Monday, March 31, 2014

Revealed: Atlantic Yards modular construction means 22% drop in costs/wages, 10% cut in jobs, 24% loss in tax revenues

When Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner unveiled plans to build the 16 towers in the Atlantic Yards project via innovative, cost-saving modular construction, CEO Bruce Ratner told the Times in November 2011 that modular would “probably” require the same number of workers.

Spokesman Joe DePlasco told WNYC that a previously announced figure of 17,000 construction jobs announced was still expected.

A year later, in a public presentation in Brooklyn, Forest City executive Melissa Burch surprised some audience members by echoing a PowerPoint presentation that stated “Modular construction will require approximately the same number of man-hours as conventional construction.”


If so, Forest City would be saving not because fewer workers would be hired, but only because cross-trained union workers inside the modular factory, located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, would be paid less than workers on site.

New numbers

But those predictions were unreliable and, perhaps, mendacious.

According to a new analysis conducted for a court-ordered environmental review, the investment for the eleven towers in the project's Phase 2 would represent a 22% cut in costs from conventional construction, a 22% cut in wages, and a 10.2% cut in job-years. 

It also would mean a 24% reduction in revenues for New York City, MTA, and New York State (in 2013 dollars), from personal income taxes, corporate and business taxes, sales tax on indirect activities, and related taxes on direct and generated economic activity.

And the numbers are conservative, since they don't apply to the whole project.

Because the Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) was required only to analyze the impacts of a potential delayed buildout in the project's second phase, the chapter on Modular Construction in the Draft SEIS assesses only the Phase 2 towers, not the additional five towers in Phase 1, which also are likely to be built via modular construction. 

That means that the switch to modular for the full project (outside the arena), which Forest City Ratner announced well after Atlantic Yards went through its second round of approvals, was never fully assessed, nor will it be.

B2, the 363-unit first tower, is being built hugging the arena at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street, and is expected to open by the end of the year.

Extrapolating from the findings in the Draft SEIS, the use of modular construction for the entire 16-tower project presumably would further lower overall costs, wages, job-years, and tax revenues.

Ultimately, the new information serves to confirm that Forest City's public statements about Atlantic Yards jobs, as with those regarding compensation for the part-time arena workers and claims of "2000 jobs" at the arena, require vetting by outside parties.

In this case, the vetting comes from AKRF, the consultant hired by Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards. (Forest City pays ESD for the environmental review.)

Presumably, had Forest City paid for the Independent Compliance Monitor required by the Community Benefits Agreement, we would have had more accurate statistics on modular even earlier.

The benefits of modular

To union leaders, modular may be a reasonable trade-off. Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, has said that, while workers in the factory would earn some 25% less than the average union construction worker, it would mean steady hours--and the opportunity to work in controlled conditions all-year round.

And, should Forest City Ratner prove the concept, it will designate the factory, which is a joint venture with Skanska, to produce modules for other development projects around the city, thus potentially involving more jobs.

(Trade organizations representing plumbing contractors and mechanical contractors unsuccessfully sued to block the Department of Buildings' approval of modular, saying it improperly cut out skilled trades.)

"Modular has the potential to introduce one of the first, major manufacturing expansions in New York City since manufacturing began its decline over a generation ago," Forest City said last December.

According to the Draft SEIS, conducted for Empire State Development by consultant AKRF, modular construction offers advantages beyond cost, including fewer overall and on-site truck deliveries, less on-site equipment and construction activities, less construction waste, and more efficient and faster construction.

Compared with conventional construction, there should be about one-third to three-quarter fewer daily on-site workers and about half as many daily truck trips.

The Draft SEIS, however, fudged the impact of overnight truck deliveries, suggesting they "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," as if that's typical.

Faster construction?

Given the year-round manufacturing process that can overlap with on-site foundation and other work, modular construction could take one-third less time compared to conventional construction methods, though the document acknowledges that may not hold true for the first tower. 

Indeed, B2, if it opens as scheduled in December, will have required 24 months, though previous estimates were 18 months.

Modular may speed up the delivery of housing, including the affordable housing that made Atlantic Yards so politically attractive, especially if Forest City forms a joint venture with the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group, for the remaining project. 

Greenland would gain a 70% share in Atlantic Yards beyond the arena and B2, and has said it aims to speed construction far faster than the 2035 project deadline, which Forest City successfully requested after promising a ten-year buildout. (The illegal extension of the deadline led to the court-ordered SEIS.) The joint venture awaits governmental approvals.

