Wednesday, January 27, 2010

At another meeting on AY street closings, FCR's Marshall faces some tough questions from the crowd

Unlike the meeting January 21 regarding street closings for the Atlantic Yards footprint scheduled for February 1--where there was no representative from the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the consultant from Sam Schwartz Engineering (SSE) was a junior staffer--last night, at the 78th Precinct Community Council, the Forest City Ratner road show was at full strength.

And Forest City Ratner's Senior VP Jane Marshall found herself less la-di-da than at the earlier meeting, showing herself to be somewhat exasperated and even snippy regarding some tough questions that, to her and other meeting organizers, strayed from the narrow topic at hand.

(She's pictured at right with Sam Schwartz himself and SSE planner Daniel Schack. Photos and set by Tracy Collins.)

The meeting was held at Secondary School for Law, Journalism & Research (formerly John Jay) in Park Slope.

DOT lead-off

Chris Hrones (left), the DOT's Downtown Brooklyn Transportation Coordinator, led off, describing the general process and trying to manage expectations.

As noted in the video below, Hrones indicated that, any time a change like this is implemented, "you never really know, until it's actually on the street... As soon as the changes go up, we're going to be monitoring them on an ongoing basis. Of course, in the first few days, or the first week or two, inevitably there are going to be disruptions."

He said that DOT would plan to adjust to such disruptions in response to the closures, including Fifth Avenue between Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, and Pacific Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues and Carlton and Vanderbilt Avenues.

When it was Schwartz's turn to speak, he made the same point: that it wasn't a science and adjustments would be necessary.



What if it's not built

When it came time for questions from the crowd, Marshall got a handful. If the project does not get built, asked Tal Barzilai, will street closures be reversed?

"I doubt that's going to happen, but I suppose if it did, all the streets would remain the way they are," Marshall responded, a bit quizzically.



Then Michael White (below), the lawyer, urban planner, and blogger behind Noticing New York, got up. "Do you envision taking title before Mikhail Prokhorov is approved" as Nets majority owner, he said. "I believe your bond sale documents... say that if Prokhorov isn't approved, the deal essentially folds. And, as I understand, there are all these strange stories coming out of Russia about... attempted assassinations." (He was referring to the alleged plot against journalist John Helmer said to be associated with a company in which Prokhorov owns a minority interest.

"There are also the Forest City Ratner indictments in Yonkers," White said, referring to the Ridge Hill case, in which Forest City Ratner has been cited as "Developer No. 2" but not indicted. "I wonder if you would therefore postpone the taking."

"I don't think it has anything to do with the condemnation taking," Marshall responded. "This presentation is to answer questions about traffic. I would respectfully refer you to someone else."

White pressed on, asking if they'd take title before Prokhorov is approved.

"We believe that title will be passed on Friday," said Marshall, referring to a planned court hearing on condemnation.

"They will take title whether or not you know the arena can be constructed," White continued.

"We know the arena can be constructed," Marshall responded.

"Whether or not you know Prokhorov is going to be approved," White continued.

"Next question," Marshall said.

White continued, saying that he'd take the answer to his question as a yes.

"You can take it any way you want," replied Marshall, with exasperation. "It's not relevant to this presentation."

(While Marshall was there to talk about traffic rather than larger issues, the developer has not been answering questions publicly with any regularity. And there in the audience was FCR's Scott Cantone, who has friendly relationships with people who've loudly disrupted Atlantic Yards meetings not with tough questions but with heckling and chants.)

Security issues

Alan Rosner (below), who's written a White Paper on security at Atlantic Yards and continued to press the issue, asked, "with these traffic changes, will be anybody be making public any changes in emergency response time?"

Deputy Inspector John Argenziano responded, "We always monitor our emergency response time... it's public knowledge."

Rosner continued, "Last year, both Mayor Bloomberg and [Police Commissioner] Ray Kelly indicated [in a report] sports arenas are to be considered primary terrorist targets. And 20 feet is an insufficient setback for security reasons.... Have there been any mitigations planned, or perhaps changes required by the police department to make the arena safer.. such as elimination of the lanes people are dropped off?"

