Friday, September 07, 2012

AY District Service Cabinet to be replaced by Quality of Life Committee; "Day 2 Task Force" gearing up for arena opening, but details murky (what about Atlantic Antic?)

The big news yesterday at the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet meeting yesterday was the Barclays Center's scramble toward the finish line, with a delay in the Temporary Certificate of Occupancy and silence about once-promised pre-opening events.

However, government officials also shared other significant information, including not-yet-clear plans for a "Day 2 Task Force" to address arena operations and a transformation of the District Service Cabinet--a bimonthly morning meeting that included agency officials, elected officials and developer Forest City, with no public input--into a committee meeting in the evenings to focus more narrowly on quality-of-life issues.

While that transformation should increase input from neighbors, both as committee members and visitors, the impact on accountability is less clear, given that the District Service Cabinet has sometimes been the venue for Forest City to face probing questions from elected officials about Atlantic Yards issues beyond quality of life.

"Day 2 Task Force"

Lolita Jackson of the Mayor’s Community Assistance Unit provided a limited update on the task force that will coordinate city responses.

Given that the document is being reviewed by city personnel and the mayor's counsel, it can’t be shared until it’s fully vetted, she said. The final version will be done on Sept. 17, she said, adding that more information may be shared then.

On opening night, representatives of a number of city agencies will be present, “to perhaps tweak some findings in the document.”

She provided some mini-updates:
  • the Bergen Street lot occupied by HPD cannot be opened up to others, because it will be used by more of their personnel
  • the Department of Homeless Services, NYPD, and Common Ground have had discussions regarding homeless outreach and aggressive panhandling
  • discussions continue on how to deal with street vendors of various stripes, from food trucks to counterfeiters. (She said the radius of concern regarding street vending hasn’t been set, but may be adjusted after monitoring.)
Atlantic Antic

What happens on Sept. 30, the day of the Atlantic Antic, Brooklyn’s biggest street fair, which closes Atlantic Avenue east to Fourth Avenue typically until 6 pm., and a Jay-Z concert at the arena two hours later.

“This is a baptism by fire,” observed Jim Vogel, a staffer for state Senator Velmanette Montgomery.. “What happens?”

Jackson said there have been meetings and discussions about the issue, but couldn’t provide details, because she wasn’t at the meeting. She said she was happy to follow up.

Last month, I also spoke with Nat Rubin, owner of the Moxie Spot, and treasurer of the Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation, sponsor of the Atlantic Antic.

He said vendors are supposed to leave by 6 pm, and "at 5:30 they start gently harassing us."

"I think we're aware and concerned somewhat" about the arena event, he said at the time. "Nobody really exactly knows what traffic's going to be on event night." But he said he expected further discussions about operations that day and, perhaps, city officials know but aren't telling.

The remote parking lots for the arena are along Atlantic Avenue near Boerum Place, and shuttle buses are supposed to start two hours before an event. If Atlantic Avenue isn't clear by 6 pm--and that seems doubtful--some drivers won't be able to get to the lots in the first place, and the shuttle buses would have start somewhat later.

The Quality of Life Committee

The current bi-monthly Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet system is being phased out, replaced by evening meetings of the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet Quality of Life (QOL) Committee, to allow for more input from those most impacted by arena operations. Essentially, it responds to a request by Community Boards 2 and 6 in the liquor license process, though they asked for the process to start before the license was granted.

It also may mean less oversight and accountability, depending on whether and how city agencies and Forest City Ratner attend the new meetings and address a broad range of issues..

“We wanted to establish a process that allows organizations and groups impacted the greatest by arena operations to give input,” explained Arana Hankin, Director, Atlantic Yards Project, Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency in charge of the project. It’s sponsored by ESD, the Borough President’s office, and the offices of Council Members Letitia James and Steve Levin.

“We will be meeting in the evenings to allow people who live in the vicinity to participate,” she said. The process isn’t set, but representatives are expected from elected official, community boards, and major civic organizations. Public agencies will attend only as needed. Forest City Ratner would “participate,” Hankin said.

The first meeting is scheduled for October, and the committee will convene every other month. “In between those meetings,” Hankin said, “I'll be meeting with city agencies to deal with specific issues that arise with Quality of Life Committee.” Those meetings will not be public.

Forest City Ratner External Affairs VP Ashley Cotton noted that she’d attend the QOL Committee with the arena Community Affairs Manager, who hasn’t yet been hired.

Construction

Cotton repeated some of the information shared at a community meeting Wednesday night, citing a plan to notify the community monthly of the events schedule at the arena.

As for construction, she noted that company construction officials were not present, because “they are, you might imagine, 24/7.” She said “you can see the oculus, looking awfully complete... once you saw the swoop, it's pretty extraordinary to me.”

The new transit entrance is “going to be ready to open soon,” she said and the Carlton Avenue Bridge will reopen before the arena opens. The community will be informed soon of the planned opening date.

Meanwhile, sidewalks are being upgraded around the arena parking lot and the broadcast lot at Sixth Avenue and Dean Street, with extended work done voluntarily along Sixth up to Pacific and Vanderbilt north of Pacific.

Cotton added that groundbreaking on the first tower is planned “before the end of the year” and that a community affairs manager for the arena will be hired soon.

(Forest City also mentioned the Sept. 21 ribbon-cutting ceremony and the fact that a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy is expected next week.)

Litter

Daniel Stine, a Department of Sanitation official, explained that Forest City has “agreed to adopt 16 public litter baskets and 6 public recycling bins on the perimeter of the facility and also on blocks between the facility and the parking lot.”

“They're going to monitor those baskets, on days when we don't have normal pickups,” he said.

Photo by Tracy Collins from Sept. 5 community meeting
“Going forward, we're happy with the cooperation from Forest City Ratner, and we think it's going to work well on both sides.”

Cotton beamed. The previous night local residents asked for much more extensive garbage pickup.

Precinct change

Rob Perris, District Manager of Community Board 2, asked for an update on the procedure to change the precinct boundaries.

NYPD Captain Mike Sheehan explained that the 78th Precinct boundaries would change, as is well known, but didn’t provide specifics on exactly when it would be passed by the City Council

The pre-rusted cladding

Vogel cited recent reports about the pre-rusted arena skin, and asked “is this going to be dripping rust?”

No, said Forest City exec Jane Marshall. “When we selected it, we went through a very rigorous due-diligence process... We're not painting the facade, it's an industrial-looking facade with weathered steel, and no, we don't expect it to rust.”

Transportation plan

Hankin explained the major changes in the Final Transportation Demand Management plan released last month and aimed to discourage driving and increase use of public transit:
  • the elimination of an exit from the surface parking lot onto Vanderbilt Avenue, thus deterring driving in the neighborhood
  • a standard discount of 20% of $5, whichever is more, for HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) parking
  • a $10 surcharge for cars parking on the arena surface lot if they don’t prepurchase, plus an $10 surcharge if they don’t have three or more (HOV) people
  • elimination of a remote parking lot planned at Long Island College Hospital, given concerns that it might interfere with the hospital

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