From the Modular Construction chapter of Draft SEIS

(All emphases added)
VALUE OF CONSTRUCTION
Construction benefits are generally a function of expenditures by the developer during the construction period. In order to provide an estimate of the possible effects on benefits which might result from modular construction methods, the construction costs associated with the development were projected by the project sponsors. 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 ($1,895.66 million) in 2013 dollars. This would represent about a 22 percent reduction from costs using conventional construction methods. The amount includes the construction of the same development as was analyzed for conventional construction methods. The above figure includes site preparation and hard costs (actual construction), and design, legal, and related costs. The total estimated amount of $1.90 billion reflects the cost of physical improvements to the site, and therefore excludes other values (such as financing, insurance, the value of the development rights and the land, marketing, etc.) not
directly a part of the expenditures for construction. The total cost—including financing, the value of the land, real estate payments, management, initial marketing expenditures, and similar expenditures—would be substantially more. The construction costs enumerated above serve as the primary input to the RIMS II model, i.e., economic impacts such as number of construction jobs are derived from the total construction cost using the RIMS II model.
Employment
The $1.90 billion represents the direct expenditures during the construction period using modular construction methods. As a result of the direct expenditures, the direct employment for constructing the entire Phase II development program using modular construction methods is estimated at about 8,214 person-years of employment, a reduction of about 934 person-years from construction using conventional construction methods.
In addition to direct employment, total employment resulting from construction expenditures would include jobs in business establishments providing goods and services to the contractors and resulting in indirect employment. Based on the model’s economic multipliers for New York City industrial sectors, the construction of the entire development program using modular construction methods would generate an additional 4,275 person-years of employment within New York City, bringing the total direct and generated jobs from the construction of the program to 12,489 person-years (see Table 3M-1), a reduction of about 1,420 person-years from construction using conventional construction methods. In the larger New York State economy, the model estimates that the projected development using modular construction methods would generate 6,840 person-years of indirect employment, bringing the total direct and generated jobs from construction of the projected development to 15,054 person-years of employment, a reduction of about 1,711 person-years from construction using conventional construction methods.
The direct wages and salaries during the Phase II construction period using modular construction methods are estimated at $574.26 million, in 2013 dollars (see Table 3M-1). This would represent about a 22 percent reduction from construction using conventional construction methods. Total direct and generated wages and salaries resulting in New York City from construction of the entire Phase II development program using modular construction methods are estimated at $820 million. In the broader New York State economy, total direct and generated wages and salaries from construction of the entire Phase II development program are estimated at about $975 million. These estimates would again represent about a 22 percent reduction from construction using conventional construction methods.
Fiscal Impacts
The construction activity would also generate tax revenues for New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and New York State. As indicated above, the total cost for constructing the entire Phase II development program using modular construction methods (excluding financing and similar costs) is estimated at approximately $1.90 billion. Based on the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis’ RIMS II model for New York City and State, the total economic activity, including indirect expenditures (those generated by the direct expenditures), that would result from construction of the entire projected development program for Phase II is estimated at $3.65 billion ($3,654 million) in New York State, of which $2.80 billion ($2,797 million) would occur in New York City (see Table 3M-1). These figures would represent about a $1.02 billion and $783 million reduction, respectively, from those that would be estimated for Phase II using conventional construction methods.
In total, the construction of the entire projected Phase II development is estimated to generate approximately $131.68 million in tax revenues for New York City, MTA, and New York State, in 2013 dollars (see Table 3M-1). This is approximately 76 percent of those estimated using conventional construction techniques. Of these tax revenues, the largest portion would come from personal income taxes, corporate and business taxes, sales tax on indirect activities, and related taxes on direct and generated economic activity. New York State would receive about $83.80 million, the MTA would receive about $5.51 million, and New York City would receive about $42.37 million of these tax revenues from construction of the Phase II development using modular construction methods.
In addition, as was the case with conventional construction methods, New York City would receive revenue from the mortgage recording fees and real property transfer tax from the condominium units, which would be additional. 
Calculations re Phase 2

Total employment NYC direct
8214+934=9148
so a 934 loss = 10.2%

Total employment NYC direct and indirect
12489+1420=13,909
a 1420 loss = 10.2%

Total employment NYC/NYS direct and indirect
15054 + 1711=16,675
a 1711 loss = 10.3%

Total economic activity NYS
$3.65M + $1.02B (conventional add) = $4.67B
a $1.02B drop = 21.8%

Total economic activity NYS
$2,797,000 + $783,000 (conventional add) = $3,580,000
a $783,000 drop = 21.9%

Sunday, March 30, 2014

From Atlantic Yards Watch: in the early morning, construction vehicles make intrusive noise; goal is to reduce noise "to extent feasible"

On Friday, 3/28/14, as the board of Empire State Development took routine steps to advance Atlantic Yards, they heard from several residents about the deleterious impact of project construction on their lives.

One example, not mentioned aloud but posted on the web, appeared on Atlantic Yards Watch early that morning. As noted:
Whether from deliveries, or from construction work itself, the back-up alarm for construction vehicles are getting triggered early in the morning on block 1129 and Pacific Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt. The back-up alarm cuts right through good quality double paned windows.
There is no notice in the construction alerts of work occurring outside of normal construction hours in this location. A recent supplemental construction alert gives notice of after hours work at Atlantic and 6th.
A video can be found here shot through a closed window:
The Memorandum of Environmental Commitments [here] states FCRC will comply with the following measures in the construction of the Project:
  • Scheduling work that would generate high noise levels during weekday daytime hours to extent feasible, rather than during weekday nighttime or weekend hours, unless required as a result of safety or other agency requirements;
  • To the extent feasible, scheduling equipment and material deliveries during weekday daytime hours, rather than during weekday nighttime or weekend hours.
As hinted, there's a gulf between "feasible" and "impact on neighbors." As the video suggests, even with double-paned windows closed, the beeps are noisy:

Saturday, March 29, 2014

At ESD Board meeting, routine approval of Draft Supplemental EIS marred by neighbors’ criticisms, director’s reservations

By the standards of Empire State Development, the gubernatorial-directed, not-so-accountable authority that oversees and shepherds Atlantic Yards, it counted as a moment of glasnost.

The ESD’s board yesterday had sat through some 20 minutes of public comment from Atlantic Yards neighbors who managed, with short notice, to attend a board meeting during business hours, regarding the ESD’s inevitable acceptance of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS).

While four commenters offered sober, if pointed criticisms of the ESD’s performance in monitoring Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner, the lack of accountability in the project, the impacts of delays in affordable housing, and the flaws in the just-released DSEIS, the final commenter got emotional.

Taniya Gunasekara broke down in tears, lamenting the project’s impact on her two-year-old child, and stated, “I’ve lived in New York for ten years, I’m no stranger to noise and pollution. But what is going on in our neighborhood now is despicable.”

That left Ken Adams, the ESD’s affable CEO, always welcoming but essentially unbending, to put on his best funeral director voice and thank everyone for commenting and allow attendees one more chance to comment.

His staffers and board members sat somberly and stonefaced around the boardroom table at ESD’s headquarters at 633 Third Avenue in Manhattan.

No one sought to comment, so Adams entertained a motion to accept the DSEIS. He got one.

He asked for a vote. He got a few muttered versions of “aye.” (There were only three directors there with him, including Paul Ciminelli, Anthony Albanese, and Joyce Miller.)

