Friday, January 22, 2010

At CB 6 presentation, Forest City Ratner exec says they will push for street closings even if title is not transferred January 29

A Forest City Ratner executive, plus a transportation consultant, last night discussed planned street closings for Atlantic Yards during a lightly-attended meeting of the Community Board 6 Transportation Committee. (I learned of the meeting only yesterday.)

While the plan had been previously announced and a slide show disseminated, nevertheless some news emerged.

Notably, FCR Senior VP Jane Marshall said that the developer would ask the city Department of Transportation (DOT) to close the streets on or about February 1, as planned, even if the state court hearing on eminent domain scheduled for January 29 does not result in the transfer of title to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

(Representatives of some property owners have said they'll challenge the condemnation; though the latitude for resistance is typically limited, nothing in the Atlantic Yards saga has been simple.)

Marshall said she expected DOT to at least agree to the closing of Fifth Avenue, because FCR needs the street closed to install new utility infrastructure.

(Photos and set by Tracy Collins. Videography by Jonathan Barkey; source of screenshot bottom right.)

FCR = government?

The developer's close relationship with city government was on display as Marshall somewhat playfully did double duty, also taking on the role of DOT official Chris Hrones, who usually opens such presentations and introduces her.

Given that the state has won the eminent domain case and the master closing has been completed, Marshall seemed in a far more lighthearted and confident mood than she displayed in an email to a city official in April, describing herself as "a freaked out developer with an arena that must start this year."

Three other Forest City Ratner staffers, including VP Scott Cantone, were in the audience at the meeting, held at Long Island College Hospital in Cobble Hill. Also present was the ESDC's AY Ombudsman, Forrest Taylor.

Additional presentation January 26

Marshall said that similar presentations had not been scheduled by the other two affected Community Boards, 2 & 8.

However, there will be a presentation on the street closings Tuesday, January 26, before the 78th Precinct Community Council, which meets at 7:30 p.m. at the 78th Precinct station house, at 6th Avenue and Bergen Streets.

The opening

The first video features only Marshall.



"Chris Hrones could not be here, but I'm going to play Chris Hrones," she said, referring to the DOT's Downtown Brooklyn Transportation Coordinator. His intro described the event as a follow-up to a DOT briefing of three community boards and city agencies held January 7.

Marshall then described the master closing on December 23, which was followed by the ESDC's filing of the condemnation petition.

"That would mean that on or about February 1 would be the earliest that ESDC would get title," she said.

The traffic plan

"With that, we go to Sam Schwartz," Marshall said, referring not to the actual consultant but a transportation planner, Daniel Schack, with Forest City Ratner's traffic consultant, Sam Schwartz Engineering.

Using slides that have already been distributed, Schack described the planned changes.



When it came time for questions, committee member and former CB 6 Chairman Jerry Armer, Jerry Armer asked about the impact of eliminating the left turn from Flatbush on Bergen Street. He asked about the traffic volume and where it would go.

"Right now, which means 2006," said Schack, consulting information in the Final Environmental Impact Statment (FEIS), "there were 44 vehicles in the a.m. peak hour."

As he strained a bit to figure out where the traffic would be distributed, he noted that his firm did not do the analysis in the FEIS.

Marshall papered things over. "We have some of the numbers, but the analysis was done by [consultants] AKRF and Phil Habib," she said, noting that the traffic volume was reassigned to other intersections.

"In order to really know what intersections they assigned it to, you have to go to the FEIS," she said. "I don't know if it's fair for Sam Schwartz to have to answer that question."

"If they can't, that's fine," Armer responded mildly. "I just wanted to know, and if they can answer I'll look in that little document," he added, indicating the FEIS.

"That little, 5000-page document," riposted Marshall.

Armer has hardly been an AY activist, but under his leadership CB 6 expressed opposition to the project and, in a move generally seen as revenge for that stance, Borough President Marty Markowitz chose not to reappoint him.

Complications possible

From the audience, I asked whether streets closed if there were delays in the transfer of title.



"We have discussed with DOT the ability to ask for them to be closed in any case, but they'd have to grant that," Marshall said. "We're hoping that they will get closed, and we're planning for them. That's what our schedule is based on. So we would seek to close them as soon as we could. But we want the title to pass. That would be the best possible case for everybody, for it to happen simultaneously. So that's why we did this notice, based on the date the judge scheduled the condemnation."

Well, "for everybody" might be a question for debate.

If title doesn't pass, how would it work with DOT, do they get a letter.

"I don't know," Marshall responded a little whimsically. "I ask, they say yes, I don't know."

Next to her, Schack smiled in amusement.

Driven by the arena schedule

A bit later, photographer Tracy Collins, who lives very close to the AY footprint, asked why they need to close the streets if they don't get title.

"Because we are assuming we will get title, and we need to begin construction of the arena," Marshall responded.

"But if you don't have title, how can you begin construction?" Collins asked.

"The truth of the matter is, the bed of Fifth Avenue, there's a massive amount of utility work that has to be done for us to start the arena, and we're doing some of it now," Marshall said. "But we have to close Fifth Avenue to do that utility work."

At minimum, she said, they'd ask for Fifth Avenue to be closed. And if for some reason the title doesn't pass, she added, a clause in the contract would say that "we would have to completely restore Fifth Avenue, after we've installed this sewer that we now can't use... but again that's not what we think is going to happen."

Would they still close Pacific Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, Collins asked.

"I don't know," Marshall responded.

No need to worry

A police officer in the audience noted that the venting from the north side of the Flatbush Avenue sidewalk north of Dean Street seems to be shifting.

"We have to replace all those vents," Marshall said, adding, in a placating manner, "We have a team of experts that is devoted to the TA vents and their structural soundness. So you don't need to worry."

About those murals

Collins asked where police parking would be located near the corner of Carlton and Dean, suggesting that the lot was owned by Henry Weinstein.

"No, that is owned by us," Marshall responded, noting that Weinstein's property is to the north.

Collins noted that "there is a wall along Carlton [Avenue] that supposedly Henry Weinstein gave permission to a couple of residents to paint [anti-AY] murals on"--

"He gave permission to paint murals on our wall too," Marshall said. "We just never have removed the murals. Or have we?"

"They have been removed," Collins said.

"They have been? So maybe we have," Marshall said, apparently unaware that FCR has eschewed credit for the removal.

The location (updated)

According to Weinstein, the murals were located in part on his property and in part on Forest City Ratner's property. The metal gate and area to the north (left) is his property.

The wall to the right, starting where it says "Gehry thy name is eminent domain," is Forest City Ratner's property.


(Photo by Tracy Collins)

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