Friday, March 28, 2014

As expected, Draft SEIS says extended buildout no big deal outside immediate blocks; modular impact comparable to any night-time trucks (!); minor mitigations proposed, public hearing coming

So, what's important in the 132 pages about Atlantic Yards released yesterday in the board materials for today's meeting of Empire Statement Development, the state agency overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards, beyond the planned arena green roof, cageyness about blight, dismissal of multiple developers, and plans for reduced parking that I already mentioned?

Well, first, recognize that the entire point of the court-ordered environmental review is kind of moot. 

Despite  Empire State Development's failure to study the potential impact of a 25-year project buildout when Atlantic Yards was re-approved in 2009, ESD--via ubiquitous consultant AKRF--reliably found few impacts of consequence and, thus, makes relatively few recommendations for mitigations, according to the Executive Summary of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

 Directors are planning to: 
  1. Accept the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“DSEIS”) as satisfactory 
  2. Adopt the March 2014 Proposed Amendment to the 2009 MGPP 
  3. Authorize a public hearing [yet unscheduled] on the DSEIS and 2014 MGPP Amendment 
  4. Authorize Corporation staff to take related actions. 
Two proposed business changes

From the document:
In addition to analyzing the environmental impacts of prolonged Phase II construction, as required by the court, the DSEIS also analyzes the environmental impacts of two proposed changes to the Project, discussed further below: a shift in up to 208,000 gsf of floor area from Phase I to Phase II of the Project; and a reduction in the number of parking spaces from 3,670 spaces to 2,896 spaces. A “Reduced Parking Alternative” in the DSEIS also assesses the environmental impacts of a further reduction in the number of parking spaces to 1,200 spaces.
The shift of space has to do with the configuration of the buildings around the arena. The cut in parking reflects the ample public transit options, but, as I wrote, it also likely sets up significant competition for free parking, at least on event days, without residential permit parking.

The impacts = nothing new, just longer

Note that ESD takes pains to say a 25-year buildout is not necessarily likely, especially since Forest City Ratner's expected new partner, the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group, wants to build everything fast. But an extended buildout would be an imposition on the closest neighbors:
The DSEIS indicates that prolonged Phase II construction would result in a significant localized adverse impact on neighborhood character during the construction period in the immediately surrounding area of the Phase II site as a result of significant construction traffic and noise impacts, and the visual effects of construction that would be experienced in the area. It also identifies significant adverse noise impacts during certain portions of the Phase II construction period at the exterior of a number of residential and other buildings in the study area, including a public school located across Atlantic Avenue from the Phase II site, but finds that the resulting interior noise levels within the school would not materially impair its operation. In addition, the DSEIS indicates that there would be significant operational traffic and pedestrian impacts upon completion of Phase II after an extended build-out. The DSEIS further identifies a significant shortage of school seats in the elementary and intermediate public schools within Sub-district 1 of Community School District 13 in Brooklyn and finds that a delay in Phase II construction would extended the duration of the significant adverse impact of Phase I of the Project on passive open space resources in the non-residential study area. These impacts are similar to the impacts that were identified in the Project’s 2006 FEIS. 
But those impacts are nothing new:
Thus, both the DSEIS and the 2006 FEIS have identified significant adverse environmental impacts with respect to community facilities (due to a shortage of public school seats, the shortage of which would only be partially mitigated by a new public school proposed as a mitigation measure within the Phase II site), construction-period open space (which is gradually eliminated through the incremental availability of the Phase II open space), transportation (operational and during construction), and construction noise. 
(Emphasis added)

But the "incremental availability" over ten years sure differs from "incremental availability" over 25 years.