Miller spoke up. “Aye, with reservations,” she said, the first instance in the history of Atlantic Yards that an ESD director had expressed a smidgen of official doubt.

(Miller, who joined the board in 2010, after a vote that year expressed sympathy to those complaining about construction, and said she wanted to be reassured that regulations were followed. That didn’t really happen.)

“I would like to suggested periodically the directors be given updates” on the project, said Miller. Adams quickly agreed that more frequent updates would be provided.

“Hearing no opposition,” he continued, “the motion carries, and we’ll move on.”

The process

There will be a public hearing on April 30. The Executive Summary of the Draft SEIS has been issued, but the entire document is not yet posted on the ESD web site.

To a certain degree, the comments and criticisms issued yesterday likely will be waved off by ESD. After all, the DSEIS is a disclosure document, and it’s already disclosed what people knew in the first round of environmental review: construction of the project would disturb the project’s neighbors on adjacent streets, but not have a larger neighborhood impact. Ergo: not a big deal.

However, even with that recognition, there’s ample evidence that construction has not followed protocols, as in a 2012 report from the consultant Sandstone, at the behest of Atlantic Yards Watch, the community initiative.

And the Executive Summary of the DSEIS fudges some of the issues, claiming, for example, that noise from overnight deliveries of modules “would not constitute a significant adverse noise impact” because they’d “be comparable in magnitude and duration to that which would result from operation of any heavy truck on the roadway adjacent to the receptor”—as if people typically move into residential neighborhoods expecting heavy trucks at night.

But Atlantic Yards is a big, big project, involving global capital from Russia and China, and an arena that’s known around the world. The Barclays Center has just signed the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament.

It hosted a Game of Thrones event. The Islanders are coming. None of the parties involved--the performers, the fans, the sponsors—have a reason to care about the neighborhood. That’s the state’s job.

Leading off

Adams rejiggered the meeting schedule so Atlantic Yards was first on the agenda. (I came in late and missed most of the session, but listened to a recording and then watched the video.)

ESD project director Paula Roy began with a five-minute summary of the project, including proposed changes to shift some bulk from Phase 1 to Phase 2 and to reduce the amount of parking.

Adams noted that the proposed but not yet consummated transaction with the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group, to buy 70% of the remaining project, might mean Atlantic Yards gets built out in ten years as originally planned, as opposed to the potential 25 years examined as a worst-case scenario in the environmental review.

Veconi on process: what about other developers?

Gib Veconi, Treasurer of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, focused on the state’s failure to consider the option of bringing in other developers. (PHNDC was one of the petitioners in the litigation that led to the court-ordered DSEIS.)

“PHNDC believes that had ESDC [ESD is also known as Empire State Development Corporation, or ESDC] and the project sponsors been candid about the 2009 change from a 10-year to a 25-year build out”—a change revealed only after the project was re-approved—“public pressure would have required the agency not only to conduct an SEIS, but also to explore a strategy of including other development partners to preserve the schedule under which the project was originally approved,” he said. 

That means the jobs, housing and other promised benefits might have been provided, and there wouldn’t be a discussion about additional adverse environmental impacts to assess.

“Yet the following description of a multiple-developer alternative is all that appears in the DSEIS’ executive summary,” Veconi stated a bit archly. “The analysis of the multi-developer alternative concludes that the alternative would not be practicable, and would not be effective in accelerating construction of Phase II of the Project.”

He pointed out that other ESD projects, like Queens West, involved multiple developers, and the pattern in Downtown Brooklyn shows there’s demand.

“It’s quite clear a multi-source approach is more resilient and efficient than the single-source model,” he said, suggesting that ESD’s agreement in 2009 "makes it impossible to consider an alternative with other developers than Forest City Ratner.”

However, he noted, “that agreement was the product of a modified plan which courts have ruled ESDC approved illegally in the absence of an SEIS—this SEIS. That would be to say that ESDC’s past failure to produce an SEIS now justifies an incomplete analysis in response to the court order.”

He also noted that the pending Greenland transaction would not represent a multiple-developer strategy but rather a single-source development project, “but under the control of a partner exposed to one of the world’s most volatile economies.”

And while DSEIS states that Greenland has stated its aim to build the project in ten years, “no details have been provided in your board book. Why doesn’t the proposed amendment to the MGPP include this new revised project schedule?”

“Your acceptance now of the DSEIS will further enshrine the unprecedented, failed franchise that ESDC has provided to a single source developer,” he said, calling for the board to reject the DSEIS.

Warnings about housing

Michelle de La Uz of the Fifth Avenue Committee, part of BrooklynSpeaks and another petitioner in the suit, noted that FAC “has been concerned about the lack of public accountability about Atlantic Yards since its inception.” (Full testimony here.)

She noted that the delay in delivering the affordable housing—most of the planned 2250 subsidized units would come years after originally promised would have “dramatic” local impacts.

“Gentrification and displacement pressures have increased to alarming levels,” especially on African-American residents of Community Districts 2, 3, 6, and 8, said de la Uz, who is also the appointee of then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio to the City Planning Commission.

While residents of those districts would get a preference in the housing lottery—50% of the units would be reserved for them—the current displacement trends mean that black residents would be less and less likely to be able to take advantage of that preference. (She didn’t mention that a good fraction of the subsidized housing would be aimed to moderate- and middle-income households.)

Adams, after hearing de la Uz’s testimony, in a friendly voice recalled how residents Peter Krashes and Wayne Bailey led ESD directors on a tour of the neighborhood, and they also saw FAC’s “great work” in building Atlantic Terrace, which was 75% subsidized for-sale units, catercorner to the arena block at Atlantic Avenue.

