Wednesday, May 20, 2015

At AY CDC meeting, discussion of new app to report community impacts; ESD admits "little" institutional knowledge; open space change coming

In its third meeting, held yesterday, the new Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), set up to help monitor project impacts and benefits, heard extensive discussion of new ways to monitor such impacts.

On the one hand, the proposal for a new app to centralize reports of such impacts was encouraging to some--one project neighbor concerned about regular noisy crowds on residential Pacific Street across from the Barclays Center promised to be a regular user, and another suggested that residents of the new apartments in Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park should welcome it..

And more board members were engaged than in previous meetings. (A public meeting on the proposed app will be held on Wednesday, May 27, at 5:50 pm at 55 Hanson Place; a formal notice has not yet been released.)

On the other, it emerged that Empire State Development (ESD) , the state authority that is parent to AY CDC and oversees/shepherds the project, seems to downplay impact reports, designating them as “closed” though the problem may not be resolved.

That procedure—as well as a long-documented history of inadequate (though improved) oversight processes—surely will leave some doubts, especially if the new app supplants use of the community-generated Atlantic Yards Watch, which now has relatively few contributors but remains an independent source.

Indeed, the same day ESD’s Nicole Jordan reported that the number of complaints has been decreasing, and most are quickly resolved, a report on Atlantic Yards Watch documented a truck ignoring the required truck route.

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association (DSBA) said the quality of the response was key. In the ESD complaint log, he said, an incident report from January regarded complaints about a truck idling on a bus stop on Dean Street, not on the truck route.

The incident report, he said, was closed because “the truck was a boom truck, and boom trucks need to idle... So you have a truck that's illegally on Dean Street, abandoned in a bus stop,” and idling, the only element of the complaint that got a response. "You can't close it and have it disappear," he said. "You have to let us post a comment on how it's closed.”

Later in the meeting, Rhona Hetsrony of the DBNA spoke with frustration. “I want to invite everyone to my house at midnight... it's unbearable, for the people on Dean Street. I want to go on record and request that nobody ever approve overnight construction again. It's really unbearable for the community. I'm going to go home and get some sleep.” She then walked out of the meeting, and her statement got no response.

"Very little" agency institutional knowledge?

And Marion Phillips III, the ESD official who serves as president of the AY CDC, made a somewhat alarming admission as he explained why turnover—and shifting processes—at the parent agency means that ESD has systematically maintained a log of impacts only since January, nearly ten years after demolitions on the site began.

Previous staffers, Phillips said, kept notes, but not as a log the way Nicole Jordan, ESD’s Community Relations chief, has done since January. “There is institutional knowledge within the community, very little within the agency,” he said during the nearly three-hour meeting, held at the Department of Labor in Downtown Brooklyn. Unmentioned: that leaves the developer, now Greenland Forest City Partners, with the most institutional knowledge, and leverage.

Phillips’s admission was almost anticipated in a letter the DSBA sent a day before the meeting, which noted that Rachel Shatz, ESD’s Vice President, Planning and Environmental Review, has worked on the project since before it was approved, and continues in that position.

"For the app to be robust, it would have to take into account some historical concerns," commented  Jaime Stein, a professor at Pratt who has emerged as the AY CDC board member most willing to drill down on ESD procedures.

Changes in open space

Phillips also disclosed a yet unscheduled public meeting in June regarding the open space planned for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park. (Eight acres are planned of such open space, which will be publicly accessible but not part of the city park system.)

In late May, he said, Greenland Forest City will make a presentation to ESD and city staff. “We believe there’s a nonmaterial change in their presentation,” he said. “The following meeting will be a meeting with the community.”

In other words, the developer’s made a change, and needs to make sure it’s approved without a public hearing or other vote by the ESD board to amend the project’s governing documents. But if ESD hasn’t seen the full presentation, how can it be declared a “nonmaterial change”?

Board attendance

Most but not all board members attended. Sharon Daughtry, one of the two board members who represent signatories of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (and thus seems to have conflicts of interests), missed her second straight meeting.

