,
though not shown publicly in Brooklyn.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"Respected Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner" gets key approval for Nassau Coliseum project

Unsurprisingly, the Hempstead Town Board yesterday approved the redevelopment plan for the Nassau Coliseum led by Bruce Ratner and the Nassau Events Center development group. 

As noted by Newsday, this was the final hurdle for the project, and renovation work should begin shortly after the final event at the Coliseum, an Aug. 4 concert featuring Billy Joel.

Notably, the press release referred to "respected Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner," a strained honorific that vaguely recalls the attempt to attach "Cultural Icon" to Jay-Z. The respect due Ratner surely should be balanced with wariness.

The press release below, verbatim

Murray & Hempstead Town Board Approve Plan For Renovated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and Surrounding Property
Supervisor Kate Murray and the Hempstead Town Board have approved a redevelopment plan for the property surrounding the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, clearing the way for the complete renovation of the aging arena and setting the stage for additional new construction at the site. Nassau Events Center, LLC (NEC), a development group headed by respected Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner, presented its Conceptual Master Plan to the town on April 14th and the Town Board held a hearing on the plan on May 19th. After a thorough review of the proposal and extensive questioning of the applicant by Town Board members at the public hearing, Murray and the councilmembers signed off on the Master Plan at a May 26th meeting. 
“I am pleased that the Hempstead Town Board has ‘set the stage’ for a thoroughly renovated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and additional new construction at Nassau’s HUB by approving Nassau Events Center’s plan,” stated Murray. “The Coliseum renovation will take place without any taxpayer financing, and the approved plan provides for balanced and sustainable development.”
The Conceptual Master Plan presented by NEC and approved by the Town Board provides for 3.4 million square feet of development on the 91-acre site. The first phase of the project includes a renovated Coliseum (416,000 square feet) and 188,000 square feet of related development. The Board’s approval also contained a number of technical conditions which govern issues such as adherence to the Master Plan, “green building” requirements and reviews that would be triggered by future development proposals that go above and beyond the approved Master Plan. 
NEC will not be required to appear before the Town Board again before it moves forward with its planned interior and exterior renovations on the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The applicant will be required to secure any necessary building permits from the Town of Hempstead Building Department. Types of permits that could be applicable include plumbing, electrical, general construction, etc.
“The Town Board’s approval of NEC’s Conceptual Master Plan demonstrates that Hempstead Town is committed to progressive and reasonable development at the Coliseum site,” stated Senior Town Councilman Anthony Santino. “I am proud of the work that town officials did in reviewing this proposal, and I thank Supervisor Murray for her leadership throughout this complex process.” 
Murray and Ratner indicated that NEC’s submission of its Conceptual Master Plan and the production of an Environmental Assessment Form were able to be generated in an expeditious timeframe as a result of two factors. First, Supervisor Murray, Councilwoman Goosby and the Town Board created a unique building construction zone for the area surrounding the Coliseum after a previous development proposal stalled. The town-created zone is progressive and accommodates development uses such as the Coliseum, hotels, a convention center, health and technology facilities, business offices and educational institutions, among other uses. The zone, the Mitchel Field Mixed (MFM) Use District, was adopted in June of 2011. The zone established a framework for developers, detailing the types of construction that prospective developers could build at the site. 
“Supervisor Murray and I worked hard to make the prospect of a renewed Coliseum and additional ‘smart growth’ a reality at this site,” stated Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby. “This is a great step forward in the redevelopment of the Coliseum and the property surrounding the arena.”
“Today’s approval by the Hempstead Town Board brings us one step closer to beginning work on the redevelopment of the Coliseum site. I want to thank Town Supervisor Kate Murray for working closely with us to get to this moment,” said Bruce Ratner, Executive Chairman of Forest City Ratner Companies. “We look forward to beginning construction in the near future so that we can bring all Long Island residents the reimagined venue they truly deserve.”
Murray renewed her thanks to Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano for advancing the development process at the Coliseum site by leading the review of applicants for a renovated Coliseum and selecting NEC as the developer for the project.
“Hempstead Town has demonstrated that government and the private sector can work together efficiently to bring about smart, forward-looking development,” concluded Murray. “I want to thank Bruce Ratner for presenting a great proposal that accommodates a renewed Coliseum and associated development, as well as a plan for future construction across the entire site. I also want to thank Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby and all of my colleagues on the Town Board for their tireless work in creating a progressive building construction zone at this location that will preserve our suburban character while providing for substantial growth. Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to all of the residents of Nassau County, especially those who live in communities that surround the Coliseum, for sharing their important views and concerns as we considered major development that will impact our regions for many years to come.”