Construction oversight

Bailey, a member of the board of the Newswalk condo building, essentially reprised the Sandstone report, pointed failures in oversight of construction, including:
  • failing to train construction workers in mitigation measures
  • a required On-Site Environmental Monitor (OEM), who seemingly has not done the job
  • ESD’s inadequate monitoring of construction activities
  • lack of oversight of work on MTA property, since the city doesn’t oversee it and calls to 311 are ineffective
  • the limited role of the staffer that ESD initially called ombudsman, but who was relegated to the function of conduit or community liaison
  • Forest City’s on-site construction coordinator has been provided intermittently
Bailey expressed exasperation. “In October 2009,” Bailey noted, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries stated ‘the ombudsman system ... is nonfunctional because the higher-ups at ESDC aren't interested in empowering the ombudsman in a manner that would benefit the community.’”

“I believe the State has lost the confidence of the community in relation to the way it oversees construction impacts,” Bailey concluded. “We hope you will work with us to revise the oversight so that the environmental impacts of construction are correctly understood and minimized.”

Kowtowing to Forest City

Krashes, a member of the Dean Street Block Association, spoke as an individual.

“We are here today because, in 2009, as at each juncture in this project’s planning and approval stages, the State does not have the level of knowledge necessary, or the curiosity, to assess the range of choices available to the public,” he said. “As a result, the State only finds the route that benefits Forest City Ratner the most."

“At the time of the original project approval in 2006, the State and City both provided subsidies and a large 22-acre project site to Forest City Ratner based on a value for the project assuming a ten-year build out time frame,” he said. “At the time, Forest City Ratner was misleading the public about their ability to develop the project in 10 years.” For example, there was no proof the subsidies for the housing were available, and the platform over the rail yard was not included in the project’s financial estimates. There was no enforceable timetable.

“I’ve detailed to the board before, how in 2008 the block association I am part of sat at this table with Community Board 8 and another block association when MaryAnne Gilmartin and Jane Marshall from Forest City Ratner told us with the support of [ESD's] Avi Shick and his staff that the project was going to be built in 10 years, so no further mitigations were necessary,” Krashes said. “Only the community in the room seemed aware the principal benefit, purpose, and use of the project is to eliminate designated blight. A year later Bruce Ratner told the public, ‘It was never supposed to be the time we were supposed to build them in.’ If so, how come the value of the project was assessed as it was in 2006?"

In 2009, Forest City reopened the deal. “At the instigation of the developer, the State simply changed the project agreements to enable building the most profitable portions first, and slowed down property control of the rail yard in order to improve their flexibility,” Krashes noted. “In the meantime they – and you -- claimed in court the anticipated time frame is essentially still ten years, and the project agreements maintained FCRC’s lock on the entire project site.”

“Who has been surprised to see the value of the project steadily eroded, not only because of the project delays, but because of the switch to modular construction to lower construction costs, lower quality affordable housing than promised, lessened opportunities for other projects to receive low interest loans from EB5 financing, and Building 1 being put in limbo,” he said.

So, nine years after demolition began on his block, Krashes said, “you are releasing an SEIS that it took four-and-a-half-years to write. Was the delay because it takes four-and-a-half-years to write a document like this, or because FCRC wanted to get its ducks in a row first?”

“What is clear to us,” he said in closing, “is that the State is prepared to place the risk for this project on the community and public – both in terms of project benefits and the project’s environmental impacts -- while putting the priority on the current developer’s interests.”

Cutting to the heart

The final speaker was Gunasekara, who lives on Sixth Avenue between Dean and Bergen Streets and previously called the MTV Video Music Awards “a huge interruption to the community.” She has cited parking, garbage, and noise as intrusions.

“Everyone in this room, sitting around his table, has failed the neighborhood,” she said, wracked by emotion.“Atlantic Yards, Ratner, has bought you guys off. It’s very disappointing.”

She concluded by stating, as noted,  “I’ve lived in New York for ten years, I’m no stranger to noise and pollution. But what is going on in our neighborhood now is despicable.”

Then came the vote, and ESD could return to its scheduled pattern of general consent.

Public hearing scheduled Wednesday, April 30, for comment on Atlantic Yards Draft Supplemental EIS

According to a notice issued yesterday by Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing and shepherding Atlantic Yards, a public hearing will be held Wednesday, April 30, at Long Island University, 75 DeKalb Avenue, Room HS107, Brooklyn, New York, from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. for public comment on the court-ordered environmental review of the project's Phase 2.

As noted yesterday, the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement discloses minor problems as well as minor mitigations, though it sidesteps some issues. The ESD also will consider modifications to the project, shifting some 200,000 square feet of bulk to Phase 2, and considering two levels of reduced on-site parking.

Comments on the DSEIS and the Proposed Amendment are requested, at the hearing and/or in writing. Comments on the DSEIS must be received at ESD on or before Monday, May 12, 2014. Comments on the Proposed Amendment must be received at ESD on or before Friday, May 30, 2014.

Written comments should be  delivered to ESD at 633 Third Avenue, New York, New York 10017 (Attention: Derek Lynch), or may be submitted by e-mail to atlanticyards@esd.ny.gov. Comments also
may be made verbally at the public hearing.

After the public hearing and public review and comment, a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“FSEIS”) will be completed by ESD. ESD Directors will be requested to issue the FSEIS and affirm, or if appropriate, modify the Proposed Amendment, and make any requisite statutory findings under SEQRA, the UDC Act, or other applicable law.

Public hearing protocol

According to a notice, ESD will employ the following protocols for the hearing:
Speakers will be asked to sign-up prior to speaking. Speakers can sign-up at the hearing location beginning at 5:15 p.m. and will generally be heard on a first come basis. Elected officials generally will be given deference to speak when available.
ALL speakers will be limited to three (3) minutes.

Written comments are given equal weight as verbal testimony and can be submitted to ESD via email to atlanticyards@esd.ny.gov, or via mail to ESD at 633 Third Ave, New York, NY 10017, Attention: Derek Lynch. If submitting via email, please indicate in subject line “Public Comment for Atlantic Yards Project”.

Deadline for written comments on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is Monday May 12, 2014. Deadline for written comments on the Proposed Amendment to 2009 Modified General Project Plan is Friday, May 30, 2014. 
Note that, in the past, elected officials have not been limited to three minutes and, depending on the hearing, the hearing officer did not enforce the time limit.

