Friday, September 05, 2014

From Quality of Life meeting: street shutdowns Tuesday for Fashion Rocks; no on-site parking for arena; questions about new CDC for project

Last night's Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life Meeting covered numerous issues, including:
  • street closures for Fashion Rocks next Tusday
  • the new Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation
  • the loss of the arena surface parking lot for housing construction
  • a bike lane squeezed on Dean Street
  • street closures Columbus Day weekend in October for crane assembly
Street closure for Fashion Rocks

For the Fashion Rocks concert event Tuesday September 9, the NYPD will shut down some streets, but far less than with the MTV Video Music Awards last year, which caused considerable neighborhood consternation. "We made every effort to make sure the community is not inconvenienced," said Sgt. Angelo Pirozzi of the 78th Precinct, noting that pedestrians will have access to closed streets.

Starting at 6 am that day, Dean Street between Flatbush and Sixth avenues will be closed to traffic. At night, as production crews are building a red carpet between Flatbush and Sixth.

That night, there will be cameras, media, and theatrical lighting on the north side of the street, but no spectators or amplified sound, as was the case with the VMAs. Any spectators will be penned in at Sixth Avenue.

Starting at 3 pm, Sixth Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Bergen Street will be closed to traffic, again with pedestrian and bicycle access. Also at 3, Pacific Street between Sixth and Carlton avenues will be closed to traffic, though residents and garage space owners can drive in. The closures will last until midnight.

The black cars dropping off celebrities are supposed to park in the arena parking lot. Some 10,000 to 12,000 ticketholders are expected to attend.

New 78th Precinct Commanding Officer Captain Frank Digiacomo noted the drop-offs have to be on Dean because lanes on Atlantic have been narrowed for construction of the West Portal. "Anything going on in front of Barclays is a nightmare," he said.

Resident Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association reminded the group that, after the VMAs, residents asked the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment to consult with the Community Boards before such street closures. "They responded by saying they're going to think about it."

Arena community affairs manager Terence Kelly noted that, because the permits were just issued, "we're not going to preemptively give out information without a permit in hand."

Changes from ESD

Sam Filler, the new director of the Atlantic Yards Project for Empire State Development, made his first public appearance.

He creditably summarizing the changes in the past few months, including the approval of the Final Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement, Forest City's posting of a completion guarantee for the railyard, the joint venture formed with the Greenland Group, and the new deadline of 2025 to delivery the affordable housing, as well as the agreement to set up an Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (CDC) as an ESD subsidiary.

ESD's Marion Phillips III explained that the subsidiary will be tasked with oversight and monitoring the project, including nine gubernatorial appointments (five of which can be government employees), with the others appointees of the Mayor, Borough President, Assembly Speaker, Senate President pro tem, and Council Speaker.

Each member will have a three-year term, with the board required to meet at least quarterly. (There was a question raised about staggered terms to ensure expertise; Phillips said he'd bring that back for consideration.)

ESD will provide staff and administrative support; there will be staff assigned, but Phillips said it was yet unclear how many and what the budget would be. "Our goal is to have the first board meeting no later than December 15."

Before then, starting in October, the names of the appointees must be vetted, and submitted for Conflict of Interest analysis.

Concern about CDC and ESD oversight

Krashes said, "I think everybody has heard that our block association didn't agree with this." He said the board was advisory, without decision-making or enforcement ability--actually, that provision was long dropped from the request--and that the support from ESD was unclear.

"How is it going to function in a way that's accountable, transparent, and improves construction oversight," Krashes asked, saying such oversight "proceeds in an opaque way, which is an extra subsidy for the developer."

Phillips said it was not yet determined.

Krashes noted that as of now, as construction on infrastructure ramps up--two towers will start in December--"we're actually at a really low level, in accountability and responsiveness."

The full-time manager of community and government affairs for the project (Derek Lynch) has been replaced by a part-timer assigned to other projects (Nicole Jordan), he said, and even the meeting last night is no longer called a "Quality of Life Committee" meeting.

