Thursday, September 06, 2012

Wary neighbors express concern about arena's operating impact; Council Member Levin suggests "facts on ground" after opening will spur changes; FCR nudges position on permit parking

A wary, worried audience of Barclays Center neighbors--perhaps 120 people--came to a Prospect Heights church last night to hear two Forest City Ratner executives explain how the arena will interact with and impact neighbors and to provide an update on a proposed Neighborhood Protection Plan (NPP).

Forest City's Ashley Cotton at microphone, with
colleague Jane Marshall, and Gib Veconi of the PHNDC
The latter was proposed by three civic groups, the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC), the Boerum Hill Association, and the Park Slope Civic Council, and includes such things as increased trash pickup, a dedicated hotline for community concerns, and residential parking permits (RPP).

Despite the cordial presence of Forest City’s Ashley Cotton and Jane Marshall, the developer has bent only a little; for example, it will fund garbage pickup on key corners on Dean and Pacific streets on the path to the Barclays Center from the on-site parking lot, but will not address the routes arena-goers will take to local subway stations.

(All photos and set by Tracy Collins. Also see coverage in Patch and the Daily News.)

The question of parking

The biggest issue, clearly, is parking, with residents facing an already competitive search for on-street parking fearful that an influx of arena-goers seeking free parking will flood the neighborhood, despite exhortations to use mass transit and pre-pay for spaces area parking lots.

"It's going to wreck our neighborhood," one attendee exclaimed.

Steve Levin
Council Member Steve Levin, a supporter of the NPP and so-far nixed residential permit parking (RPP), gave a philosophical prediction: “I think the facts on the ground are probably going to be significant enough that a lot of things are eventually going to be adopted.” He was the only elected official to attend, though Council Member Letitia James and state Senator Velmanette Montgomery sent staffers.

“By reducing the parking footprint of the stadium, you are essentially turning our neighborhood into an alternative parking lot,” one resident said, to cheers and claps from the audience, prompting Cotton and Marshall to put on their game faces.

“What we need in this community are permits for all residents,” he said. “I'd like to know whether Forest City Ratner is going to work with us to obtain those permits.”

“It’s a state issue,” Cotton said, maintaining a smile. Indeed, while the New York City Council passed a resolution requesting permission to offer RPP, it’s been blocked by Senate Republicans, notably Sen. Marty Golden, a Forest City ally from Bay Ridge.

Also, the Department of Transportation conducted a study, much criticized by locals, that extrapolated from the Yankee Stadium experience and concluded there would be enough street parking near the arena. The DOT plans to conduct another study after the arena opens to assess actual conditions.

Forest City adjusts RPP position?

Actually, it seems like Forest City has adjusted its position on RPP, even if it’s not ready to lobby. In January, Marshall said "Forest City doesn't have a particular position on RPP.”

Last night, Cotton first said, “We are not in opposition to a parking plan,” but then cited the city’s study, indicating that the developer would follow DOT’s lead.

I asked Cotton to clarify. “You said you’re not opposed to residential permit parking. Does that mean, one, do you favor it and, if so, will you use your political capital with your ally, Senator Golden?”

“I’d be happy to talk to any of our neighborhood colleagues here,” Cotton said, indicating they weren’t ready to publicly discuss the politics of RPP.

“Does ‘not opposed’ mean favor?”

“We’re fine with neighborhood parking,” she said.

Police centrality

Introducing the meeting, Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council introduced the NPP, based on the best practices at Wrigley Field and other facilities. Some “asks” have been met, though not necessarily due to Forest City.

Captain Michael Ameri, in suit
The groups requested that a single police precinct be responsible for security in and around the arena. Indeed, the 78th Precinct will be in charge, and Captain Michael Ameri, the Commanding Officer, and some staffers were present.

Forest City leads off

“We are happy to be here,” Cotton said, thanking the NPP proponents for “a lot of great work” and productive conversation to “help us be better neighbors.”

Cotton said that the “long-awaited quality of life subcommittee,” requested by Community Boards 2 and 6 before the liquor license was resolved, will be announced this morning at the bi-monthly Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet meeting, held at 9:30 am at Borough Hall.

She said neighbors wanting to know when there are event nights “and which nights are dark nights” should check BarclaysCenter.com, though there will be an effort, via other media to communicate.

Cotton repeated the arena’s liquor license policy, which is to cut off service for most attendees before the event ends, such as the end of third quarter for NBA games and an hour before concerts, but 1,800 VIP patrons could drink for up to an hour after events, with a final call at 1 am, even if the event--such as a rare late-night concert--ended past midnight.

She said that the arena will comply with lighting and noise regulations. Ratner than have a “big square billboard” as at Madison Square Garden, there will be LED signage on inside of the circular oculus, the arena canopy. The LED will be always off from 1 am to 5 am, a dark period that to some neighbors seemed too brief.

Broadcast lot

At the northeast corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue, broadcast trucks--beyond those inside the arena--will be parked, particularly for basketball games. There’s cable from the arena, so the trucks won’t be idling. The fence will be screened with art.

The loading dock

The arena loading dock, with an entrance on Dean Street east of Flatbush Avenue, will have all deliveries scheduled, so there’s “no reason there should be a queue of trucks... any staging that needs to be done will be done at the Brooklyn Navy Yard,” Cotton said, and all trucks will use regulated truck routes, going from Flushing Avenue to Flatbush Avenue, rather than directly south on residential streets.

The loading dock will operate 24/7, but most deliveries will be 7 am to 4 pm, Cotton said.

