Thursday, December 05, 2013

Forest City changes modular construction plan, will deliver four mods overnight, raising questions about disruption; no progress reports on bass leaking, illegal parking

Forest City Ratner has billed the modular construction process as not just an effort to save money and time, but also as a way to build with far less impact on the surrounding community, since fabrication of modules (aka “mods”) at the Brooklyn Navy Yard means far fewer truck deliveries to the site.

Still, as Forest City in the next two weeks begins to deliver the first of 900 mods to the B2 construction site at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street, the developer announced a distinct change in the delivery plan, which alarmed some neighbors at last night’s bi-monthly Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee meeting. (Update: the deliveries are coming next week, as per Brownstoner.)

From 11/29/12 presentation
Instead of trucking one extra-wide mod--some 15 feet wide by 30 feet long--down Flatbush Avenue overnight to be deposited at the B2 site, as announced last year by Forest City construction chief Bob Sanna, Forest City will deliver four. The change came after discussions with the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT).

While that will cut down the number of daytime deliveries and potential traffic disruption on Flatbush, it also sets up a scenario of potential disruption during the night for residents on Dean Street and nearby Sixth Avenue.

And neither scenario was studied in any official oversight document, since the modular plan was announced after the project was re-approved in 2009. The B2 tower, 32 stories, will have 363 apartments, half of them subsidized, thus 50% market, 30% middle- and moderate-income, and 20% low-income.

Tense exchange

That led to a tense exchange at the meeting. After Dean Street Block Association President Peter Krashes continually questioned the potential impacts, Forest City executive Jane Marshall asked sharply, “Peter, would you like affordable housing to be built at this project?”

“We need to figure out a plan,” she said. “So instead of trying to put obstacles in our way, it would be appreciated if you'd let us do it the right way... and not demand a study on everything.”

Krashes, remaining calm, pointed out that Forest City had promised that it could build the project as proposed. “You're changing the construction process to lessen your costs,” he said, referring to the developer's effort to save on labor, among other things.

“I'm not trying to stop development, I'm trying to get a fair balance," he said. "I don't think it's fair for the community to bear the risks that you set up... by overstating what you are capable of doing... We don't know if this is going to impact the community or not.”

Other highlights

Other highlights at the meeting, held at the 78th Precinct at Sixth Avenue and Bergen Street:
  • police reported continued low crime around the arena
  • the police department official who purportedly was to lead a new crackdown on illegal idling and parking didn’t show up to report on the results, frustrating neighbors who'd been compiling violations
  • a Barclays Center official was unable to report any improvement regarding efforts to keep bass from leaking during certain concerts
  • that official said procedures at the arena loading dock had been improved, and should lead to less idling outside on the pad, after one neighbor reported several recent violations
  • a representative of the Department of Environmental Protection said the agency would in fact respond to my Freedom of Information Law request by producing documents regarding arena noise issues, blaming the previous apparent denial on the way documents are coded in the system 
  • Paula Roy, who was announced in October as taking on the roles played by former project Director Arana Hankin, was described as Director of the Atlantic Yards project for Empire State Development.
NYPD report

Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri of the 78th Precinct said the police had written over 1200 parking summonses and more than 200 criminal court summonses regarding activity in the orbit of the arena, but there were no major crimes. There was one robbery during an event.

A resident of Pacific Street between Flatbush and Fourth avenues thanked the cops for being pro-active, placing a patrol car on the street during two recent Kanye West concerts and thus deterring noise.

This past Tuesday night, however, during the Nets game, there was no patrol car and the street was noisy, as cars fill up in the parking lot used by P.C. Richard and Modell’s.

Parking issues

While residents complain about illegal parking at hydrants, Ameri said drivers can stand at hydrants as long as they’re in the car and not idling.

North Slope resident Steve Ettlinger noted the numerous apparent violations cited on Atlantic Yards Watch and asked about Donald Powe, the NYPD Traffic Enforcement District Manager who in late October publicly said there’d be new resources devoted to illegal parking and idling.

“We invited him,” said Ameri.

Ettlinger, who along with others said he'd been unable to find contact information for Powe, said he believed there were several tactics--including foot patrols and different hours--that would help with enforcement.

“They are civilian members” of the department, Ameri said. “I'll reach out to a supervisor.”

Ettlinger advised quick action, given that the Andrea Bocelli concert on December 11 will be “a limo magnet.”

Barclays Center report

Terence Kelly, Barclays Center Community Affairs Manager, said there would be roughly 200 events at the arena over 2013. He cited “successful installation of the tower crane” at Dean Street and Flatbush Avenue for the B2 tower and said it required “extremely effective coordination between arena operations and B2 construction.”

Also, he said, additional lighting on the loading dock on Dean Street will be installed at request of the NBA for additional security.

Next week, he added, there will be new signage on the loading dock instructing vehicles not to idle and to get power from the building if needed. That seems like a response to ongoing reports of violations.

Kelly acknowledged reports on Atlantic Yards Watch of buses idling Monday night near Dean Street and Vanderbilt avenues. Still, he suggested that the overall protocol is “extremely effective,” with drivers instructed to go to the Atlantic Avenue lay-by area or the parking lot.