Meeting 5:30 pm invites public input on proposed new app to log comments/complaints on project impacts

Late yesterday came this message from Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park:
Empire State Development Corporation (ESD) will host an Atlantic Yards Community App input meeting tomorrow [today, May 27].
5:30 - 6:30 PM
Shirley Chisholm State Office Building
55 Hanson Place, Brooklyn NY 11201
1st Floor Conference Room
Please come and share your suggestions on features you would like to see in the new software system. If you have any questions please contact Nicole Jordan at Thank you for your continued commitment to the overall success of this project.
This app--a way to centralize public comments and complaints about the impacts of project construction and operation--could be a good thing, especially if it centralizes all communication, including via 311 and from people who don't have smartphones.

However, if complaints are deemed "closed" when they're not really resolved--as suggested at a meeting last week of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC)--that won't represent progress.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Construction plans for B3 tower constrict Dean Street and Sixth Avenue, narrow access to secondary arena entrance

Among the documents released from the 5/19/15 meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) are plans to constrict the area around the site of the B3 tower at Dean Street and Sixth Avenue, for which construction begins next month.

Note that, as of next month, Sixth Avenue north of Dean Street will be constricted considerably, as foundation and excavation work begins.

Road changes planned as of June 2015
During construction of the superstructure, beginning in January, Dean Street will be narrowed even more, near Sixth.

Combined with the already constricted section of Dean Street near the B2 modular tower, still under construction, that suggests a rather challenging experience for Barclays Center attendees using the Dean Street entrance, which is the second-largest entrance to the arena.

Protected passageways five feet wide will be maintained so pedestrian traffic can proceed on the north side of Dean Street, but for much of the block those pathways will be taking up the streetbed.

Road changes planned as of January 2016

Monday, May 25, 2015

Documents from the recent AY CDC meeting belatedly released

Two sets of documents presented at the meeting last Tuesday (5/19/15) of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation were placed online some three days later--sometime during the day on Friday. (They weren't there when I checked Friday before business hours.)

That's not very timely. The documents weren't made available the next morning, so people at the meeting and reporters like me could try to analyze the meeting we just attended.

Actually, the documents should have been made public before the meeting, and even that would have presented a challenge, given their complexity. After all fact, board materials for meetings of the board of Empire State Development, the AY CDC's parent, are made public (barely) before the meeting.

Disruptive late night noise for residents near project last week; what about this week?

For some residents near the Vanderbilt Yard, the last couple of nights have been a welcome respite from overnight construction work over the previous week.

New overnight work is planned at the intersection of Atlantic and Sixth avenues beginning Tuesday night, though it's not clear how loud it's expected to be, given that no extra steps to dampen noise have been announced, as with the work last week.

Such steps only went so far. On Wednesday night, reported one resident of the Newswalk condo between Dean and Pacific streets and Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, "a constant 'beep beep' sound that trucks make backing up" kept her family awake all night--and they don't even live on the side of the building facing the railyard and the Atlantic/Sixth work site.

"When you’re lying awake at night trying to sleep any kind of intermittent, irregular noise like that will make you crazy," the resident reported.

