Tuesday, December 02, 2014

As ESD board meeting, Dean Street residents ask for new conditions to improve construction oversight

Empire State Development CEO Kenneth Adams's dismay at congestion caused by a crane wasn't the only Atlantic Yards news to come out of the 11/20/14 ESD meeting.

It was the last item on the agenda, and the other two directors present—one in the room and the other on a satellite video—had left. However, Adams assured attendees the transcript--which would include an admonishment to the agency from the project's closest neighbors--would be made available to all ESD directors.

Official issues

ESD Executive VP Joe Chan repeated the projection that there will be a mid-December groundbreaking for 535 Carlton Avenue, which will be 100% affordable (or, perhaps more precise to say, income-linked). Since then, a December 15 groundbreaking date has been announced.

Construction will start in late December or “early quarter one of 2015,” he added, leaving the impression that the December groundbreaking is a bit for show (and to fulfill a contractual obligation). After all, late December is generally vacation time for most people.

Chan also repeated the news that Forest City Ratner has taken over the modular fabrication business at the Brooklyn Navy Yard from former partner Skanska, and projected that the firm needs “probably six to eight weeks” to restart construction of the stalled B2 modular tower.

He said that construction on the stalled B2 modular tower could resume toward the end of this year or beginning of 2015, after Forest City Ratner has reopened the modular plant.

Chan also described the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), which will meet for the first time during the week of December 15, as serving “as an advisory committee” to the ESD board, advising on changes to the General Project plan, monitoring developer compliance with public commitments, monitoring and reporting on quality-of-life issues, and making recommendations to ESD “on how to best expedite developer responsiveness.”

Board members are expected to be announced shortly, as will the date of that first meeting. The lingering question is how much power and effect that AY CDC might have.

Some admonishment from Dean Street

Members of the Dean Street Block Association, who live across the street from the project site, read a statement expressing disappointment, and hope.

“Why do we appear again and again at these meetings?” asked Peter Krashes rhetorically. “We have to. Construction is about to accelerate at the site, and we do not trust that you want to provide good oversight. In fact, we think you have long known you do not do a good job. The state is supposed to be our advocate, but instead it has been up to us to show you sometimes-obvious flaws in your studies, unacceptable shortfalls in your monitoring and verification, and apparent patterns of potential co-option in the relationship between the developer and those overseeing the work on our behalf.”

He noted that, despite the new timetable, it’s hardly a start: “We have experienced eight and a half years of construction already, and should expect 11 more – from cradle to college for some of the kids in our community.”

"For our part, our aim has long been to improve the job you do," Krashes continued. "Our decision to leave Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council"--which signed the agreement that set a new timetable with a 2025 outside date and established the AY CDC, while giving up the right to sue--"was triggered by the belief the agreement between BrooklynSpeaks, the developer and the State insufficiently empowers the interest of the public, and does not meet our community’s most pressing needs.

"We did not leave PHNDC to sue, and we have no plans to sue," he said, addressing what he later clarified was "any understanding the State may have had to the contrary."

Resident Alec Duffy began with a request: “forgive me for paraphrasing Star Wars, help us, ESDC, you are our only hope.”

Improving oversight

Duffy, continuing the statement,  suggested some new conditions to improve state oversight, including allowing new AY CDC board members board members and/or their surrogates to attend without notice meetings and conference calls between the ESDC staff and the State’s Environmental Monitor (currently HDR), the ESDC staff and the Owner’s Representative, and the ESDC staff and the Developer. He also asked that supporting materials for these meetings be made available to the board.

(I'll write separately about the potential board member mentioned at this meeting and other meetings.)

The block association also asked for penalties for the developer if information presented by the developer's environmental monitor is incomplete, and a clear set of protocols for public disclosure if the ESDC staff working with the new board are unsatisfied with the quality or sufficiency of the information provided.

“So far, we get the impression that the ESDC answers to the developer,” followed up resident Tracy Collins, a photographer who’s often contributed to this blog. “The way you change that is to have transparency, accountability.”

He suggested that one full-time staff member to run the AY CDC “seems wholly inadequate,” and recommended “an onsite monitor that's there every day... that the community can go to, when there's something going on, in the minute.”

Speaking before the Dean Street residents, one Carlton Avenue townhouse owner, Ilse Kaye, said she’d asked Forest City Ratner’s contractor to provide a copy of its engineering report on the potential impacts of construction of the 535 Carlton tower across the street, but had been denied. She said it would cost her some $50,000 to stabilize her building, and that she’s willing to have an engineering survey done—but she needs the baseline.

Adams, ever cordial, said he looked forward to a “robust and frequent dialogue” with not only the block association but also other community organizations.

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