Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Falling through the cracks: the "pad" next to arena loading dock never analyzed, even as operation spills onto street

I'm leading a walking tour Sunday of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park/Barclays Center/Prospect Heights (via Municipal Art Society), and present several posts in preparation. One thing to remember: the project remains very much in process. Some impacts feared, expected, or welcomed have not emerged because they were calculated on a larger/full buildout. Others were never examined.

What's going on in this photo that I took last Friday at around 5 pm? The view is west from the northwest corner of Sixth Avenue and Dean Street, toward the arena loading dock and associated "pad."

Well, members of the Virginia Commonwealth University band, in town for the Atlantic 10 tournament at the Barclays Center, were loading a bus with their instruments and luggage, and getting on the bus. From the right side of the vehicle. Very close to traffic.


This is a hazardous situation. The signage does not bar stopping, but it is a turning lane.

The boarding, obviously, should be from a curb to the right of the bus. But the other side of the street is a no-stopping zone, and it's much easier to load the bus without having to cross the street. (If the bus were across the street, would those boarding cross through traffic or bother walk to the traffic lights at either Dean and Flatbush or Dean and Sixth?)

It's an example of how the operations of the loading dock have spread out to the adjacent "pad" and even the street, with little warning or analysis. (See below.)

Then again, this episode, like others regarding the loading dock (see video regarding a traffic snag caused by trucks), gets relatively little local pushback because there are only a few residential buildings across the street.

And city officials apparently would rather enable arena operations, letting the impacts fall on the neighborhood, than levy regular fines.

When complications emerge

It may get more complicated when the B2 tower (461 Dean Street), at the corner of Flatbush, gets completed, and after the B3 tower (30 Sixth Avenue), gets built. (Think late 2016/early 2017, as in the graphic below.)


With some 670 apartments, and a decent chunk including children, the buildings should have a constituency that expresses more concern about arena operations.

We might then be reminded of the fact that the towers around the arena were originally supposed to house office space, whose users would be gone by the time most arena events began.

By then, interestingly enough, Forest City Ratner--which proposed Atlantic Yards but now is the minority partner in Greenland Forest City Partners, which controls all of the project except B2 and the arena--may no longer by the majority owner of the arena operating company.

If Forest City sells its 55% share of the arena (likely along with its 20% share of the Brooklyn Nets), that could set up a further tension between arena operations and the livability of the adjacent residential buildings.

For example, Greenland Forest City surely had an incentive to add the green roof to the arena, to tamp down bass escaping during certain concerts and also to make the views from apartments more pleasant. But once the arena is owned by another company, surely that firm will aim to maximize its advantage.

That's an argument for oversight and rules, since the purported protocols regarding operation of the "pad" and loading dock deliveries are clearly violated or bypassed. There also seems an opportunity for city officials, should they decide to enforce the law, to do so and generate significant fines. But I think the arena gets significant slack.

Falling through the cracks

However, the "pad" has fallen through the cracks, as did the Barclays roof logo and the latest version of the green roof. Their use/emergence was not proposed/disclosed at the time of the original project approval, and they have evaded scrutiny in subsequent partial re-examinations of the project.

Consider the Response to Comments document in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), issued last June. BrooklynSpeaks commented:
The reduction of the capacity of the arena below grade, and the addition of loading dock elevators in 2009 have resulted in parking anticipated to be below grade in 2006, now being brought to grade on the arena block. Not only buses, but production trucks, campers, arena patrons, NBA staff, horses and generators have been located on the “pad” adjacent to the arena. The “pad” was created without any public notice even though parking at grade on the arena block was never disclosed in any environmental analysis. The sometimes noxious noise effects of the pad spill over to residents, including the back windows of residents on 6th Avenue. Its existence is an unanticipated construction-related impact and should be mitigated to the maximum extent practicable.
(Emphases added)

The Empire State Development Corporation's response:
The operation of the pad is an operational component of the Arena, not a construction-related issue or part of Phase II construction. The design of Building 3 (part of Phase I of the Project and in the area of the pad) has not been finalized. As per the Court’s Order, this SEIS has been prepared to assess the environmental impacts of delay in Phase II construction.
Resident Eric Reschke commented:
Arena deliveries were supposed to be coordinated to allow trucks to be loaded into the freight elevators, dropped off into the arena, unpacked and then removed so that there wouldn’t be truck queuing. Nothing’s been farther from the truth. After an event, it’s chaos. The trucks on Dean Street are haphazardly parked much of the night. Food delivery trucks parking on Sixth Avenue are oblivious to the narrow two-way street. And the parking pad has become dangerous to pedestrians as they cross the area, creating a magnet for the people after the events.
The response:
Comment noted. The SEIS examines only the incremental effects of Phase II of the Project under the Extended Build-Out Scenario. The issues raised in the comment generally pertain to enforcement of existing parking regulations and Arena operational issues that are not directly related to the analysis of potential traffic and pedestrian impacts from a delay in Phase II construction. There is a protocol in place for Arena deliveries and load-in and load-out of events, where all deliveries are appropriately scheduled with Arena management. 
OK, let's see that protocol, as well as the fines for violating it.

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