“We do acknowledge there are times when there are, sort of rogue people,” he said. “We continue to respond as best we can... by the time our traffic manager came out, they were gone.”

Parking issues

The 541-space arena surface parking lot, said executive Marshall, is rarely more than 50% full--and “it's not because they don't know where it is,” she added. (Some neighbors near Fourth Avenue and Pacific Street say drivers don’t know about the lot, located between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues and Dean and Pacific Streets.) The top price is $35.

“That seems low, given people are paying four or five hundred dollars” for a vehicle, Ettlinger said.

“Parking on the curb in front of a hydrant is free,” commented Tom Boast of the Carlton Avenue Association.

Leaking bass

Jim Vogel, a Pacific Street resident who also represents state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, pointed to continued problems with leaking bass. “Has there been any remediation done or contemplated?” he asked.

“I don't have any update right now,” Kelly said, his tone turning flat.

Krashes suggested stipulations be put on production contracts. He said residents have accommodated numerous inspections, by the city and by Forest City: “The community has bent over backwards to solve the problem, they've cooperated, and there's no change.”

Kelly said the arena holds “ourselves to that standard”--the city noise code’--”inside the building.”

“I don't think we see that playing out,” one neighbor said. “Jay-Z, Sensation--the bass is incredibly loud, until very late in the night.”

“It feels like the subway train going underneath your apartment for two hours,” said another.

What steps, asked Krashes, have been taken?

“I don't have an update at this time,” Kelly replied. “We're certainly aware of the reports, and we're investigating them.”

“I need to respond to this,” said Vogel in a flash of anger, addressing meeting chair Derek Lynch of Empire State Development. “Derek, our office is formally requesting that you work with the state's client... we do not find it acceptable.”

“We’re definitely working with DEP,” Lynch said of the Department of Environmental Protection..

The DEP’s Geraldine Kelpin noted that two noise violations have been issued regarding arena noise. (One didn’t stick.)

“From what I heard, Kanye West would have been a violation,” Krashes said.

“You didn't reach out to us,” Kelpin said..

“It slipped by us,” Krashes said. “The responsibility seems to keep getting shifted to us.”

Kelpin said a neighbor’s report of bass on the ground floor “is a new one,” perhaps analogous to noise from a construction site. She said DEP would check it out.

She noted that a analysis conducted with noise consultant hired by the arena led to a decline in volume at at least one concert. “Almost what has to happen,” she said, “before each concert, they need to go through their sound check, and then they need to work back to what's acceptable... in the arena and outside.”

Loading dock

A Sixth Avenue resident pointed to middle-of-the-night idling by buses and trucks, as noted in videos on this blog.

“We lived through Justin Bieber, lived through the noise.. but the idling trucks and buses seem absurd,” he said. “To me, how this is allowed to happen is ridiculous.”

Was there a security failure?

“I can't speak to it,” Kelly responded.

Where should someone call in the middle of the night? Ameri said to call 311. Kelly said to visit the arena’s 24-hour security desk

“Is there a security number?” he was asked.

“I don't have it available,” Kelly responded. He said he’d explore alternative solutions.

“We appreciate your concerns,” Lynch said soothingly.

Moving the mods

“We have been working with city and state to come up with a plan to deliver the plan to deliver the mods, Marshall said, noting that “we'd like to have at least two floors [of mods] in advance so we can feed the crane” that will lift them.

She noted that wide-load deliveries in New York City, according to policy, are supposed to take place at night, “but we also need to build a very efficient building.

Pointing to a graphic projected on a screen, Marshall described where the four mods delivered overnight would be placed. Two would be placed in the “MPT zone,” the walled area set up for Maintenance and Protection of Traffic, which extends to Dean Street. Another would be placed in front of the MPT zone exit, and another in the area of the B3 construction site, where there’s bike parking.

[I don't yet have a copy of that graphic, and no photographs or video are permitted at the meetings/]

“In order to build a building and meet a construction schedule and get them built in eight to ten 10 months, we need six to eight mods delivered regularly to the site,” she said. “The only way we could figure out how to do this was splitting deliveries between night time and day time.” Four would be delivered between 10 pm and 5:30 am.

“Originally, we thought the most efficient thing was to do everything inside the MPT area, inside the construction fence,” she said, suggesting it would have the least impact on the community. “But we can't deliver six to eight mods during the day... Not only is it against policy, but also there are rush hours.”

“We were going to try to store one or two” overnight, she said, “and then have six deliveries during the day... but that is not acceptable to DOT [Department of Transportation], given the fact that this is a new thing... they're giving us permission to do things they don't typically do.”

She said the deliveries would be coordinated with arena activities. “We will not be having wide load deliveries when there is load in and load out of arena,” she said. And because two mods would be placed in the pedestrian path on Dean Street, that path would be closed overnight, and reopened in the morning “as early as possible.”

Construction starts at 7 am, so the first could be picked up at 7 and the second at 8. The pedestrian pathway could be opened by 8:30 am. Work typically ends at 3:30 pm.