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.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Flatbush Avenue building that was to house Kemistry is up for sale

The Commercial Observer reports that the Flatbush Avenue building once destined for Kemistry, a lounge/club that planned bottle service and was denied a liquor license, is up for sale, for $8 million:
The residential and retail property, at 260 Flatbush Avenue, also known as 89-91 Prospect Place, is being exclusively marketed by Eastern Consolidated. The buyer can erect a seven-story addition on top of the existing 3,975-square-foot, one-story structure.
The approved plans for the building call for a 20,335-square-foot mixed-use building with 14 residential units accessible via a lobby entrance on Prospect Place, a recreation room for tenants and one retail space with 31 feet of frontage on Flatbush Avenue. The existing structure spans the entire block-through lot and includes a full basement, which houses the building’s primary systems.
The seller paid $3.98 million in November 2006. The site is a few blocks from the Barclays Center.

Draft SEIS: no to multiple developers; hint of Greenland delay; notable push to cut parking (but no push for permits); parking plan shown

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

Well, note that document is far more descriptive about reducing parking in the project to 1200 spaces--and unconcerned about the competition for free parking in the neighborhood--than about whether undeveloped sites should be bid out to other developers.

Below is the statement, in full, in the Executive Summary of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS), which was released prior to the board meeting. (The full DSEIS presumably will be released tomorrow and offer more analysis.)
MULTIPLE DEVELOPER ALTERNATIVE
The analysis of the multi-developer alternative concludes that the alternative would not be practicable, and would not be effective in accelerating construction of Phase II of the Project. 
I guess we'll have to wait for the details.

The Greenland joint venture

The document does summarize some (already known) issues relating to the Greenland Group's expected purchase of 70% of the project going forward and the creation of a joint venture, but says "No Director action is requested with respect to the transaction at the present time."

While Forest City Enterprises last month said all approvals were expected, "allowing the transaction to close in mid-2014," ESD either hinted at delay or was simply more cautious, stating, "It is expected that the joint venture transaction will close in 2014."

Cutting parking--again

Note that ESD is already evaluating a proposed reduction in parking from the 3,670 spaces analyzed in the 2006 Final EIS to 2,896 parking spaces. This is analyzed in the Extended Build-Out Scenario for the Draft SEIS.

But a "Reduced Parking Alternative" would cut the number to 1,200 spaces. The document states:
The “Reduced Parking Alternative” would be an alternative that would further reduce on-site parking to reflect the recent zoning changes for Downtown Brooklyn, which eliminated accessory parking requirements for affordable housing units and reduced accessory parking requirements for market-rate housing. 
That's likely welcome news to the sensible, progressive sorts who embrace the livable streets movement, but... there's a huge caveat. 

Competition for free parking

Given the limited amount of free parking, this would mean continued, and aggressive, competition with arena goers, at least without instituting residential permit parking.

The Draft SEIS dodges the issue:
Accounting for non-Arena parking demand that would also need to be accommodated off-site under the Reduced Parking Alternative, off-street public parking facilities are expected to operate with available capacity during both the weekday evening and Saturday midday periods when there is a Nets game scheduled at the Arena during these periods, irrespective of the Project variation. Therefore, under the Reduced Parking Alternative, no shortfalls in off-street public parking capacity are expected to occur as a result of demand from a Nets game at the Arena and other non-Arena uses at the project site.
But off-street parking facilities charge fees.

The parking planned in the base case

According to the Draft SEIS, the “base case” Parking Key Plan would reduce the parking area on the Arena Block and eliminate parking spaces in the southwest corner of Block 1120 because parking in this area is not compatible with the current design of the permanent rail Yard.



The reduced parking plan

The Parking Key Plan studied in the Reduced Parking Alternative also would reduce the parking area on the Arena Block and would eliminate all parking on Block 1120 and under Building 15 on Block 1128.

Draft SEIS is notably cagey about goal of blight removal; provides three construction phasing plans but says they're not predictive

So, what's important in the 132 pages about Atlantic Yards released today in the board materials for tomorrow's meeting of Empire Statement Development, the state agency overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards, beyond the planned arena green roof I already mentioned?

Well, consider that the Draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) understandably indicates that a delayed buildout of Phase 2 of the project until 2035 or so wouldn't cause significant problems.

Is that delayed buildout likely? Unclear. 

According to the ESD, illustrative phasing plans are not supposed to be predictive. In fact, the joint venture documentation with the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group "includes a target construction schedule that is comparable to the duration studied in the 2006 FEIS," or a ten-year buildout.

What about blight?

Still, the DSEIS is notably cagey about one of the main goals of the project, the removal of blight, which gets mentioned infrequently. Here's one illustrative paragraph:
Except as set forth above, the 2009 MGPP [Modified General Project Plan] will remain unmodified and in full force and effect. Project goals remain unchanged. The Project, via completion of the Arena, has already begun to improve a blighted area, to create construction and permanent jobs, to generate substantial tax revenues to the City and State, and otherwise to provide significant economic and civic benefits for the community, the City, and the State. The Project still will create thousands of housing units, including not less than 2,250 affordable units. Project MWBE goals will remain unchanged.
(Emphases added)

Well, the completion of the arena improved an area blighted by the developer, at least in part. And it didn't touch the majority of the railyard, which was supposed to be the major blighting influence.

Delayed blight removal

Here's another paragraph, referring to the Final Environmental Impact Statement:
The 2006 FEIS found that the Project would offer the opportunity to further some of the City’s policies for housing and commercial development in Brooklyn, including removing blight and eliminating negative environmental conditions; maximizing the development of appropriate land use; strengthening the tax base of the City by encouraging development and employment opportunities; providing affordable housing and market-rate housing of high quality; and providing appropriate community facilities, parks and recreational uses, retail shopping, and parking. The completion of Phase II of the Project at a later date would delay the delivery of some of the aforementioned Project benefits.
Yes, it would, including the removal of blight.

