Friday, October 12, 2007

Uh-oh: Newark to close street bordering arena to guard against terrorism (and what about AY?)

With only two weeks to go before the planned opening of the $375 million Prudential Center in Downtown Newark, city officials announced Wednesday that they would close part of one adjacent street during arena events and consider closing part of another.

The news, reported in a front-page Star-Ledger article headlined TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT: Newark will shut streets near arena, alarmed some city leaders, who said the city was cutting things close. "The arena is opening in two weeks and I want to make sure we have a plan and people know what it is," Councilman Oscar S. James II told the newspaper.

The Star-Ledger reported:
"You can't construct an arena and put it right against a street in a post 9/11 world," Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy said. "So we're playing catch-up and taking measures to make sure it's safe."


What about Brooklyn?

For Brooklynites, Newark's decision raises questions about the arena planned for the Atlantic Yards development, which similarly would have a considerable expanse of glass, a design feature vulnerable to a truck bomb, McCarthy's concern.

So, does the city of New York plan to close parts of adjacent streets, notably narrow Dean Street or even wider Flatbush or Atlantic avenues, during arena events in Brooklyn? If so, why was it not disclosed during the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) environmental review of Atlantic Yards, since it inevitably would affect traffic?

And if the city does not plan to do so, then what would make the configuration of streets near the Brooklyn arena that much safer than its counterpart in Newark? In the Star-Ledger, McCarthy described the "standoff"--the distance between the building and a potential terrorist threat--as insufficient on adjacent Edison Place and Mulberry Street, neither of which have residences across the street from the arena, as planned in Brooklyn.

(View of Dean Street looking west from Sixth Avenue taken yesterday by Tracy Collins. The buildings on the south side at left would stay, but those on the north side would be demolished for the project.)

In Brooklyn, actually, the towers wrapping the arena would be mostly residential. Dean Street appears to be somewhat wider than Edison Place, but is by no means a major thoroughfare.

Dean Street would be the southern border of the arena block, as shown in the illustration at right from New York magazine. While the main arena entrances would be on busy Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, the preferred (VIP) seating entry and entry to the loading area would be located on Dean Street.

In the EIS

The ESDC refused to discuss security issues in any detail, citing confidentiality. In comments filed after the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), both the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN) and Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) attorney Jeff Baker raised the issue of security. The ESDC repeated a previous response:

Emergency scenarios such as a large-scale terrorist attack similar to the World Trade Center attack, a biological or chemical attack, or a bomb are not considered a reasonable worst-case scenario and are therefore outside of the scope of the EIS. However, as indicated in Chapter 1, “Project Description,” the proposed project would implement its own site security plan, which includes measures such as the deployment of security staff and monitoring and screening procedures…. Consultation with NYPD and FDNY has been taking place and would continue should the project move forward. Disclosing detailed security plans is not appropriate for an EIS.


Newark seems to consider a bomb a reasonable worst-case scenario. The Star-Ledger reported:
McCarthy said the city needed to close the street during events to protect the arena from the threat of a truck bomb, but drivers will be allowed to use Edison Place to enter a privately owned parking lot.


(June 2007 photo of Edison Place border with Prudential Center from New Jersey Devils' construction update.)

Lawsuit issue

Given the history of terrorism threats near the arena site--the Atlantic Avenue transit hub was the target of a 1997 plot by Palestinian militants--concerned citizens and activists have raised the issue repeatedly.(Here's the white paper released by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn.)

Last November, Bob Ducibella, principal at security consultants Ducibella Venter & Santore, acknowledged at a Municipal Art Society forum that his firm had conducted a security study for Forest City Ratner. While he was unable to comment directly on the situation in Brooklyn, he spoke generally about such reviews.

Asked about such reviews in general, Ducibella responded, "There are issues of perimeter boundaries--you've witnessed street closures--issues about lighting levels at night that create local pollution, in some cases screening trucks on streets, which has a real significant effect on local traffic, so it's difficult for a project of significance now to not have security studies done and recommendations developed in advance that don't somehow inform the EIS process."

To repeat, it's not unusual to close streets.

(View east on Dean Street from Flatbush Avenue by Tracy Collins. Scroll here to see some of the buildings at the northwest corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue.)

[Update: The Final Environmental Impact Statement notes:
Security measures are not anticipated to affect traffic flow, parking, or the movement of goods and people in the vicinity of the project site. In fact, the successful operation of the proposed project necessitates that pedestrian and vehicle access to the site is adequately maintained. Security measures will be designed by the project sponsors in consultation with NYPD so that they would not negatively affect traffic flow, parking, or the movement of goods and people.]

However, a lawsuit filed in May by several community organizations, including DDDB and CBN, charges that the ESDC and MTA each failed to take what the law requires, a “hard look,” at the environmental impacts, including security and terrorism.

The response shifted, as the state and developer emphasized the importance of confidential preparations. Forest City Ratner attorney Jeffrey Braun subsequently argued that "ESDC made the eminently sensible determination that the risk of a terrorist attack was not appropriate for inclusion in the SEQRA process, which would have entailed the publication, including availability on the Internet, of information about risk assessment and security measures." He noted that the developer hired "preeminent security consultants" who worked with the city police department to address the risk of terrorism.