"We got construction update today for construction that started Monday," he said. (Forest City's Ashley Cotton blamed the Monday Labor Day holiday, but that should've meant the construction update was released Tuesday, not Thursday.)

Regarding the subsidiary, Krashes said, "it would be helpful to know, are we staying in this place, are we going to have much more?"

Phillips said, "at this point, we haven't made that determination." He noted that there would be a process for community input into the subsidiary, not only when required for action items but also a public comment period.

"I don't know what's in place now," said resident Jennifer Bacon, noting they face problems "on a daily basis." Phillips said concerns should be sent to Jordan and Forest City's Community Liaison Office.

Forest City's Cotton noted that the CLO has moved to the Atlantic Center mall.

A defense of the settlement, and some pushback

Gib Veconi of Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council and BrooklynSpeaks responded to the criticism, noting he was a lead organizer of the 2009 lawsuit that ultimately required a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement, developer of the Atlantic Yards Watch web site, and a lead organizer in the potential fair housing lawsuit that resulted in the settlement that set up the new housing deadline and set up the CDC.

"We have been fighting since 2007 for basically two things," he said, citing "local participation in project oversight... and an acceleration of construction." "We do not claim this was perfect," he said, in what was surely a nod to the skewing of affordability in the next two towers, but said he doubted that those objecting would prefer no oversight to the upcoming CDC.

He also criticized, not by name, some who "asked for certain things to be incorporated" in the CDC mission but criticized the settlement when it was announced. "We think this is the best platform to move forward on, to try to make the project accountable and responsive," he said.

He got a thank-you from the ESD's Phillips.

Krashes said he had "nothing but respect for Gib's sincerity and depth of civic commitments," but said there was a steady pattern of failure to comply with environmental commitments regarding the project.

"We did not see a response to the failure to comply with environmental commitments," he said. "We need much more accountability and transparency... We need the state to have ability to assess meaningful penalties against the developer." He noted that, while the Final SEIS announces new oversight procedure, the revision came after the state "waited for the arena to open."

Krashes asked if Forest City was planning to hire an on-site environmental monitor by September 15, as promised.

"The firm has not been hired, the RFP went out, it will be a little later than September 15," Cotton said, adding that "the delay is going to be very short."

She agreed to Krashes request that they issue an email after the monitor is hired.

No on-site parking--for 18 months?

Starting in December, construction of two towers--one all-affordable rentals, the other condos--on Block 1129 means there will no longer be any surface parking available for arena patrons. (In the interim, there will be 265 spaces, about half the total.)

"There will be a time when there's no surface parking," Cotton acknowledged. Veconi estimated it at 18 months.

Cotton noted that, given the low usage of the parking lot, the latest environmental review indicated that no parking was required. "We believe there's an abundance of parking," she said, clarifying that she meant parking garages.

Kelly noted that the arena communicates regularly with arena patrons and is talking with the Long Island Rail Road about ensuring usage by fans from Long Island. "We've made a tremendous contribution to promoting public transit," he said.

One resident asked about shuttles to the arena from Downtown Brooklyn parking lots. Cotton noted that the shuttles, used in the first season, were abandoned for very low utilization.

"I believe personally that creation of parking encourages driving," Krashes observed, "but the people who live near this project suffer because... this is a cost that's being shifted to community members." He added that residents also compete with arena employees.

That bolsters the argument for residential permit parking, which faces a roadblock in the state Senate.

Where do slots for the 78th Precinct go?

"We're working on solving it," Cotton responded.

Krashes suggested free parking in Atlantic Center, which Cotton said they'd consider.

"I'm highly sympathetic," Cotton said. "There is an impact to on-street parking." But instead of going on to say they'd lobby for residential parking permits, she fell back on the arena's success with encouraging people to use transit. "We feel good about what we've done," she said.

Construction impacts

Cotton described plans to build two residential buildings starting in December, one all-affordable, and noted that, instead of using placeholder names like B14 and B11, they're trying to say 535 Carlton and 550 Vanderbilt.