Full mitigation is not possible and, by the standards of the review, not required. After all, it's a disclosure document:
The DSEIS identifies measures to mitigate these significant environmental impacts to the maximum extent practicable. However, with respect to the predicted shortage of public school seats, operational traffic and pedestrians, construction traffic and construction noise, no practicable mitigation has been identified to fully mitigate significant adverse impacts. 
And, again, because the delay would only affect parts of a neighborhood, it wouldn't affect "neighborhood character," one of the required areas of study:
The DSEIS further finds that there would not be significant socioeconomic impacts to the surrounding area as a result of a prolonged period of constructing Phase II of the Project and that a prolonged construction period for Phase II would not adversely affect the character of the neighborhoods surrounding the Project site, outside of the localized impacts in the immediate area surrounding the Phase II site.
More on neighborhood character

People on the surrounding blocks may be affected, but that's no biggie:
Construction of Phase II of the Project under the Extended Build-Out Scenario is not expected to result in significant adverse neighborhood character impacts in neighborhoods surrounding the Phase II project site; however, increased traffic, noise, and views of construction activity would result in significant adverse localized neighborhood character impacts in the immediate vicinity of the Phase II project site. During construction, the project site and the immediately surrounding area would be subject to added traffic from construction trucks and worker vehicles and partial sidewalk and lane closures; in particular, construction traffic and noise would change the quiet character of Dean Street, Pacific Street and Carlton Avenue in the immediate vicinity of the project site. In addition, staging activities, temporary sidewalks, construction fencing, and construction equipment and building superstructure would be visible to pedestrians in the immediate vicinity of the Phase II project site. Consistent with the 2006 FEIS, this SEIS concludes that Phase II construction would result in significant adverse localized neighborhood character impacts in the immediate vicinity of the project site. 
It just would take longer. That's not significant, under the standards of the review:
These impacts would occur for a longer period of time than what was contemplated in the 2006 FEIS, as the duration of construction activities for Phase II under the Extended Build-Out Scenario would be 18 years, compared with six years in the 2006 FEIS. The impacts would be localized, confined largely to Dean Street, Pacific Street, and Carlton Avenue, and no immediate area would experience the effects of the Project’s construction activities for the full project construction duration. Measures to control noise, vibration, and dust on construction sites, including the erection of construction fencing, would reduce views of construction sites and buffer noise emitted from construction activities, and sound barriers would be used to reduce noise from particularly noisy activities where practicable. 
Affordable housing promise attenuated

The DSEIS states:
Additionally, it is a Project goal that 50 percent of the affordable units on a square foot basis would be two- and three-bedroom units, subject to the availability of programmatic support for larger affordable housing units by the city, state, and federal housing programs utilized for the affordable housing at the project site.
It may be a goal, but Forest City Ratner falls way short with the first building, now under construction. Note the difference in language above with that in the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement, which sounded more definitive:
Affordable units would be reserved for households making between 30 percent and 160 percent of citywide Area Median Income (AMI) and 50 percent of these units (on a square foot basis) would be two- and three-bedroom units.
Prolonged construction not so bad

The document states that, contra some worries, delays should not affect property values:
Findings from case studies of other development sites in New York City that have experienced prolonged construction and/or periods of construction delay, including Riverside South, First Avenue Properties, Battery Park City, and Metro Tech, are consistent with findings on the effects of the Atlantic Yards Project to date. The case studies indicate that prolonged construction—in some cases construction that lasted for decades and is still ongoing—has not led to decreased property values or other signs of disinvestment in the 1⁄4-Mile Study Area compared with the 3⁄4-Mile Control Area for each of the case studies. Across all case studies, demographic and housing trends indicate that population and income growth and residential property values in the 1⁄4-Mile Study Area kept pace with or exceeded growth in the 3⁄4-Mile Control Areas over the course of the analysis period. Trends in commercial office and retail rents and sale values also indicate that prolonged construction or periods of delay for case study developments did not have any detrimental effect on commercial property values in the 1⁄4-Mile Study Areas compared with the 3⁄4-Mile Control Areas.
Fiscal benefits