After missing the first two meetings as her baby came to term, Julene Beckford attended her first meeting. When I wrote about the board in February, the most recent evidence suggested she had worked as an attorney for City Council. Actually, Beckford is now associate counsel at ESD, which suggests that she—along with board members Kenneth Adams (former ESD President) and Joseph Chan (ESD VP, Real Estate)—are not about to provide tough oversight of the authority.

Noise control issues

Adams, for now heading the state Department of Taxation and Finance, noted that AY CDC directors a few days earlier received a long technical memo, more than 100 pages, describing noise control measures in the project. It responded to questions raised at previous meetings about the 16-foot high construction fence (at the southeast block of the project site, bounded by Dean Street, Carlton Avenue, and Vanderbilt Avenue), and the promised provision of double-paned windows for residents.

“I looked at sections of it,” Adams said. “If you need more time [to analyze it], it's understandable.” (The document should be posted shortly.)

“It’s a lot of material, some very dense, but right off the bat, I do have a few questions,” said Stein.

Stein asked how the map of the properties eligible for sound attenuation was created. A representative of AKRF, the consultant that prepares the environmental review documents, said the map came from the three possible construction phasing plans analyzed last year in the Final Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement, a court-ordered review of the impacts of potential delays in the project.

Stein asked how much outreach there had been to eligible tenants. Shatz said that was Forest City’s responsibility. The developer, said executive Jane Marshall, sent certified mail, email, and knocked on doors, but she acknowledged a gray area: “We are currently updating a tracking list that was created in 2007 when we first went and did this.”

”I think since January we've been sort of tracking [this],” Marshall said. “I haven't been the person specifically involved in it, so I'm probably missing some detail.” That’s a not atypical response from Marshall, who announces—or professes—some confusion about specifics. “I said to Rachel [Shatz], we should really figure out what kind of tracking matrix could be understood.”

Shatz said that, once Greenland Forest City has collated the information, ESD “will be looking at it with our mitigation monitor. There could be changes related to that tracking.”

Stein also asked about the 16-foot fence, and was told it was calculated to protect those on Dean Street opposite the construction site. (The fence has most infuriated those on Carlton Avenue.)

Community concerns

Jordan than summarized topics raised at the Community Update meeting a week earlier, including traffic, parking, truck routes, and affordable housing. She necessarily spoke in shorthand, but it was not fully informative. For example, one issue mentioned was “green roof crane removal”; actually, I asked why the Atlantic Avenue crane for the green roof would last far longer than originally announced, and got no answer.

ESD, Greenland Forest City, and the Department of Transportation (DOT) “responded to the many concerns, and informed community that additional responses will be provided when needed,” Jordan said.

Closure rates

Jordan reported that ESD has “a 94% closure rate on incidents reported to us,” either resolved in house or sent to the appropriate agency. She noted 80 incidents since January, with 75% closed in 48-72 hours.

“When you say it's closed, how do you know other agency does what they're supposed to do?” Adams asked.

“I follow up,” Jordan said, noting she adds to the log.

Board member Bertha Lewis was skeptical, asking if the incident was tracked to resolution, with a report in writing from the agency.

“I do follow up with the agency,” Jordan responded, noting that she had gone to DOT regarding concerns about the narrowing of Carlton Avenue.

Lewis said that was “great... but we're talking about resolution. Sometimes there is no resolution.” (Given that Lewis represents a CBA signatory—formerly ACORN—and I among others have suggested she has a conflict of interest, it was encouraging to see her taking on a broader oversight role.)

“She really manages it soup to nuts,” Phillips said of Jordan.

Adams suggested that staff not use the term “closed” for a referral, referencing Lewis’s point that “it doesn't really close until it gets done.”

Is there an overall trend regarding complaints, board member Shawn Austin asked.

“I'm getting less, since I started, since Greg started,” Jordan responded, referencing Greg Lynch, recently assigned to work on the project full-time, who walks the site regularly.