Consistency with PlaNYC

Another paragraph:
PlaNYC was established in 2007, and provides a policy framework for sustainable planning in New York City. Even with a prolonged period of construction, the Project would assist in meeting many of the goals and objectives established in PlaNYC, such as by providing new affordable and market-rate housing to meet the needs of current and future residents at a transit-accessible location, providing new open spaces, and utilizing public land to facilitate development that would eliminate blighted conditions. The completion of Phase II of the Project at a later date would delay the delivery of some of the Project benefits that would be supportive of PlaNYC, but would not conflict with the goals of PlaNYC.
This is particularly rich, because the main blighted condition was the publicly owned railyard. Blight could have been removed by simply putting it out for bid, rather than reserving it for Forest City Ratner.

Three phasing plans

The document describes three Construction Phasing Plans:
  • Continuous Sequential Phasing with Block 1129 First; 
  • Continuous Sequential Phasing with Building 15 on Block 1128 First; and 
  • Start and Stop Sequential Phasing with Periods of More Intense Construction Activities. 
As noted, these plans are not supposed to predict the schedule and sequence but rather, in accordance with the Court Order, illustration how the "timing of the construction of certain project components may vary and to provide for a reasonably conservative analysis of the range of environmental effects associated with a delayed build-out of Phase II."

What about modular?

The document contains this curious paragraph:
It is possible that some or all of the buildings planned for Phase II would be constructed using prefabricated, or modular, construction techniques; however, the SEIS assumes that each building would be constructed using the conventional construction method. Where relevant, differences in potential impacts related to conventional and modular construction techniques are discussed qualitatively. 
It's possible? It's Forest City's plan.

Construction Phasing Plan 1

Under this plan, construction would be continuous and sequential, with the start time of each individual Phase II element generally a year apart from the start time of another Phase II element. Construction is assumed to begin on Block 1129, the southeast block of the project, moving from west to east. 

Forest City Ratner has already said it plans to build first on Block 1129 when it builds outside of the arena block.

Note that a platform over the blighted railyard would not be built until 2026.

Construction Phasing Plan 2

Under this plan, construction would be continuous and sequential, but the first building constructed would be "Building 15 on Block 1128, which like Construction Phasing Plan 1, takes advantage of the fact that Block 1128 is situated on land, i.e., would not require the construction of a platform before building construction can begin."

This is the building directly east of Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets. Construction would require the acquisition, perhaps through eminent domain, of three private houses. Thus, I think this plan is unlikely--they want to avoid potential bad publicity.


Construction Phasing Plan 3

This start-stop plan would involve stalled construction, then restart with concentrated construction until project completion in 2035, As with Plan 1, it would start with construction on Block 1129. But there would be a lot of overlapping construction.



Yes, green roof planned for Barclays Center. But is it also aimed to contain escaping bass?

Update: see the Preliminary FAQ.

Yes, Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner plans a green roof on the Barclays Center, as I conjectured last month, based on the hint that "modifications" were planned, to be paid for in part by expected new partner the Greenland Group.

That certainly would make the arena roof--once designated for public access, remember--a more pleasant site for residents of the new housing around the arena.

But I suspect that this "secondary roof" will also be designed to contain the escaping bass that also has plagued the arena, and has not been resolved. If so that's progress. But Forest City doesn't like to admit such things--they'd rather portray this as a nice greening of the arena.

From the summary of the Draft Supplementary Impact Statement, part of Board Materials for tomorrow's meeting of the Empire State Development's board:
In addition to the above, the project sponsors are considering the construction and installation of a green roof on Barclays Center as a new sustainable feature of the Arena. If installed, it would consist of the construction of a secondary roof with a structural system to hold a green sedum tray system very similar to the sedum roof at the transit entrance in front of the Arena. It is expected to cover most of the roof and would consist of approximately 130,000 square feet of sedum, making it one of the largest green roofs in New York City. It is expected that installation of this Phase I component would commence in 2014.

From the Response to Comments: the conundrum of an unfinished Phase 1, plus unexamined impacts of undisclosed arena elements

I've been going through the Response to Comments document produced by Empire State Development to accompany the release last month of the Final Scope for a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement. (The SEIS is coming this spring, and more information may be announced at the ESD board meeting tomorrow.)

A judge ordered a SEIS regarding Phase 2 of the project, but Phase 1 isn't finished.

So that sets up a conundrum: the baseline condition will assume Phase 1 is finished, but...  it's not. So the construction impacts of the remaining Phase 1 buildings will also be analyzed. But Phase 1 as construction will be assumed to be part of the background condition.

No, it doesn't quite make sense to me, either.

What's the baseline?

The comment:
Comment 18: The baseline should start now, not at the time of the completion of all of Phase I. There is no logic to moving the baseline to a point the project agreements don’t even require to exist, especially given changes to the project and its background effect on the first phase of construction. (Krashes)
The response:
Response: The SEIS is being undertaken pursuant to the Court Order to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of a prolonged delay in the completion of Phase II of the Project. Phase I has been approved and is under construction. Therefore, the Draft Scope of Work notes that for all areas of analysis Phase I of the Project will be assumed to be constructed and to be part of the background condition. Thus, all Phase I elements of the Project, including associated mitigation measures as well as any recent changes to the traffic network, will be assumed as part of the baseline conditions for the Future Without Phase II (2035), and therefore the effects of Phase I will be accounted for in the analysis. In the analysis of construction impacts of Phase II of the Project, the SEIS will take into account the potential for some overlap in the construction of certain Phase I and Phase II buildings. In describing the Project, the SEIS will summarize the status of Phase I construction, and the assumptions made with respect to the construction sequences and schedules analyzed.
Another comment:
Comment 70: The baseline should start now, not at the time of the completion of Phase I. Even if the Phase I project is completed in full, the project agreements enable the construction of Phase I to overlap with Phase II in multiple scenarios. (Brooklyn Speaks)
The response:
Response: As described in the Draft Scope of Work, Phase I of the Project will be assumed to be constructed and to be part of the background condition. This is consistent with the Court’s Order that the SEIS assess the potential for impacts associated with a prolonged schedule for the construction of Phase II of the Project. Any potential overlap between Phase I and Phase II will be reflected in the construction schedules that will be developed for Phase II of the Project under the Extended Build-Out Scenario.
What about B1 and Site 5 towers?

