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At the Quality of Life meeting: dismay over parking, new buildings well-received, update on new Atlantic Yards CDC

Last night's Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting, held at Brooklyn Hospital near Downtown Brooklyn, contained an update on several issues, including modular construction, but the biggest issues for the audience were the wholesale removal of parking in and around the southeast block of the site, which triggered dismay, as well as an architect's presentation regarding two new towers, which was well-received.

Dismay over parking for residents

In order to attenuate noise from construction, Empire State Development has required a 16-foot fence--twice the height as typical--around the southeast block, Block 1129, bounded by Dean Street, Carlton Avenue, and Vanderbilt Avenue.

The fence and its support not only removes 85-100 parking spaces, it removes the on-site surface parking used by some arenagoers. In other words, the tight fit for the project--which requires the larger construction fence--means that parking gets sacrificed.

"This is obviously going to eliminate a lot of parking, there's no way around it, we apologize for it," said Forest City Ratner Chief of Staff Ashley Cotton.

One resident, Robert Puca, said he now circles "for hours" to find parking, and asked if the state could allow temporary permits for residential permit parking--a plan previously rejected by the city and state--so residents don't compete with arenagoers for street parking.

He got no assent.

The mass of the project is "a given," said resident Steve Ettlinger, citing previous statements by those involved in the project. "I and a lot of people thought it was ill-conceived, it was so large," he said. "If the buildings were smaller, or set back," the problems would go away.

He suggested--as I'd agree--that the choice was made by the developer.

Cotton responded that "through extensive environmental review and an act of state government, these [dimensions] became a given."

Tension between arena parking, local parking

Cotton said eventually 1200 parking spaces will be created for the project--far fewer than originally projected--with 860 on the southeast block under three buildings. "It is residential and public parking, you guys can all buy parking there."

Also, according to the Final Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement, "there is expected to be 300 parking spaces [on site] available to accommodate Arena demand during all phases of construction. That expectation does not seem to have been met.

Asked where arena goers would park during construction, she said, "In the interim, there’s plenty of parking in the neighborhood already, as we know, the lots aren’t full." (Unmentioned: arenagoers seek free parking on the street.)

"We're basically going to have to pay" for parking, Puca said.

The issue, added resident Jennifer Bacon, is competition with arenagoers even with paid parking. She said it was impossible to get into garages when there are bottlenecks before or after arena events. 

No one offered a solution.

The two new towers

Rick Cook, architect of the next two towers 535 Carlton and 550 Vanderbilt, got a generally positive reception after describing how his firm CookFox tried—while building much larger buildings—to take cues from the surrounding neighborhood in terms of materials, colors, rhythms, and patterns.

“We believe very deeply we will be designing more dense cities,” he said, noting the green spaces adjacent to and on different levels of the building. “To make people feel good, we need to make them more connected to nature.”

All true, though the amount of open space, given the increase in population, remains well below city goals.

He said his firm was constrained by ESD Design Guidelines regarding the size of building and its articulation.

“For us, these are the most important sites in this whole project,” he said. “They have the strongest obligation to make the transition from this new neighborhood that’s being built to the existing neighborhood.”

He said there would be “neighborhood-type retail” at the base of each building. In both, the green space behind the building will be visible from the sidewalk. (But no one said you could walk through the building to the open space.)

“I represent a studio of designers who care very much about your neighborhood, because they are your neighbors,” referencing the fact that 55% of his office lives in Brooklyn. (A map indicated their residences; no one lives within the area directly impacted.)

“We do really hope that when these buildings are complete, that you guys will be proud of the effort that your neighbors put in to crafting these buildings,” he said.

Questions on the towers

The towers, Cook said in response to a question from Assemblyman Walter Mosley, would be built via conventional construction. That’s been known for months, ever since delays in the B2 modular tower surfaced.

(Mosley was the only elected legislator in attendance, though District Leader Olanike Alabi also attended.)

Cook also said that his firm is both the design architects and the architects of record for the tower

Several people complimented Cook on the choice of materials, especially in contrast with the more garish B2, even as one said, “I’m not happy this building's going up.”

One asked for 535 Carlton to be set back to respect the line of houses on the street ot the south. Cook said his firm was following the Design Guidelines.