Later in the meeting, however, Krashes reminded the group that construction activities started in 2005. “There's a lot of fatigue [regarding reporting of impacts],” he said. “I don't think you can look at the number of incident reports as a way to measure whether you've succeeded.”

Stein asked if it was possible to integrate complaints filed through the city’s 311 system.

Because that's a city program, not a state one, “it's a process,” Jordan indicated. “We're still working with the city.” Phillips added that ESD has been talking with the mayor’s office and trying to figure out how to best sort such complaints, for example by zip code or specific boundaries.

“We’ve got to be sure we're also tracking 311,” mused Adams, “because we could be misleading ourselves.”

Plans for the app

Sam Filler, the ESD’s project director for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, described plans for the app, a software solution, designed to provide a centralized log, archival system, and improve community relations, given one phone number, email address and other source for community input.

The app should allow real-time documentation of issues, as well as provide distribution of announcements like the regular two-week Construction Update or even more last-minute update.

“We want a software system that can port with existing systems,” Filler said, noting 311 and Atlantic Yards Watch. “It’s a clean slate with how we approach this app… We want it to be the most effective tool possible.”

In response to a question from Lewis, Phillips said the app would cost from $8,000 to $20,000, and funded either from ESD/AY CDC funds or a cost agreement established with the developer.

Lewis, whose organization recently produced a report on the low rate of MWBE (Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises) contracts, asked whether MWBEs would be considered. Filler noted that the state has a 30% MWBE goal, and board member Liz Harris, of the Department of Agriculture, said the state was serious about such goals.

Austin pointed out that, if successful, the app will drive much traffic, and ESD will have to respond adequately.

“Your point is being considered,” Phillips responded, citing the roles of Lynch and Jordan. Over the summer, he said, ESD will use some interns to supplement its work, and reassess staffing needs in the fall.

Wayne Bailey, a frequent poster on Atlantic Yards Watch, noted that the web site documents ongoing complaints regarding such issues as dust or idling. That should generate responses and solutions, he observed, suggesting that the app won't be meaningful until it can lead to such resolution.

“The way it's described, it's about complaints, but can you leverage this app to push out some of the more positive aspects of the project?” asked Austin. (He’s not been involved in Atlantic Yards, to my knowledge, but his wife Jennifer Jones Austin co-chaired the transition team for Mayor de Blasio, a project supporter.)

“Inasmuch as it drives people to the website, sure,” responded Adams.

However, Krashes later warned that the combination “can get problematic,” suggesting that, if the app were used, for example, to distribute free tickets, it would muddle the issue.

Tamara McCaw, a board member who works at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and also serves on Community Board 2, asked about marketing to newer residents or even short-term visitors to the arena.

Phillips said “we’d love to work with you on marketing.”

Planned construction

Forest City’s Marshall described ongoing and planned construction. The B3 all-affordable tower at Dean Street and Sixth Avenue will break ground in june, while the B12 tower (unmentioned: condos) should break ground in the fall, and the B13 condo tower will break ground next summer.

That would mean all four construction sites on Block 1129, the southeast block fo the project site, will be active, along with work at the railyard and the West Portal project allowing direct access to the Atlantic Terminal tracks.

The Flatbush Avenue crane for the green roof went up this past weekend, and work is proceeding. “In the next two-week look ahead,” she said, “we’re putting in that we might be able to disassemble the crane earlier” than previously planned.

Noting that the crane is “disruptive,” narrowing Flatbush Avenue to two lanes near Dean Street, she encouraged anyone aiming to analyze traffic patterns to wait until the crane is removed.

Marshall said that, given such construction, it didn’t make sense to look at the buildings individually; hence the fence around the whole site. “In June, the crawler crane is going to come to the B11 site” at Vanderbilt and Dean, she said, requiring a 38-foot stretch “to the face of the fence... it's very consuming to real estate.”

“Believe me, nobody wants a 16 foot fence, but it's also performing a function” in response to ESD findings that certain mitigations were necessary “where practicable and feasible.” Such fences, she noted, were not feasible at the arena block, where they would snarl more traffic. “The intention was to have the least impact on the community.”