This is not a cost-benefit analysis, of course, but the document offers numbers:
The construction of the Phase II development would generate substantial economic and fiscal benefits for the city and the state. Investment for construction of Phase II of the Project is estimated at approximately $2.43 billion in 2013 dollars, exclusive of financing, insurance, land value, and other costs that are not directly part of the expenditures for construction. Direct employment generated by construction of Phase II is estimated at 9,148 person-years of employment. Total employment, including jobs in business establishments providing goods and services to the contractors and jobs resulting from spending of construction wages, is estimated at 16,765 person-years of employment in New York State, of which 13,909 person-years would be in New York City. Construction activity would generate an estimated $173.41 million in tax revenues for New York City, the MTA, and New York State. New York State would receive about $109.54 million, the MTA would receive about $7.26 million, and New York City would receive about $56.61 million in tax revenues from construction of Phase II. In addition, New York City would receive revenue from the mortgage recording fees and real property transfer tax from the condominium units.
Modular construction

Though the document oddly assumes, for the sake of a worst-case scenario, that each building will built using conventional construction, Forest City Ratner, of course, has indicated a commitment to use modular.

The benefits from modular would be lower:
Based on the preliminary estimates, the investment for construction of Phase II of the Project using modular construction methods is estimated to equal about $1.90 billion in 2013 dollars. This would represent about a 22 percent reduction from costs using conventional construction methods. However, modular construction methods would allow for year-round (instead of seasonal) employment for construction workers and the opportunity for apprentices to receive training and practice in a controlled environment. 
Impacts no worse from modular?

The document states:
On-site building activities using modular techniques is expected to have shorter construction durations and fewer daily on-site workers and truck trips as compared with the use of conventional construction techniques, and would therefore be less disruptive overall.
...The construction tasks with the greatest potential to result in increased noise levels at most nearby noise receptors are the excavation and foundation tasks, which would occur in the same manner and over the same duration with either conventional or modular construction. 
However, in the paragraph mentioning overnight deliveries--increased last December from one to four without public discussion--the review fudges the issue:
While night-time delivery of modules would occur, these deliveries would not be expected to result in a perceptible increase in noise levels (as measured by Leq(1h)). Operation of the trucks used for night-time module deliveries in close proximity to noise receptors would result in increases in noise level for short periods of time. Such increases in noise level would occur only when the trucks would operate adjacent to the noise receptor and would be comparable in magnitude and duration to that which would result from operation of any heavy truck on the roadway adjacent to the receptor. Consequently, these short-term increases in noise level during night-time module deliveries would not constitute a significant adverse noise impact. Overall, it is not expected that the use of modular construction for the Phase II buildings would result in significant adverse noise impacts beyond those identified for conventional construction in Chapter 3J, “Construction Noise.” 
(Emphasis added)

In other words, don't complain if there are heavy trucks on your residential street. That's a bit odd, because heavy trucks are typically not expected to rumble through overnight.

One school faces noise

The document states that one existing public school, P.S. 753 at 510 Clermont Avenue, would be expected to experience significant adverse noise impacts during some construction years.

(From the Executive Summary, I don't see an explanation of impacts to the public school to be built on the project site, though presumably that's in the full document.)

Depending on the phasing plan, one or more floors of the building would experience impacts for seven to 11 years, but noise attenuation should be sufficient for all but one to two years. So it's not so bad:
Because interior noise levels would be acceptable except during limited periods when the acceptable threshold would be slightly exceeded, the temporary construction noise impacts on P.S. 753 would not impair the operation of the school, and therefore would not be considered a significant adverse community facilities impact.
Decrease in open space not bad, because...

There will be more open space, but less per person, given the huge new population--but that's not a problem because, natch, there are big parks a long walk or short subway ride away:
Due to the new open space resources that would be provided by Phase II, and the availability of open space resources not included in the quantitative analysis (in particular, Prospect Park and Fort Greene Park, two destination parks within walking distance of the Project site), the decreases in the active residential ratio would not be considered a significant adverse impact. Overall, there would be no significant adverse indirect open space impacts associated with Phase II of the Project under the Extended Build-Out scenario, under any of the three construction phasing plans.
It will be noisy in that open space, due to construction, but there's nothing to be done and, moreover, it's not uncommon, according to the review:
While these noise levels are not desirable, there is no effective practical mitigation that could be implemented to avoid these levels during construction. Noise levels in many of the city’s parks and open space areas that are located near heavily trafficked roadways and/or near construction sites experience comparable and sometimes higher noise levels.
Traffic

There are three potential phasing plans, two of which proceed steadily, while the other starts, stops, and then resumes with more concentrated construction. Only under the third potential plan would construction traffic pose more of a problem than that expected upon full project buildout.