That compounds the impact from the noisy adjacent residential project going up by day, and lasting into the evening. The double-pane windows in the building--one of the recommended noise abatement measures--didn't help much, but a white noise machine on later nights did help somewhat, the resident reported.

Another complaint

Late night noise came up briefly at the meeting last Tuesday of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation.

As I reported, Rhona Hetsrony of the Dean Street Block Association (and a Newswalk resident) spoke with frustration. “I want to invite everyone to my house at midnight... it's unbearable, for the people on Dean Street. I want to go on record and request that nobody ever approve overnight construction again. It's really unbearable for the community. I'm going to go home and get some sleep.”

She then walked out of the meeting, and her statement got no response.

On June 3, public hearing over plans to create new school in tower at Dean Street & Sixth Avenue

According to a notice from Brooklyn Community Board 8, the CB will hold a public hearing Wednesday, June 3, at 7 pm, on the New York City School Construction Authority's (SCA) plans to create a primary and intermediate school within District 13.

The location: CNR-Center Light Health Care Center, 727 Classon Avenue (corner of Park Place). Public comments will be accepted until 6/29/15.

The school is to be housed in B15, the a 27-story tower with more than 300 market-rate apartments, part of the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project, just east of Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets. (The previous occupants of the site were removed by eminent domain.)

The school is expected to occupy 100,000 square feet in the building, and will have capacity for 616 seats. Greenland Forest City Partners has agreed to build space for the school, which will be paid for by the SCA.

The documents below include the Notice of Filing, Site Plan, and supplemental materials.

The "Alternate Sites Analysis" below states, "Because the proposed space within the planned B-15 building would help to accommodate the increase in the local public school student population associated with the new housing that is under consideration and planned as part of the Atlantic Yards project, no alternative sites have been considered."

So there.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

From the latest Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Alert: continued night work May 26-June 1 at Atlantic/Sixth

Beyond the intriguing admission about interior work in the B2 modular tower, the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Update for the two weeks beginning tomorrow, May 25, contains several descriptions of new work planned, notably continued night work Tuesday May 26 through Monday June 1 at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Sixth Avenue.

Unlike in the previous two-week alert, there is no mention of "directional lighting" or equipment like excavators, cranes, and hoe rams, with the installation of portable fences with acoustic blanket linings to help dampen the sound.

Note that, as of February, Forest City Ratner's CEO said no overnight work was planned. That was not exactly reliable.

(The document was issued Friday. Such an early issuance is unusual, given that the updates usually emerge one or after the date.)

The document, using asterisks and red type, distinguishes new work from ongoing work. Among the new work.

Atlantic Avenue and 6th Avenue Intersection

During the overnight hours in this reporting period:
• *May 26th through May 29th:
o 6th Avenue will be closed from Pacific Street to Atlantic Avenue (6th Ave Bridge) to allow for required work to be completed at the intersection Atlantic and 6th.
 This section of the road will be closed for the duration of this period.
 There will be no pedestrian access on 6th Avenue between Pacific and the north side of Atlantic Avenue during the period referenced above.
 Flagmen and/or TEAs will be posted at the intersections to help direct traffic and pedestrians.
 Work will occur during day and night hours during this period.
 Work during this period will include the setting of Main Steel Girder along the LIRR
Tunnel and installation of Temporary Road Decking across 6th Avenue as well as continuation of the mini pile and tie down anchors in the intersection.
• *May 29th at 10:00 pm through June 1st at 6:00 am:
o 6th Avenue will be closed from Pacific Street to Atlantic Avenue (6th Ave Bridge) and there will be varying lane closures on Atlantic Avenue throughout the weekend to allow for temporary repaving of the Atlantic Ave and 6th Ave intersection.
Green roof work at Barclays Center
  • *The Flatbush Avenue crane was assembled the weekend of May 16-17. It will be needed for approximately 2 to 4 weeks (depending on weather conditions), after which it will be disassembled.
  • *Deliveries to the Flatbush Avenue crane location continue during this reporting period. Trucks will travel northbound on Flatbush Avenue past the crane site and back into the fenced area to the lifting zone. Flagmen will be present as needed.
B11 – 550 Vanderbilt Avenue:
During this reporting period:

• *Con Ed is scheduled to commence bringing additional electric power into a property manhole located within the site on Dean Street.
• *Additional Plexi-glass panels will be installed on the site fence at the corner of Vanderbilt and Dean Streets per FDNY direction to improve visibility.