Pacific Street will return to a two-way street in November.

Cranes for the green roof will be placed at the B3 site at Dean and Sixth, and at Atlantic, and more briefly at Flatbush Avenue. Bike racks at B3 are being removed. "Very unfortunately, street trees on Atlantic Avenue, for the crane there, will be removed," Cotton said. "We have in our budget to put them back when it's all done."

The cranes will be assembled on the Columbus Day weekend, from Friday to Sunday Oct. 10-12, necessitating street closures at Sixth and Dean.

It's unclear whether the southwest corner of Atlantic and Sixth avenues will have to be closed for a stretch during construction.

What about the impact of demolition of buildings on Atlantic Avenue between Sixth and Carlton avenues?

"They're just going through condemnation," said Cotton, in the only nod to an ongoing process. She couldn't estimate the demolition schedule for demolition.

Changes at an intersection

The Department of Transportation's Chris Hrones reported on adjustments at the intersection of Dean Street and Fifth Avenue, which works as one system with two nearby intersections. There has been much back-up on eastbound Dean approaching Fifth in the afternoons and before events.

So DOT adjusted the timing of the lights, so they coordinate better with the light at Dean and Flatbush. Now there's 20 seconds of a continuous green light through both intersections, rather than 13 seconds. "It's made a real difference," he said.

He said they're also considering creating a short right-turn for northbound cars on Fifth near Dean, by eliminating one or two parking spaces

Bike lane on Dean

Bacon said the squeeze on Dean Street east of Flatbush Avenue--with construction fence extending from the B2 modular site--means bicyclists share a dangerously narrow passageway with cars. "I almost got killed twice this week.. it's too long we're sharing that road."

"It's far from an ideal solution," acknowledged Hrones, who said that suggested alternatives--re-routing part of the bike passageway two blocks south or making bicyclists walk--likely wouldn't work.

Noting that the scaffolding has been out some 14-15 months of a construction period originally supposed to last 18 months--but now may be twice that--Bacon asked if the bike lane could be restored in the meantime.

Hrones said DOT could talk with Forest City. (Then again, the developer is trying to re-start the modular factory and resume stalled construction.)

Also, at 215 Flatbush, across the street, there may be an overlap between construction, with additional scaffolding jutting out from the north. "It is flagged," Hrones said. "We're basically down to bare minimum in terms of standard widths, of the roadway... they'll have to come up with some other way to build their building, as long as we have current situation."

Crossing Atlantic

One resident said it's dangerous to cross Atlantic Avenue at South Portland Avenue/Sixth Avenue, given the limited time to cross, which endangers seniors and younger children.

"We have looked at that intersection quite a bit, including signal timing," Hrones said. "We weren't able to come up with something that works."

Not only is it a long crossing, but traffic has a wide turn and thus goes quickly. Once the median is rebuilt--after construction of the Green Roof and West Portal, that will add safety.
We're introducing addressed, 461 dean, not B2

When will West Portal be done

Veconi noted that the presentation (below) indicated that the West Portal connecting the Vanderbilt Yard to Atlantic Terminal will be completed in 2017, but a document released in June said it would be finished in February 2016.

Which is correct? Cotton said she'd check.

Rats return

St. Marks Avenue resident Pauline Blake, former president of the 78th Precinct Community Council, cited, "humongous rats that are destroying our gardens, boring into yards." She blamed new excavation at the railyard, though others noted there is non-Atlantic Yards construction at sites on Dean Street and Pacific Street.

She suggested that Forest City provide better garbage cans to residents. Cotton said Forest City would continue its baiting program and had distributed heavy-duty trash cans in 2011.

"The rats are visible almost every night," said resident Steve Ettlinger.

No resolution was reached.

What's next

Kelly said the Sept. 14 Barclays Center show with country star Luke Bryan is sold out. The Source 360 show on Sept. 20 will draw about 6,000 people. After that is the Islanders' pre-season game Sept. 26.

He said he'd be making presentations to Community Boards on the arena workforce.

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