But the mitigations would be the same as for the project as a whole, as described below.

Mitigation: community facilities/schools

Phase II of the Project under the Extended Build-Out Scenario would result in a significant adverse impact on elementary and intermediate schools upon the completion of the first or second Phase II building. Mitigation for the projected shortfall in school seats for elementary and intermediate schools in CSD 13/Sub-District 1 could consist of:
  • Building a new school on the project site; 
  • Shifting the boundaries of school catchment areas within the CSDs to move students to schools with available capacity; 
  • Creating new satellite facilities in less crowded schools; and/or 
  • Building new school facilities off-site. 
Forest City has committed to provide adequate space for the construction and operation of a 100,000 gsf elementary and intermediate school facility, with some 757 seats. The other mitigation measures could be implemented at the discretion of the Department of Education.

Mitigation: open space

Given a temporary significant adverse impact on passive open space resources in the non-residential (1⁄4-mile) study area during Phase II construction, the project sponsors and ESD will explore additional mitigation measures for one of the following plaza or open space areas outside the area of the project:
  • Times Plaza: currently an approximately 0.17-acre triangle formed by Flatbush Avenue, Atlantic Avenue, and 4th Avenue is occupied by a paved sidewalk area, bike racks, and the Times Plaza Control House (an MTA structure, built in 1908 as a subway entrance, which today functions as a skylight for the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center subway station). 
  • Lowry Triangle: this 0.11-acre New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) open space is bounded by Atlantic Avenue, Underhill Avenue, Washington Avenue, and Pacific Street. It contains passive open space features such as seating and plantings. 
  • Cuyler Gore Park: this 1.16-acre DPR open space is bounded by Fulton Street, Carlton Avenue, and Greene Avenue. It contains passive open space features such as seating and plantings. 
Improvements could include seating, plantings and other open space amenities.

Similarly, if a Phase 2 site were "to remain undeveloped for an extended period of time, if practicable, the project sponsors would arrange for its utilization as temporary open space." 

This presumably would be more helpful to people who have already moved in to Atlantic Yards buildings, as well as the nearby neighbors.

Mitigation: traffic

Some 56 intersections are expected to face "significant adverse impacts in one or more of the five peak hours analyzed." 

The solution includes operational changes such as "signal phasing and timing modifications, parking regulation modifications, and changes to lane striping and pavement markings." 

That would leave what the review considers relatively few problems: significant adverse operational traffic impacts unmitigated at four of the 41 intersections impacted in the weekday AM peak hour, seven of the 38 intersections impacted in the PM peak hour, and eight of the 47 intersections impacted in the Saturday pregame peak hour. 

Mitigation: pedestrians

Phase II demand should significantly adversely impact four or five crosswalks. 

Standard mitigation for such impacts can include signal green time or new signal phases; widening crosswalks; relocating or removing street furniture; providing curb extensions, neck-downs or lane reductions to reduce pedestrian crossing distance; sidewalk widening; and providing direct pedestrian connections from adjacent transit stations.

Mitigation: construction traffic noise

The traffic mitigation measures should mitigate the noise from construction traffic, but there would be seven intersections––one during the 6-7 AM and six during the 3-4 PM construction traffic analysis peak hours––where impacts could not be mitigated or could be only partially mitigated.

Mitigation: construction noise
About 13 buildings predicted to experience significant adverse noise impacts have not previously been offered "receptor control measures" such as air-conditioning and storm windows, so the provision of such could be helpful, though the DSEIS does not indicate a commitment to do so.

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