There will be parking on Dean Street, just east of Carlton Avenue, for the block, but no parking entrance for 550 Vanderbilt.

No one pointed out how the renderings seem drawn to minimize the size of the towers.

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association did suggest that there be a standalone meeting regarding the architecture and noted that there are no renderings of the towers from Dean Street, which would require closer-in view “It would be really helpful to get a holistic perspective,” he said.

“To make images that feel right on the street is quite time-consuming,” Cook responded.

Krashes recommended Cook return for a presentation.

“We've been invited back by CB 8,” Cotton responded.

ESD report: condemnation

Sam Filler, currently the Atlantic Yards Project Director (though likely to be replaced by the new AY CDC Director), said that ESD via eminent domain has taken title to the nine remaining properties in the project footprint, five commercial and four residential. (I thought it was only three residential.)

“You’ll probably be reading in the press about Storage Mart,” he said, referring to a DNAinfo article that later appeared about how ESD taken over its operations and is assisting occupants to find new storage.

A relocation firm called Cornerstone and a property management firm called Reedmar are now helping ESD with the other properties. “The residents and the businesses will be provided alternative locations where they can move their businesses or find other housing arrangements,” he said.

That, of course, leaves open the questions as to whether those alternatives are commensurate.

ESD report: new AY CDC

Regarding the new Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, aimed to oversee public commitments regarding the project, Filler said the appointments should be announced in early December. Nine of the board members are gubernatorial appointments, while five other officials have appointments.

The board will meet during the week of December 15. The board will appoint officers and adopt bylaws. It will have a 15-20 minute public comment period, which will be a feature of each meeting. And there will probably be some staff reports regarding construction and environmental design.

Joe Chan, ESD’s Executive VP for Real Estate and Public-Private Partnerships, said the the AY CDC meetings also will have reports back from the Quality of Life meetings.

Some in the audience said such meetings should be held closer to the site.
ESD’s Nicole Jordan said “the reason it was moved here was because spaces in the community were booked up” but she’s looking at other venues in 2015.

Transparency requests

Resident Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council reminded ESD of the request that CDC make available the environmental monitoring reports produced by its consultant HDR. “It really would be a benefit to all stakeholders.”

Filler said that staff reports will include a quarterly report from HDR, which will be made fully public. (HDR also does more frequent reports, as well.)

Krashes suggested that board members and surrogates have access to meetings between state officials with the environmental monitor and the owner's representative. “The option of without notice, attending these meetings, would increase community confidence,” he suggested.

“We'll take it into consideration,” said Chan. (I wouldn't bet on it.)

Arena green roof

Regarding the green roof planned for the Barclays Center, aimed to beautify the view and tamp down on escaping noise, Cotton said that it will be completed in Summer 2015, “it's right on schedule.”

It is supposed to be finished by August 2015, though the crane installation was two months late.
On the new OEM

Cotton gave a brief update on the on-site environmental monitor, or OEM, required by the state as a separate hire by Greenland Forest City as opposed to an in-house staffer. “We hired a firm called Remedial, they have been in place since some time in October,” she said.

Krashes said his understanding was that the state negotiated the OEM’s scope of work, and asked if the state would release it.

The state did not negotiate it, responded Forest City’s Jane Marshall, but rather commented on it.

Krashes repeated his request. Chan said “we can take it back” for consideration.

Krashes asked about the relationship of Remedial to the firm Roux, with which it shares an office and which has worked for Forest City, “it's like the fox guarding the henhouse.”

He noted that Roux was previously functioning as owner's representative for Forest City.

Cotton said no. Remedial was created to provide engineering services to Roux. While they share offices, they have separate ownership, she said.

“Roux has been involved in the project since the beginning. It specializes in environmental cleanup.. That firm, Roux, does not do construction monitoring, environmental monitoring," she said. "While there’s a relationship there, we don’t think there's any problem.”

That was a little ambiguous. According to the notice when Remedial was hired, Greenland Forest City Partners stated, "While you may know that Roux has been involved in this project from the beginning, as FCRC's owners representative, and specializes in the development of environmental plans to address contamination issues on development sites, Roux does not provide construction monitoring services."

So, was Roux serving as owner's representative regarding environmental cleanup only? When I know more, I'll update.

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