Marshall said trucks exiting the dock will not be allowed to go east on Dean Street past Sixth Avenue but instead must turn right to Flatbush or left to Atlantic. Some attendees expressed dismay at trucks crowding the intersection at Bergen Street one block south, home to a subway station, and Marshall said they’d look at the issue.

Not everyone was placated. “I don't have a lot of confidence with whoever is in charge of enforcing truck routes,” said one Dean Street resident, citing “so many violations,” tremors in her building, and “all kinds of absolute gridlock.”

Cotton said “we've seen the photographs” documenting conditions on Atlantic Yards Watch, and deferred to NYPD.

“I understand your concern,” responded Ameri, who said “we need signage to conduct enforcement,” essentially conceding that the arena construction period went un-enforced, because of the lack of signage and the splitting of the project site and neighboring area among three precincts.

Sanitation

Cotton explained that arena operators will collect trash from attendees as they exit, and there will be recycling bins and additional street corner baskets nearby on Dean and Pacific, and those baskets will be emptied following arena events.

(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,” a Sanitation official said the next day.)

Map of new litter and recycling receptacles
“We had a looked to a larger area,” Veconi said, pointing to routes to the subway at Bergen Street in Prospect Heights, Pacific Street in Boerum Hill, and Fulton Street in Fort Greene. Will Forest City broaden its effort?

Cotton said that was the decision for opening day, but they will continue to monitor the situation.

Snow removal

Will Forest City clear snow on neighborhood sidewalks on the path to the arena, such as after a snowfall on an event night?

Cotton said now, that it will be only their private property. “We will not take the responsibility or liability of cleaning private property that belongs to other people.”

“Hopefully they'll consider it... before it's disruptive to arena patrons,” Veconi said.

Lot landscaping

Marshall said that the screening of the parking lot on Block 1129, the southeast block bounded by Dean, Pacific, Carlton, and Vanderbilt, has been improved thanks to neighborhood input, by adding a variety of plants. That is expected to be approved by Empire State Development, the state agency in charge of the project.

Lot access

The primary entrance to the lot is on Pacific Street, the private street at the north end of the lot, from both Carlton and Vanderbilt. The Dean Street curb cut is only for exit.

Residents asked if street parking would be restored on Dean Street, currently blocked for sidewalk reconstruction.

The answer was yes.

Lot operations

The parking lot will be open two hours before an event and two hours after, though it’s expected to empty within an hour after events, and then will close. Some lights will remain on for security. There will be no public bathrooms at the lot, which has raised concerns about inebriated patrons.

Could the lot be used for a Farmer’s Market or other events?

“We'd consider, as long as it doesn't conflict with events,” Cotton said. That requires ESD approval.

Pre-reserved parking

Forest City reps explained they are working to market pre-paid parking to eventgoers, via Click and Park, which offers driving directions as well.

Veconi pointed out, as I’ve reported, that the pre-paid parking module went on sale weeks ago, and asked how many tickets were sold before then.

Marshall said “I don't know the precise number” but went on to say that most Nets tickets had not been sold, just all-access passes. However, she ignored the fact that hundreds of thousands of concert tickets had already been sold.
Still, she said, “I don't think there's going to be a huge impact from having Click and Park be launched in August.”

Sidewalks

Will sidewalks be closed for arena events?

Ameri couldn’t be certain. “If we have public safety issue, we may detour people,” he said.

Communications

Veconi said it was good to have a meeting, but encouraged people to file incident reports and complaints on AtlanticYardsWatch.net.

Forest City's Roberta Fearon, with Jane Marshall
Cotton introduced Roberta Fearon, the Community Liaison for construction, and said complaints should go to 866-923-5315 or communityliaison@atlanticyards.com. She cited the two-week construction alert published twice a month.

She said the arena would hire a Community Affairs Manager, whom she will supervise. “We will be introducing this person, as soon as they are hired,” Cotton said, without specifying a timetable.

Danae Oratowski of AY Watch pointed out that organizers want to change the city 311 system, which logs all arena-related issues under the un-intuitive address of 620 Atlantic Avenue.

Drinking

Why not follow the Wrigley Field example of a 10 pm liquor cutoff, asked Steve Ettlinger. “It is an residential area.”

Cotton responded, deflectively, “We’re not having people drink to 1 o’clock every night.”

Taxis
DOT's Chris Hrones, with Forest City's Ashley Cotton

Chris Hrones of the Department of Transportation said there will be an area designed for taxis and black cars on north side of Atlantic Avenue between Fort Greene Place and S. Portland Avenue--an area, to my observation, that’s fairly small.

Double-parking

One resident said that there’s regular double-parking on Dean and Bergen Street, because of the Dean Street playground basketball courts (others have cited the nearby church).

Cotton noted that Ameri, who’d left by then, had promised stepped-up enforcement.

Sanitation again

One South Oxford Street resident asked what would be done to clean up after arena-goers walking on that sidewalk on their way to the subway.

Cotton responded that Forest City is not cleaning up in a half-mile radius, but there have been discussions about starting a BID (business improvement district), “something we're very open to.”

Transportation

Will buses/trains be increased after events?

Yes, Cotton said, citing announced policies in the Transportation Demand Management plan.

What will it look like on opening day?

A resident of Dean Street between 4th and 5th avenues said there was already lots of noise from trucks, and she expected more “noise pollution” from honking and car stereos once the arena opens.

“We'll be out there monitoring that,” said Cotton, echoing, in a way, what Levin had said: he won’t be inside at the first Jay-Z concert on Sept. 28 but instead walking around the neighborhood.

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