Friday, January 27, 2012

Delay in transportation plan for arena dismays residents, CM Levin; lack of info about area garages hampers efforts to reduce surface parking lot in residential neighborhood

The delay in the release of the long-awaited Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan, from once-promised December to now-promised May, has distinct real-world consequences, notably stalling the efforts of Prospect Heights residents to argue for a reduction in the size of the planned 1100-space parking lot on Block 1129, bounded by Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues and Dean and Pacific Streets.

The availability of parking garages elsewhere might buttress their case, but more than five years after the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was completed, Forest City Ratner contractors are newly analyzing available spaces in parking garages near the project site.

During meetings yesterday of the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet (made up of affected agencies and elected officials) and the Transportation Focus Group (including neighborhood and civic groups), representatives of Sam Schwartz Engineering (SSE) did not discuss the emerging plan in great detail, but described the research process (e.g., surveys of attendees), the plan to select a vendor to manage parking, and shared how incentives for mass transit, including marketing, had reduced the number of drivers at other sports facilities, such as the Prudential Center in Newark and CitiField in Queens.

The pre-sale of parking spaces in local garages, plus parking in remote garages (with free shuttle buses), is aimed to steer drivers away from residential streets.

However, several residents expressed qualms about the effect in neighborhoods around the Barclays Center, given the failure, for example, to establish residential permit parking (RPP), which would deter out-of-area drivers looking for free on-street spaces.

And, in no surprise, they were told by Arana Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, Empire State Development, that, despite a request for veto power over the transportation plans, that was impossible

Inevitable bumps

"I think it's very important to remember, we open the arena, it's Day 1," Forest City Ratner executive Jane Marshall said at the first meeting. "People have to settle down... Then we have to evaluate whether it works at all." So the plan will be tweaked.

She noted that Jay-Z would inaugurate the building with a concert September 28. "I would caution people not to pin your hopes on the most seamless operation, since it’s a new building, it’s opening, it is going to be a raucous--a very joyous occasion."

"Raucous is more appropriate," countered Council Member Letitia James.

“Yes, I know,” Marshall responded, to some chuckles.

Dismay about delay

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association, at the evening meeting, pointed out that much of the SSE presentation could had been given in 2006, given that it described plans already in the environmental review. When Hankin, Marshall, and SSE’s Dan Schack met with his group last summer, “we were told they'd be done around Christmas or the New Year.”

Council Member Steve Levin expressed cordial dismay about the timetable. “Speaking for myself and the constituents that I represent, that's not welcome news," he said. "I don't think that's acceptable. We were told this would be coming out this month or in February."

"Obviously, time is running out. A plan put forth in May that's going to be implemented in September does not allow for enough time for adequate public input, for ideas to be addressed," he said.

“In a perfect world, we would love for draft plan to be presented earlier,” responded Hankin. "As Sam Schwartz [staff] mentioned twice today, they are very good at implementing plans with very little time, they did a plan in ten weeks," (I suggested earlier that a plan for Newark would be easier to implement than one for Prospect Heights and environs.)

"The plan does not take a long time to implement," Hankin said. "It does take a long time to analyze, and research, and collect the data. A number of the delays are because we are tweaking what was articulated in the FEIS, because it is so outdated... But I do understand your concern... which is why we're trying to come to the community."

“The clock is ticking,” Levin responded.

Reducing local parking

That 1100-space parking lot was originally supposed to be 900 spaces, and last three years before being put underground; now it's larger, and is expected to last much longer.

At the evening focus group meeting Danae Oratowski of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council suggested that Forest City should transfer some of that onsite parking, reserved for high-rollers in suites and HOV (high-occupancy) vehicles, to other lots, and “you can help us to advocate for RPP [residential permit parking] and maybe pricing measures for local garages.”

Forest City Ratner executive Jane Marshall demurred, calling the pricing issue private, but agreed “we should look at” trying to move planned parking into existing facilities. As for RPP, she said, “I know that DOT is looking at it."

At the morning meeting, Marshall had been even less encouraging. "Forest City doesn't have a particular position on RPP, though I understand that DOT and other people are looking at it," she said. "I think it's still important to assume that if there are on-street parking spaces available, people will want to use them."

(Forest City may not want to offend legislative allies from Southern Brooklyn like state Senator Marty Golden, who is adamantly against RPP.)

DOT’s Chris Hrones said the agency is examining RPP in the context of Yankee Stadium and the Barclays Center. “Some of you know this, it will require state enabling legislation, he said. He acknowledged skepticism about the policy, but agreed that the “best potential application” would be related to a major trip generator like an arena.

Analyzing the issues

Krashes expressed doubt about the utility of DOT's planned follow-up study of area conditions, given that the rest of the Atlantic Yards project is evolving.

DOT’s Hrones said the initial study would be as comprehensive as possible. “Do we need studies beyond it?” he asked rhetorically. ”It's a little crystal balling”

For all events?

Krashes noted that TDM is required for Nets games, but merely encouraged for non-Nets events. Will those buying tickets for a concert, he asked, also be steered to garages?

“That's how we are thinking about it, and we don’t see any obstacles,” Marshall said.

Medians in the parking lot?