Who knew? At B2 tower, "limited interior work" now planned on modules (presumably delivered complete)

Need for interior work?
An intriguing admission emerged in the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Update for the two weeks beginning May 25, a document issued Friday (bottom).

Regarding the B2 modular tower at Dean Street, and Flatbush Avenue, the document states:
  • Work related to the erection of modules for floors 11, 12, and 13 is continuing during this reporting period. 
  • Limited interior work will begin on modules that have already been installed. 
No such "limited interior work" has been ever announced previously; after all, the point of modular construction is to deliver completed modules to the site.

The photo above sent by a reader seems to show that ceilings inside some modules have missing or removed panels.

By contrast, "mechanical, plumbing and electrical mate line work"--connecting the modules so they can be part of the finished building--has been announced several times.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Attention (some) project neighbors: double-paned windows and air conditioners available to dampen noise

Just three days after the question of how much Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park neighbors had been informed of the requirement that they be offered double-paned windows and air conditioners for noise attenuation, new notices were distributed yesterday.

I spotted the notices yesterday posted on Dean Street properties between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, and on Vanderbilt Avenue between Dean and Pacific street.

(A residents adds that they were also placed on Dean Street between Sixth and Carlton Avenue, in part, and on Vanderbilt from Dean to Bergen, in part, and on Carlton Avenue from Dean to Bergen, in part. They were not visible on Carlton Avenue from Pacific to Dean, right opposite the project site.. That's a prime area, so it's possible the neighbors were informed already, or via other means.)

Updating the list

The issue came up May 19 at the meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC)n, where directors were told by Forest City Ratner executive Jane Marshall that the developer was updating a tracking list created in 2007 to reach out to neighbors.

At the meeting, resident Peter Krashes said some residents had received a letter regarding potential noise mitigation late--two or three months after the groundbreaking last December for the B15 tower at Carlton and Dean, and it was “dated to the point of the groundbreaking.”

The new letters come well after construction activities started on the southeast block of the project site, bounded by Dean and Pacific streets, and Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues.
At the meeting, Krashes asked Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency overseeing/shepherding the project (and the parent of the advisory AY CDC) if the developer met the required terms regarding public notice to residents about the noise attenuation mitigations, and if there was a penalty.

Empire State Development official Rachel Shatz said ESD would review Forest City’s recordkeeping, so she couldn’t yet comment on compliance.

Deja vu: another truck violates truck route, drives through residential street

On Dean Street east of Sixth Avenue
This past Tuesday, 5/19/15, on the same day that an Empire State Development representative reported that the number of complaints regarding Atlantic Yards impactrs had been decreasing, a report on Atlantic Yards Watch documented a truck ignoring the required truck route.

The same thing happened yesterday, again documented on Atlantic Yards Watch.

The truck, which had delivered a module to the B2 modular tower on Dean Street just east of Flatbush Avenue, was supposed to turn left on Sixth Avenue.

Instead, it continued on Dean Street through the residential neighborhood, violating the requirement to use the truck route.

Potential violations

These seem to be clear violations.

