Friday, November 05, 2010

When was Block 1129 parking increased to 1100 spaces? At Borough Hall meeting on construction issues, the answer (from FCR, not ESDC) is wrong

The size of the parking lot on Block 1129, the southeast block of the Atlantic Yards site, was increased to 1100 spaces in a rather non-transparent fashion last year, and the issue was further obscured yesterday at the first meeting of the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet.

The cabinet will meet quarterly to discuss construction and other issues. (Here's my report on the meeting.)

The person designated to answer the parking question, Forest City Ratner (FCR) attorney Melanie Meyers, gave a misleading answer regarding parking.

So no one learned that FCR and the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) agreed to increase the size of the parking lot not once but twice, from 944 to 1044 and then to 1100, a 16.5% increase. Nor that the explanation for the second increase is rather disingenuous.

The first increase was disclosed in the June 2009 Technical Memorandum, but the second wasn't disclosed until the December 2009 Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments, which didn't surface for months.

From 1044 to 1100

The meeting yesterday, which involved FCR, city and state agencies, community boards, and elected officials (and their reps), was held at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

Late in the session, Council Member Letitia James asked, "There's a discrepancy with regard to the number of parking spaces in the EIS [Environmental Impact Statement]. It was originally, I think, capped at 1044, you're mentioning 1100. Can you explain the discrepancy?"

James seemed to be referring to the parking spaces on Block 1129, not the total amount of parking allocated to the arena in multiple places, but that's not what FCR executive Jane Marshall apparently heard.



"There are 1100 spaces that are required to be on site when the arena opens, and that's directly related to event traffic," responded Marshall, using the number that had been disclosed in the EIS.

"When the residential is built up, I can't remember the exact number, but there's over 3000 parking spaces that are scattered around the site," she added. "So I don't know where the other number you mentioned came from."

Compounding confusion

The follow-up came not from the ESDC, which issued the EIS and presumably oversees the project, but from Meyers. Noting she'd worked with Marshall on parking issues in the 2009 Technical Memorandum, Meyers described changes on Block 1129.

"When we did the Tech Memo, we sort of talked about some of the minor design changes, and one of things that did change was the location and capacity of some of the parking facilities throughout the site," she said. "And one of the changes, because of that, was then changed from the 1044 to the 1100. So at the Tech Memo stage we talked about the 1100."

The record indicates differently.

A recap

Block 1129, bounded by Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues and Dean and Pacific Streets, was as of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) supposed to hold a 944-space parking lot. In June 2009, when the project began re-approval, the parking lot grew to 1044 spaces, as disclosed in the Technical Memorandum.

It took at least six months after the process for any notice to emerge that the parking lot would hold 1100 spaces, as I wrote in May.

Parking increase

From the November 2006 FEIS, Chapter 12, Traffic and Parking:
p. 48: Under Phase I of both the proposed project’s residential and commercial variations, a total of 750 parking spaces would be provided in two on-site public parking garages. Approximately 400 spaces would be provided in a parking garage on Site 5, with two below-grade levels and an entrance midblock on Pacific Street. Approximately 350 additional spaces would be provided in a second two-level public parking garage located on the arena block beneath Buildings 2 and 3. (No parking would be provided beneath the arena itself.) The entrance to this facility would be located on Dean Street approximately 100 feet west of 6th Avenue. Both of these parking garages would be attended-park facilities, and would employ car-stackers. A further 1,596 public parking spaces would be provided in Phase I in three temporary parking lots: an approximately 182-space below-grade parking lot at the southwest quadrant of Block 1120 with access expected to be from 6th Avenue; an approximately 470-space at-grade parking lot midblock on the north side of Block 1120 with access from Atlantic Avenue; and an approximately 944-space at-grade parking lot on Block 1129 with access expected to be from both Carlton and Vanderbilt Avenues.
(bold emphases added)

Parking increased to 1,044 spaces

The Technical Memorandum issued in June 2009 states:
p. 4: Due to the reconfiguration of below-grade space on the arena block, up to 100 spaces of parking that would have been provided under Building 2 of the arena block would be relocated to Block 1129. Initially, these parking spaces would be part of an interim parking facility on Block 1129. When Block 1129 is fully built out, this parking would be located in a below-grade facility.
The Response to Comments document provided to ESDC board members before their 9/17/09 vote summed it up:
The MGPP relocates 100 parking spaces from the Arena block to Block 1129, increasing the size of the parking lot on Block 1129 to 1,044 spaces.
Parking increased to 1,100 spaces

However, the December 2009 Memorandum of Environmental Commitments states:
No more than 1100 vehicles, in the aggregate, shall be parked in any surface parking lot(s) on Block 1129 at any one time.
Also, as I explained, the ESDC last March signed an Arena Parking Declaration that describes plans for parking on Block 1129, with "not less than 1,100 motorized passenger vehicles."

ESDC response

When I raised questions last May, ESDC spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell responded that the plan to have 1044 spaces on Block 1129 at the conclusion of Phase 1 had not changed.

She continued:
The Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments (December 21, 2009) indicates on page 15 that ESDC has imposed a more general restriction on surface parking on Block 1129. ESDC imposed this restriction to address community concerns about the size of the interim surface parking lot at this location. In the Amended Memorandum of Environmental Commitments, which has been incorporated into the Master Closing documents with FCRC affiliates, ESDC prohibits parking more than 1100 vehicles on the surface of Block 1129 at any time. This prohibition applies throughout the construction of the project and thus during each interim phase of project completion and construction.

As noted above, the number 1,044 spaces on Block 1129 represents a snap shot in time (the Phase I completion condition). There is no discrepancy between a document stating that there will be approximately 1,044 spaces on Block 1129 in the Phase I completion condition and a different document stating that throughout the multi-year construction period (Phase I + Phase II) ESDC will not permit more than 1,100 surface parking spaces on Block 1129 at any time.
Finding the loophole

So, while the cap of 1100 spaces is a temporary condition, that temporary condition could linger for more than a decade. Those additional 56 spaces could be removed only when Phase 1 is considered completed, which could be a dozen years without penalty (or even longer, if extensions are granted).

Under a lawyerly interpretation, there may be no discrepancy, given that no interim maximum was set. However, it was certainly plausible to have seen 944 spaces, and then 1,044 spaces, as the cap--which is why James was legitimately confused. And why she didn't get a clear answer yesterday.

By the way, I never got an answer to my question of whether the 1100 number was described or revealed in any other document besides the Technical Memorandum. Maybe it's a question for the next District Service Cabinet Meeting some three months from now but yet unscheduled.

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