"We've done a threat and risk assessment," Marshall responded, "and we've worked very closely with the counterterrorism unit of Police Department... and that is also not the topic of this presentation, so can we please talk about traffic?

"I believe they are related," White said.

Pauline Blake, president of the Community Council, asked for calm.

Rosner brought up federal standards for security.

" I'm glad that you're an expert," Marshall said dismissively.

Rosner brought up the Engineering Security report released by the city.

"We have engineers. a standoff solution and a security program for this arena that makes this safe," Marshall responded.

"The traffic is based on traffic patterns that were laid out in the FEIS [Final Environmental Impact Statement], and those things have not changed since 2006, when we also worked with [Police Department] Counterterrorism [unit] to design the arena," she said.

Rosner added that the developer went to court saying they didn't have to publicly analyze security, and that there were no documents about security in the FEIS.

"I believe there was an affidavit [about security]" in the court case, Marshall said.

Looking for order

Blake (left) tried to maintain order. "We're here to talk about traffic changes within this precinct," she said, adding that, "any issue you might have with this project , I strongly urge you to take them up outside, with any representative here that you feel can answer them."

That, of course, is the rub.

Interestingly enough, later in the meeting (and not in the video clip above), Blake critically addressed Marshall and Schwartz, saying that the newly installed transit agents were standing around rather than reducing gridlock, specifically citing the need to cross Flatbush at Sixth avenues during rush hour.

Police officials said that was their responsibility and they'd get on it.

Permanent police parking

Current 78th Precinct parking is supposed to move off the street into two temporary surface parking lots on AY footprint land.

I asked when permanent police parking (24 spaces) is expected.

Marshall said it was likely to be in Building 15, which would be just east of Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets, or on the arena block itself.

How long would it take?

Marshall said she didn't have the specifics at hand.

(According to the approved Construction Schedule, Building 15 is due six years after arena construction would begin. However, everything regarding Atlantic Yards has been delayed, which may be why arena block parking for police--the first mention of which I heard last night--is under consideration.)

Another exchange

Later, White got into another colloquy with Marshall, who said that the construction schedule is ten years. (That's the official schedule, but it's highly doubtful the project would get completed in a decade, as the developer has 12 years to build just Phase 1 and 25 years to build the project.)

She also said that the arena would take 28 months to build.

So if construction did begin in February, the opening date would be June 2012, not April or May of that year, as in some previous predictions.

No other meetings scheduled

Last week I reported that Marshall said that similar presentations had not been scheduled by the other two affected Community Boards, 2 & 8. While that's correct, CB 2 District Manager Robert Perris tells me that members of the board and its transportation committee were briefed by e-mail as soon as he received digitized material from Forest City Ratner.

He said he asked the appropriate board leadership whether or not they wished a presentation from the developer. They did, but the district office was not able to schedule such a presentation in January because we had already planned (over a period of months) to hold a panel discussion, “Sharing the Road, Sharing the Responsibility,” at that transportation committee meeting.

"The Department of Transportation will present the 'Atlantic Yards Traffic Plan' to my district service cabinet this week, so all agencies will have the opportunity to assess for themselves the operational impacts of the plan," Perris wrote.

Council Member Letitia James has suggested the possibility of a public presentation with multiple sponsors, but no such event has yet been scheduled. A request for such a presentation is being considered by the developer, James said this morning.

1 comment:

  1. For our extended analysis of why the Mikhail Prokhorov approval is becoming increasingly problematic (and thus possibly arena-killing) and why public agencies were not fulfilling their responsibilities when they did not, themselves, perform a background reviewn of Mr. Prokhorov before proceeding with a heavily subsidized deal in which he centrally figures with an ownership interest, see:

    Tuesday, January 12, 2010
    Back to Background Reviews in a Sort of “I told You So” Way: Developments With Respect to Prokhorov
    http://noticingnewyork.blogspot.com/2010/01/back-to-background-reviews-in-sort-of-i.html

    Michael D. D. White
    Noticing New York
    http://noticingnewyork.blogspot.com/

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