Marshall noted the deliveries would be conducted not by “random trucks” but a “trucking company that's part of our team.” The trucks will have escort vehicles, and a police presence, working with flagmen. “It will take about 15 minutes for something to leave Navy Yard and get to the site.”

There’s no reason for trucks to idle, she said. They do have to disconnect the modules, but “I don't think that is a noisy thing” to get the mod off truck.

Marshall did acknowledge that “there are probably going to be instances and conditions” when trucks have to back up, beeping.

Change of plans

Krashes pointed out that Sanna’s presentation last year referred to only one module delivered in the early morning.

“That was our preferred plan,” Marshall said.

Krashes, who pointed out there are “homes right across the street,” asked how many nights there would be deliveries.

“The deliveries are going to be frequent,” said Marshall, though there won’t be weekend work

Krashes what the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) had said about after-hours construction work.

“This is not construction work, these are deliveries,” Marshall said.

“Some nights they'll be able to start at 10 and it might be very efficient and they'll be over by 12,” she said. Some nights, it'll be later, because the arena has to empty.”

Will there be extra lights?

“I don't think so,” Marshall said. “We don't expect this to be all lit up.”

What if there’s a back-up in construction activity; what happens to items stored int the street?

“I don't think that's a likelihood,” Marshall said. “They won't be brought if we don't think we can pick them up. Not every night we'll have four. because the work gets spread out.. we expect to to be only weeknights, not Sunday nights and weekends.” (That suggests they’ll be starting only four days a week, which seems unlikely.)

How much does the wide load cut down the road?

Chris Hrones of the DOT said the agency had reviewed the plan. In some case, it will take two lanes of traffic.

Any assessment?

Krashes looked at ESD’s Roy and noted there was never a construction plan for modular, so no assessment of environmental impacts.

“I don't know if that's accurate,” Roy responded.

“What's happening, in my personal point of view,” Krashes said, is “the risk is being shifted to the community, in terms of late night construction.”

From Final EIS, Construction Impacts,
 no overnight construction traffic cited
“This is not late night construction,” Roy said.

“You're being alarmist,” Marshall said.

“We'll wait to see how it unfolds,” Krashes said. “Regardless, this wasn't studied, or disclosed.” He asked if the state would provide an environmental. monitor at the site.

“We do have an environmental monitor” during the day, Roy said, adding that “ we're looking to what the monitoring would be.” She said it’s “something we're taking very seriously” and added “we should also recognize some of the benefits,” given the lower overall impact of construction.

“There's no pouring concrete,” Marshall added, referring to the dozens of deliveries at a conventional construction site.

“What you're saying from a public documents point of view is also speculative,” Krashes said, referencing the lack of any analysis.

“As you know, it's very difficult to balance all of those needs and desires,” Marshall said. “We're presenting what we think is the best plan.”

Wide-load policy

Wide loads are typically prohibited during the day. “We’ve never done this before,” Hrones said. “By allowing wide loads greater than 10 feet for the day... A lot of people in our agency wanted all deliveries at night... we made an exception.. If we're going to make an exception, we have to minimize impacts during the day.”

The four mods during the day must be delivered in non-rush hours, between 10 am and 2 pm.

Will signs warn traffic?

“That's part of the escort vehicle,” Hrones said, adding that the DOT would look into VMS (Variable Message Signs).

What does the FEIS say about late-night deliveries, Krashes asked.

“I don't know,” Roy said.

“It says we can do night-time work, subject to appropriate permits,” Marshall said. “It's activity at the can say construction or deliveries, it's activity at the site.”

(The FEIS said "a certain amount of extended hours, nighttime work, and weekend construction would likely be required," but nighttime work is defined as ending at 11 pm. The June 2009 Technical Memo prepared by ESD for the project's re-approval stated, "The general means and methods used for construction, as presented in the FEIS, are not expected to change as a result of the design development.")

Krashes then continued to raise questions, prompting Marshall’s sharp reply noted above.

Future meetings and a period of detente

These meetings have been scheduled on a somewhat ad hoc basis every two months. Lynch said at the end of the meeting that “we will try to see if we can have fixed bimonthly meetings.”

After the event, despite the periodic tension, many of the participants as well as the 78th Precinct arena detail, at Ameri’s invitation, repaired to a nearby barbecue restaurant for some holiday cheer. The one ground rule: no discussion of Atlantic Yards.


  1. Anonymous10:48 AM

    Thanks for the write-up. I was also there. Kelly's inability to address the sound issues was shockingly unacceptable.

  2. Anonymous10:34 AM

    I have heard reports of potentially covering the roof of the arena with a lawn similar to that of the transit entrance to mitigate acoustic issues both outside and inside the arena. Any word on the validity of this?

    1. I haven't heard those reports, and doubt them considerably, because:
      1) it's hardly clear that rumbling bass escapes from the roof
      2) the roof is an ad for Barclays

    2. Well, maybe my comment was wrong, given what has recently surfaced.
      Friday, February 21, 2014
      Forest City Ratner's new Chinese partner will help revamp Barclays Center roof. Are architectural/environmental "enhancements" a fix to limit escaping bass?