Bailey, who’s president of the 78th Precinct Community Council, said the precinct will lose 30 to 54 parking spaces, an issue that has not been resolved.

Community concerns

Krashes noted that the 16-foot fence on Dean Street was established with a week's notice and with no engagement with businesses on Dean. Marshall, who started her presentation at 4:30 and apologized for having to leave at 5 pm, left the room before Krashes continued with his concern.

Krashes said that, “to our mind, proper notice wasn't given” to neighbors, and “a whole host of residents were given parking tickets.”

He noted that the fence has led to vehicles regularly hitting trees on Carlton Avenue, suggesting protection for such trees had not been scanted.

Also, he said, residents received a letter regarding potential noise mitigation—double-pane windows— two or three months after the groundbreaking last December for the B15 tower at Carlton and Dean, but it was “dated to the point of the groundbreaking.”

According to the Memorandum of Environmental Commitments (MEC), “noise mitigation measures shall be implemented – where such measures have been accepted by building owners and their tenants – in a timely manner.”

Krashes asked Shatz if the developer met the MEC terms regarding public notice, and if there was a penalty.

Shatz said ESD will be reviewing Forest City’s recordkeeping, so she couldn’t yet comment on compliance.

Barclays Center touts progress and plans

Barclays Center Community Relations Manager Terence Kelly gave a long report on arena operations, touting the venue’s rankings and the “considerable number of protocols” set up to ensure purportedly smooth operation, such as sending late arrivals away from the loading dock and informing all truck drivers of truck routes.

“At first, we ran into a bit of a struggle when it came to communicating” with new vendors, Kelly said, “but we really hit a stride.” That statement would be disputed by many neighbors, who, while acknowledging improvements, also note regular problems.

Kelly mentioned that there were six bays in the arena’s below-grade loading dock. Interestingly, that contrasts with the eight bays mentioned in this May 2012 ESD presentation regarding the Transportation Demand Management plan. (See question 7.)

Kelly described how the arena now announces not only ticketed events but also private events, estimating potential attendance, and also circulates information on ticket discounts and other arena issues.

Adams monopolized the limited time available with business-related questions that, while interesting, where somewhat beyond Kelly’s pay grade as well as unrelated to community concerns about arena operational impacts.

Adams asked whether the move of the NHL’s New York Islanders in the fall would nudge the Barclays Center from second to first in paid attendance, or whether it would add more total dates to the schedule.

Kelly said no, because “we're a smaller building” than rival Madison Square Garden, with 15,800 maximum attendance for hockey. Also, the 44 hockey dates will, in the main, substitute for dates otherwise devoted to concert. (That said, I’d bet overall attendance increases.)

In response to another question from Adams, Kelly said the arena is marketing on Long Island to encourage fans to take the Long Island Rail Road rather than drive.

Community comments

Resident May Taliaferrow, who lives on Pacific Street between Flatbush and Fourth avenues, asked Kelly about pedestrian crowd control. Nets fans, she said, have learned to go directly to the subway. “Is there a way to prevent the crowd from coming up a residential block,” she said, pointing out that they could go to the entrance to the D/N/R trains via Flatbush Avenue rather than (more directly) via Pacific Street.

“I'm mindful of your concern,” Kelly responded, not quite promising.

“Part of the problem is they [some arena attendees] go to the P.C. Richard parking lot, hang out, smoke weed,” Taliaferrow reported,

“We'll assess conditions, and adjust as needed,” Kelly responded.

“I can't wait for that app,” Taliaferrow commented.

Krashes noted that “there's definitely a shortfall in space for the arena to operate.” So if events spill out in the street, he said, the arena should work with the city and develop more protocols

Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, and the technical overseer of Atlantic Yards Watch, said he was encouraged by plans for the app. “There are some pretty compelling incentives for Greenland Forest City to get involved,” the said. “The tenants will become the biggest users of this applications. I'm not joking. I think they will be very ready customers for this application. It makes sense to plan for that in advance.”

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