According to the New York City Department of Transportation, the failure to use the local truck route leads to a violation, as designated in Section 4-13 of the New York City Tra ffic Rules.Here's advice from a trucker web site:
Very important that for all new truckers and for some occasionals, that you make sure you only use designated TRUCK ROUTES. You are to use these roads to get as close as possible to your destination, then you can get off and finish your trip.If you are caught being OFF TRUCK ROUTE, you will be fined $250 plus 2 points on your license. Second and third offenses $500 and $1000 with 2 more points each time.
Promises to avoid such violations

Such violations are not supposed to happen. According to the Second Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments (MEC), which documents an agreement between the developer (then Forest City Ratner, now Greenland Forest City Partners) and Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency overseeing/shepherding the project:
Truck deliveries shall be scheduled, and untimely deliveries shall, in general, be turned away or reassigned with different delivery times. Trucks shall be required to use NYCDOT-designated truck routes for traveling to and from the construction site, which include primarily Atlantic Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, 4th Avenue, and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway except as required for movement between staging and construction areas
The document says that Forest City is supposed to check regularly for non-compliance with the truck protocol requirements concerning idling and/or queuing, and to tell ESD about repeat violators, which can be warned, sanctioned or banned.

The document states:
Maps that identify acceptable routing of trucks to and from the Project site shall be provided to all contractors as part of the MEC training program. FCRC or its contractors shall take measures to ensure that the trucks follow such routes. Among other things, contractors shall be directed to provide those maps to their subcontractors, and require that the maps be distributed to drivers and kept available for reference in the cabs at all times. 
But there's no apparent sanction on the developer--or the companies/drivers--for these truck route violations. That seems to be a significant gap.

Friday, May 22, 2015

As of February, disruptive night work was not planned, but guess what: schedule creep (and overnight noise)

So there's been noisy, disruptive night work at the Vanderbilt Yard for the past week or so, and it's keeping residents from the Newswalk condo and others nearest the the site from sleeping, I've been told.

The work was disclosed in the most recent Construction Update, and surely proceeds under permit.

But it also proceeds from a typical Forest City Ratner strategy of incomplete candor. Consider my coverage of the 2/16/15 first meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, set up in part to monitor project impacts.

Resident Wayne Bailey of Newswalk, which is adjacent to the Vanderbilt Yard, asked Forest City CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin if there would be nighttime work at the railyard.

"Right now we're not planning on it," Gilmartin said, though she acknowledged "schedule creep" could provoke such work. "If there is a plan, we need to get out early and explain why."

They didn't explain why, actually. The shorthand Construction Update simply described, but didn't explain. And surely they were planning, at least for the contingency.

I wrote four years ago that anticipate it does not, to Forest City Ratner, mean foresee, but rather "the placeholder date we don't believe but think we can get away with." Similarly, not planning apparently means "we may be planning but won't admit it publicly."

Below is the summary from meeting minutes.

My Newsday op-ed: Nassau must be wary about plans for Coliseum

My op-ed in Friday's Newsday is headlined Nassau must be wary about plans for Coliseum. The message--hardly radical--is that Bruce Ratner's record is worthy of scrutiny.

Consider one episode that didn't make the piece, as I wrote last September, regarding the split between Forest City and former partner Skanska. An affidavit from Skanksa's Richard Kennedy detailed an increasingly contentious relationship regarding blame for the delay in producing modules:
In early 2014, Skanska Building attempted to engage in constructive conversations with Forest City to resolve issues. Forest City's responses ranged from hostile to inattentive and accusatory. For example, at a meeting on January 28, 2014 when William Flemming, the President of Skanska Building, mentioned that design issues existed, Bruce Ratner's response was to use a vulgar street epithet followed by "I don't care if it costs you fifty million to finish the project ... I'll see you at the grand opening."
No wonder I wrote in Newsday, "The developer seems affable, but former partners portray him as cutthroat."

Yes, as some commenters, including Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, inevitably point out, Newsday can be accused of animus to Ratner, because its parent company also owns Madison Square Garden, which lost out on the Nassau Coliseum renovation. 

But it was the New York Times, for example, in a news story, that cited Ratner's "reputation for promising anything to get a deal, only to renegotiate relentlessly for more favorable terms."