The comment:
Comment 69: If it is built, B1 may be constructed at any point in the project’s construction phase. It is perched above the key transit entrance to the main entrance to the arena. What is the MPT [maintenance and protection of traffic] for the construction, what are its impacts? Please detail the construction of B1 and Site 5 over the course of the project’s development (Krashes, Brooklyn Speaks)
The response:
Response: B1 and Site 5 are elements of Phase I of the Project. Accordingly, as with the other Phase I elements of the Project, the SEIS analysis will take into account the effects of the construction and operation of these buildings as background conditions in assessing the environmental impacts of Phase II of the Project, and will account for the possibility that there may be an overlap between the construction of certain Phase I elements and the Phase II construction. To the extent that information regarding construction of these buildings is available and relevant to the analysis, such information will be taken into account and disclosed in the SEIS.
New impacts from the pad and other functions?

The comment:
Comment 139: The SEIS should assess whether there are any new land use, zoning, public policy, neighborhood character impacts not previously disclosed in the FEIS, and whether any additional or different mitigation measures would be required. This assessment should include the land use and neighborhood character impacts created by arena operations to the south of the arena on Dean Street like the pad, whose operations may be permanent but were not disclosed in the FEIS.
The SEIS should examine how use of this site for at-grade arena operations like security screening as well as truck and bus storage is consistent with the FEIS’ land use analysis which states B2 and B3 would serve as a "buffer" between the residences to the south of the arena and the arena itself, and that "security screening and loading functions would be entirely within the building." (FEIS p. 3-2). Other functions not studied in relation to their locations in the FEIS include the satellite uplink parking lot, LIRR operations, a trailer area in the B4 footprint and construction offices in 752 Pacific Street. The SEIS should detail and assess the interim locations of unanticipated project elements until the time they are placed below grade.
The SEIS should assess whether these unanticipated functions reduce opportunities for the project to implement the commitment in the MEC to provide publicly accessible interim open space in the event FCRC does not expect to commence construction of a particular portion of the Project site or to use such portion of the Project site for interim parking facilities or construction-related activities, including staging. (Brooklyn Speaks)
The response mostly ignored the request:
Response: The SEIS will assess opportunities for interim open space during the construction period for Phase II of the Project under the Extended Build-Out Scenario.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Supplemental alert: overnight excavation at intersection of Atlantic and Sixth avenues

AtlanticYards.com, not Empire State Development (which usually circulates them), today sent a  Supplemental Report to the previously issued two-week Construction Alert:
LIRR Yard Activities Block 1120 & 1121
New Information: In connection with work that will be taking place in the yard, the contractor will be performing test pits (small area excavations) within the vicinity of the Atlantic Avenue and 6th Avenue intersection. The purpose of these test pits are to determine the location of underground structures and utilities. The excavations will be plated and/or patched over at the end of each work day.

Work will be performed in accordance with DOT permits which require that the work be performed at night (10 pm to 6 am). Work will be performed, between the time frame of March 24, 2014 and April 23, 2014, with the initial work taking place during the overnight hours of March 25-27th. No weekend work is contemplated at this time.
Part of the work will impact the Atlantic Avenue bus stop at the southeast corner of the intersection of 6th Avenue. Work dates will be coordinated with Arena operations.
For more information, please contact:
Atlantic Yards Community Liaison Office
(866) 923-5315
communityliaison@atlanticyards.com

At Empire State Development meeting Friday, Atlantic Yards should be on the agenda

While there's no public notice of the agenda yet, Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing and shepherding Atlantic Yards, is expected to discuss the project at its board meeting Friday, March 28, at 9:30 a.m.

ESD is supposed to issue a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement this spring. (It will appear on this page.)

Also potentially at issue is an update on developer Forest City Ratner's planned sale of 70% of the project going forward to the Chinese government-owned Greenland Group.

(Dealing with foreign-owned companies, as evidenced by the intrigue involving Mikhail Prokhorov's plans to move the Nets' business office to Russia, has grown more complicated, at least when the owners are located in global powers in potential conflict with the United States.)

Meeting details

According to the public notice, the meeting will be at:
Empire State Development
633 Third Avenue
37th floor Conference Room
New York, NY 10017

The meeting is open to the public, but building procedures require an RSVP by 5:00 p.m. on Thursday March 27, 2014. Press, please call (800) 260-7313; Public please call (212) 803-3794.

Web casting of the meeting is available at http://www.esd.ny.gov/webcasts/.


Praise for 78th Precinct's response after Wrestlemania buses idling in arena parking lot across from residences

There may be a flaw in the monthly list of events (March, April) circulated to neighbors by the Barclays Center. While the calendar helpfully indicates the number of attendees expected, that does not necessarily indicate the impact on the community.

For example, Nets crowds tend to know the drill, and get in and out fairly quickly, while one-off concerts, especially those appealing to older crowds, tend to draw many more vehicles, including idling limos.

And some shows, whether or not they draw huge crowds, involve lots of equipment trucks, which--especially if they're infrequent visitors to Brooklyn--may well impinge on the neighborhood.

Such was the case Monday, 3/24/14, with the WWE brought its wrestling extravaganza to Brooklyn, leaving trucks to idle in a parking lot across the street from residences.

Last night, at the 78th Precinct Community Council meeting, neighbors thanked Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri and his crew, notably Community Affairs Officer Brian Laffey, for their quick response. Ameri said he saw the first posting on Atlantic Yards Watch, and sent Laffey out to resolve the situation.

(No one from the Barclays Center was at the meeting to explain why things had gone wrong and what might be changed next time.)