In a response (p. 71-77 of PDF) to the lawsuit, the ESDC said state law requires review of "reasonably foreseeable" catastrophic impacts, not speculative ones. Moreover, the agency said that the EIS did not evaluate terrorism to a lesser degree than EIS's prepared in connection with other city projects--and that the petitioners cited case law regarding environmental reviews for inherently dangerous facilities like a nuclear plant and a bioweapons lab.

In court in May, the peititioners' attorney, Jeff Baker, argued his clients were not seeking the unveiling of details that would jeopardize security, but the same level of detail in environmental reviews of the World Trade Center and the nearby PATH station in Lower Manhattan. “Does it make sense to put a glass-walled arena at Flatbush,” he asked, suggesting that security steps to wall off the project would be “changing the neighborhood.”

More about Newark

The Prudential Center will be home to the New Jersey Devils hockey team, a former tenant of the Continental Airlines Arena, where the New Jersey Nets are expected to stay (under its new name, Izod) until their planned move to Brooklyn. It also will house Seton Hall basketball and other events. A short walk from Newark's Penn Station transit hub, the arena opens October 25 with a series of Bon Jovi concerts.

(Map from Newark Downtown District Streetscape Project)

The city's plan is to install Jersey barriers, typically used as highway dividers, to block cars and trucks from the arena entrance at the corner of Edison and Mulberry.

McCarthy told the paper that a "homeland security survey" apparently was never done for the site by the previous city administration. (What's that? Unclear. Was a security survey done in Brooklyn? Almost certainly.)

Richard Monteilh, a city official under former Mayor Sharpe James, told the newspaper that closing the streets around the arena during events had always been considered. Unclear, however, is why that had not been previously discussed publicly.

(Photo of corner of Edison Place and Mulberry Street--in background, at arena--taken August 26 by Jonathan Barkey)

The AY arena and zoning

The official Atlantic Yards site describes the planned Barclays Center:
The design of the Center invites the outside in: the Center’s Atlantic and Flatbush Avenue fa├žades will be expanses of glass, allowing patrons on the concourses inside to glimpse the vibrant life of downtown Brooklyn and flooding the inside with natural light during the day.

As the Executive Summary of the ESDC's Draft Environmental Impact Statement notes , while city zoning prohibits arenas within 200 feet of residential districts, this design will be sufficient:
The arena block is adjacent to a residential district to the south, and accordingly, the arena has been designed to minimize its presence and effect on the residential uses on these blocks. Primary entrances and signage would be oriented toward the crossroads of two major commercial thoroughfares and away from these residences. Two primarily residential buildings (Buildings 2 and 3) on the arena block would occupy most of the Dean Street frontage, serving as a buffer between uses.

However, the buffer between uses would be "primarily residential buildings" themselves.

The document continues:
However, the preferred seating entry and entry to the loading area would be located on Dean Street and, while security screening and loading functions would take place entirely within the building, the residences along this street would experience some localized adverse impacts. The Dean Street corridor between Flatbush and Vanderbilt Avenues is lined with and zoned for both residential and industrial uses. The Dean Street corridor has also historically functioned as a transition between the more commercial and industrial uses to the north and the residential uses to the south. The localized adverse land use impacts attributable to the arena activities interspersed with new, compatible residential uses would not be considered a significant adverse impact on land use.


Brooklyn arena like DC arena?

In the Response to Comments chapter of the Final Environmental Impact Statement, the ESDC explained how this arena would be different:
As discussed in Chapter 3, “Land Use, Zoning, and Public Policy,” the restriction on arena use is predicated on the assumption that operations of such facilities are incompatible with districts limited primarily to residential use. Unlike Madison Square Garden, the arena itself would be framed by four mixed-use (including residential) buildings, designed to avoid and minimize operational effects to the extent feasible on adjacent and on-site residential uses and provide activity on the arena block even when the arena is not hosting events. The primary entrances and signage associated with the arena would be located along Atlantic and Flatbush Avenue corridors, oriented away from the residential neighborhoods to the south and toward Downtown Brooklyn. The proposed project components would be compatible with the cultural, entertainment, academic, and high-density commercial uses already located in Downtown Brooklyn.

(Views of the arena's 7th Street main entrance, above, and 6th Street loading side, below back right, taken in June by Norman Oder.)

However, as noted, the preferred seating entry and entry to the loading area would be located on Dean Street.

The ESDC continues:
A prime example of an arena that is compatible with its commercial and residential neighbors is the Verizon Center (formerly the MCI Center) in Washington D.C.’s Chinatown. Opened in 1997, the Verizon Center has proven to be compatible with commercial and mixed-use redevelopment in this downtown neighborhood.


That may be so, but there is no low-rise residential neighborhood directly bordering the Verizon Center. On one side, it is bordered by a mixed-use retail/entertainment/residential development; on the other three are much wider streets than Edison Place or even Dean Street. And the ESDC did not mention whether each location was equally equipped to guard against security threats.

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