Krashes directed a question to SSE’s Jee Mee Kim. He noted that her firm worked on the huge parking lot at IKEA in Red Hook, a lot built according to Department of City Planning (DCP) regulations, including such elements as traffic medians that absorb water and heat. “This lot won't be,” he said. “Is there any reason why this lot shouldn't conform to DCP regulations?”

Forest City's Marshall interrupted. “That's a question for me,” she said. “The answer to the question is that zoning is overridden for the project plan, including parking.”

The parking lot will include setbacks, landscaping, and screening, but will not see DCP rules applied on the interior. “Remember, it’s a temporary condition,” she said of the lot. “It it were a perfect world, and we could plant trees, it would be great, but A, it's temporary, and B, I don't know if we could ever do that.”

“It's a shared goal to use our research and our studies that we provide DOT and ESDC and Transit and LIRR so all of us can get to a point where we can provide fewer than 1100 spaces,” she said. “We just can't say today what that number is going to be. We all share the same goals: it’s just what's practical and what we can do when the arena opens.”

Updated info sooner than May?

Rob Perris, District Manager of Community Board 2 asked if Forest City could provide “interim work products” for discussion before May.

“I pondered this,” Marshall said. “It can't be done in a piecemeal way. You can’t break off the parking from the transit. I don't think there are individual pieces that we can present.”

She promised an update in early May, not late May, and “earlier than May if we can do it.”

Perris asked if it was possible to report on the progress of research in specific areas.

“If we can think of a way of doing that we will try,” Marshall said.

Back to Block 1129

“There's a lot of interest in learning about the operations of Block 1129,” Oratowski said. “That's a fairly self-contained area.”

“It's not,” Marshall responded bluntly. “It's directly linked at transit... and the discussions we're having.”

“Are you not required to provide 1100 spaces” on Block 1129, Oratowski asked.

“At this point we are,” Marshall said, noting that the environmental review was done in 2006, and the list of garages is now being updated. “The best plan doesn't necessarily mean 1100 spaces on Block 1129. In May, we are going to present a plan for Block 1129.”

“If we're missing something, I'd like to hear what you think we should do,” Marshall asked at one point.

“We'd like the parking lot on 1129 to be smaller,” Oratowski said.

“And I'd like it to be zero,” Marshall riposted, referring to her personal opinion, not the policy worked out by her employer and the ESDC.

More questions about the lot

At the morning meeting, Council Member Letitia James asked if a contractor had been chosen for the parking lot.

"Not at this time," Marshall responded.

How long would the contract last?

"I think it would be relatively short, because we intend to develop that site with buildings," Marshall responded. She said it likely would be short-term, with renewable clauses.

Will the cars be stacked, James asked.

"We want to avoid stackers, if we possibly can," Marshall responded.

Construction worker parking

At the evening meeting, Wayne Bailey of the Newswalk condominium asked about the ongoing impact of construction worker parking over a 25-year buildout.

“First of all, the construction workers, I don't think they're a problem,” Marshall said, with no nod to the ongoing compilation of incident reports on Atlantic Yards Watch. “Secondly, we're not going to build it over 25 years, we'll probably build it a lot faster than that.”

“Third, Block 1129 and the bed of Pacific Street--portions are set aside, they are not part of the parking garage, because they are used to construct the permanent Long Island Rail Road railyard," Marshall said, "and to stage the construction. So there is not necessarily a conflict with the construction worker day, and the staging that was required... and arena parking.”

Other arena-related concerns

Oratowski added that community members have other concerns regarding how the arena operates, including noise, public safety, and sanitation. She asked for monthly meetings.

Hankin said she hoped to discuss such issues at the bimonthly District Service Cabinet meetings, but was willing to consider Oratowski’s request.

The next focus group meeting will be in March, she said.

Shuttle bus dropoff

Would shuttle buses from remote parking lots park, idle, or drop off on residential streets? "Not to make an untoward suggestion," suggested Jim Vogel, representative of state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (and a resident of Pacific Street east of Fourth Ave ue). "I'd urge you to consider the utility of Fort Greene Place (between the Atlantic Center and Atlantic Terminal malls], which is already owned by the developer."

Marshall said the goal is for the buses to be "on well-used mass stransit streets that are not local."

"DOT would designate the bus stop for any new transit service," Hrones said, noting that the agency would aim to use existing bus stops first.

Reaching out to Southern Brooklyn

At the morning meeting, Carlo Scissura, special advisor to the Brooklyn Borough President, said he wanted to make sure that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority serves distant pats of Brooklyn, such as Bay Ridge, Sheepshead Bay, and Canarsie.

Not only are some neighborhoods not well served by transit, weekend outages make thing worse, said Scissura, who hails from Southern Brooklyn. He said he wanted set up a separate meeting involving the MTA to focus on those issues.

Wanting to drive

At the evening meeting, Jesse Hamilton, a representative of state Senator Eric Adams, a self-described four-year Nets season ticket holder and driver to games in Newark, said that he was told there was no parking available.

“It's interesting,” he mused. “You'd assume, someone would build a parking lot.” He added that he had not been told about public transit options, and asked whether there was a study of traffic impact on the local communities.

Marshall patiently explained that yes, there had been an environmental impact study in 2006, which generated mitigation measures that are part of the TDM plan. She said it was unwise to provide parking when that much mass transit is available. Focus groups and surveys, she said, revealed that Nets fans “didn't know how much mass transit there is.”

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