On Block 1129


As noted Monday in an early afternoon post on Atlantic Yards Watch:
Seven Wrestlemania buses are parked along the Dean Street fence in the Barclays Center parking lot. When I walked by at 11:50 a good number of them ( I couldn't tell how many) were idling. The smell of exhaust was palpable on the sidewalk.
A video of one of the buses idling for more than 3 minutes can be found here:
The use of block 1129 as staging for arena events is common. In the case of Wrestlemania's numerous buses, they are generally parked on Pacific Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt, not along Dean Street. On Pacific Street they also generally have appeared to be idling. Because they are close to the public sidewalk this time around the exhaust can easily be smelled.
I wonder if someone is going to sleep in the buses tonight?
Below is a video:



The follow-up

A post in the evening Monday explained that there was progress, but still a problem:
With the help of the 78th Precinct, the 7 buses idling along Dean Street this afternoon have moved to the Pacific Street side. Thanks, 78th Precinct. Unfortunately tonight a bus has also moved roughly 30 or 40 feet from the perimeter fence along Dean Street, and it appears to be idling. I can smell the exhaust and hear it in my home.
Video of 3 minutes illegal idling:

Also a third truck, (apparently the same one that drove down Dean Street and Carlton Avenue at 7:30), was idling illegally when I passed by at 9:45 PM. It pulled out as I was videotaping the bus above.
Video of 3 minutes of illegal idling:
Bonus: a limo in the turning lane

There's still a problem with luxury vehicles in the area around the project, since drivers are unwilling to pay $35 to park in the lot on Block 1129. From AY Watch, 11:03 pm Monday:
Two long white stretch limos have been parked in the turning lane on Dean STreet at Vanderbilt Avenue for the last hour. Photo is attached. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

From Brooklyn Bureau: Plan for Community Use of Barclays Center Emerges (10 events, at a discount)

From my article in City Limits' Brooklyn Bureau today, Plan for Community Use of Barclays Center Emerges:
One anticipated—and delayed—element of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) is a promise to rent the arena “to community groups for at least ten (10) events per year, at a reasonable rate, with net proceeds from such events to be used to support nonprofit community organizations.”
That community events program should finally become visible when the Barclays Center begins its third season of operations, at the end of September. Given the “significantly reduced cost,” said organizer Sharon Daughtry, executive director of the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance (DBNA), who spoke at a launch event March 14, “a lot of money can be funneled into our community organizations.”
Such events—which could include fundraisers, concerts, job fairs, and banquets—may be held in various arena locations, including the arena bowl, the Cushman & Wakefield Theater (a truncated version of the bowl), the practice court, the Calvin Klein Courtside Club and the 40/40 Club.
For the full article, including information on how to apply, more on the DBNA's activities, and the curious nature of the CBA, go to Brooklyn Bureau.

Geopolitical pickle: Nets owner Prokhorov pursues unprecedented effort to move team under a Russian company

So, the Russian savior of the Nets, who has a cordial relationship with President Vladimir Putin and is own political ambitions, is caught up in a bit of a geopolitical pickle, yet unresolved, an unprecedented effort to move the company owning the team overseas. 

Less than two years after taking the New Jersey Nets over the Hudson River to Brooklyn, billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov is planning a longer move: to Russia.
No, they won’t play their home games there, but Prokhorov is planning on putting the basketball team under the control of one of his Russian companies. The move would help Prokhorov fulfill President Vladimir Putin’s request that Russian-owned overseas companies be registered locally and pay taxes to his government. Prokhorov told reporters in the Kremlin yesterday that such a transfer would comply with the National Basketball Association’s rules.
That also would ensure the Nets weren't subject to economic sanctions against Russia after the country annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

Reuters reported yesterday Brooklyn Nets Owner Will Bring Club Under Russian Jurisdiction:
"A Russian company will own the basketball club," Prokhorov said before receiving a medal for services to Russia along with other national sports officials.
"This (move) does not violate any NBA (U.S. National Basketball Association) rules and I will bring it (under Russian jurisdiction) in accordance with Russian law."
NBA pushback

But the above articles were a bit conclusory. The New York Times this morning reports, in N.B.A. Denies Clearing Nets to Become ‘Russian’, that the NBA says, contra Prokhorov, that it hasn't given him approval to move the Nets’ ownership:
“The Nets are owned by Mikhail Prokhorov through an American-based company,” Michael Bass, an N.B.A. spokesman, said in a statement. “We have received no application nor is there a process underway through our office to transfer the ownership of the Nets to another company.”
Any transfer of ownership must be vetted within the league and approved by at least 23 of 30 N.B.A. owners. Prokhorov’s application to buy control of the Nets took eight months for approval.
An application to transfer the Nets to Russian ownership would be treated as seriously as the sale of a team.
The importance of a local domicile

Sports consultant Marc Ganis told the Times: “There are two distinct issues here: ownership by a foreign entity or person, and ownership by the team that is domiciled in a foreign location. There is no rule against foreign ownerships, but there are rules against foreign domiciles of a franchise. Owning a team is not like owning a business; it’s owning a franchise in an association that is in the United States.” 

Ganis told the Daily News there was no precedent in American professional sports for a league allowing a franchise’s business operations to go overseas.

“I would expect that the only way that would be approved by the league is an agreement whereby the entity agrees that all legal matters are settled according to U.S. laws,” he said. “The association has to be able to have legal recourse for any actions related to the franchise.”

Update: a response from Onexim

The Brooklyn Game reports that U.S. ONEXIM Sports and Entertainment, Prokhorov's company that owns 80% of Brooklyn Nets, released this statement this morning:
“Preliminary discussions with the NBA were held in spring, 2013 and, at that time, the League indicated its willingness to work with us in the event we needed to reregister the ownership vehicle of the Nets as a Russian entity to comply with the Russian law regarding candidates for political office. This is a long process which may or may not come to fruition and nothing is imminent. Of course, no steps in this direction could or would be taken without the full knowledge and approval of the NBA. ”