Friday, October 23, 2015

At AY CDC, a push for more transparency; are Community Updates "developer meetings"?

Not much new was on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC), the gubernatorially-controlled board set up to monitor and advise on the project.

But near the end of the meeting, some tension emerged, following the community relations report from Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency which oversees/shepherds the project now known as Pacific Park Brooklyn, and the project update from developer Greenland Forest City Partners, and an intriguing statement about plans for the Site 5 tower.

A few AY CDC directors and members of the public pushed back on a pattern of management in which project-related meetings have been poorly promoted and project impacts deserve a more complete response.

They got a pledge for a measure of more transparency, as if restoring basic standards.

But the limits to the state response emerged when AY CDC President Marion Phillips III, an ESD executive, made the surprising--and confounding--statement that the periodic Community Update meetings were "a developer meeting."

Actually, as I describe below, they have morphed from meetings sponsored by ESD and other governmental entities.

Community Updates and incident logs

Community Relations Manager Nicole Jordan provided an update on two Community Update meetings held in September and October, in which attendees where informed of plans for new construction, open, space, demolitions, changes to truck protocols, and more.

"A total of about 30 stakeholders attended both meetings," she said, including community residents, representatives of organizations, the 78th Precinct, and more. What she didn't say was that the confirmation for the latest meeting, last week, came with only one day's notice, and only three civilians showed up.

From her report, at least, it appears that the project is well-monitored. She noted that, as of Oct. 15, ESD had logged 117 community incidents, with just one logged with an open status, and three logged with a pending status.

Asked by acting Chairman Joe Chan to elaborate, Jordan said the open issue regards a pending request for noise mitigation--new rear windows--which the developer is working on, and the pending issues regard trash and snow removal on Long Island Rail Road property.

Director Tamara McCaw questioned whether an issue should be described as resolved if its recurring.

Phillips agreed that there should be a way to keep a running tally of recurring issues.

Director Jaime Stein, whose candidacy was pushed by neighbors closest to the project, observed that Jordan's log was very different from the report produced by ESD's environmental monitor, HDR, which she was examining.

Stein suggested an opportunity to go through the reports " and piece together some intervention points.. a lot has to do with having city agencies present," such as the New York Police Department and the Department of Transportation.

Phillips observed that NYPD and DOT are are responsive and attend Community Update meetings, but it would be difficult to get them to attend the meetings of the AY CDC, which is a state entity.

Chan suggested it was a good idea, and asked Stein, as a mayoral appointee to the CDC, to help.

A change to truck protocols

Asked by Stein about changes to to truck protocol, Jordan responded that "the protocol gives the truck drivers the ability to go down to the DOT-approved truck routing as quick as possible."

Prospect Heights residents earlier this year were alarmed that trucks serving the B3 site at the southeast corner of the arena block were not turning on Sixth Avenue to go to Atlantic or Flatbush avenues--as other trucks serving the arena block had proceeded--but instead got permission to go down residential Dean Street to Vanderbilt Avenue.

"The truck goes straight down Dean Street—that’s the quickest way for them to go to the DOT-approved truck route," Jordan said. That change, she said, was proposed to DOT, which gave the OK.

Unmentioned was that that change frustrated (or infuriated, as per the comment below) residents, as discussed at a Community Update meeting in September.

Krashes at the time pointed out that the exit route seemingly violates city standards, in which trucks are supposed to take the shortest distance to a truck route, which in this case would necessitate a turn on Sixth directly to Atlantic or Flatbush.

The Department of Transportation's Keith Bray said the agency looked at the situation, and agreed with Greenland Forest City and ESD that this was the best solution, because a turn on Sixth wouldn't work.

"As far as public notice, we possibly could've done that, I concede that," Bray said. "But it's not a mapping change."

"The premise is based on notion of minimizing impacts on community," Krashes said, citing various environmental reviews. "You defined one specific contractor allowed to use Dean Street between Sixth and Vanderbilt. So when we see a truck, how do we know it's coming from the designated place versus another place?"

"I have to go out there and look myself," Bray allowed.

Notice to residents

During the opportunity Tuesday for public comment, Krashes pointed out that "the publicity for the [project-related] meetings doesn't make sense," saying that ten days' notice should be typical.

Beyond that, he said, there's no way to truly log residents's concerns. "For a long time, we haven't had minutes, haven't had recordings allowed."

Actually, audio is allowed, not video or photos. In 2011, after I shot video of the predecessor Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet meetings, I was told by a spokesman for then-Borough President Marty Markowitz that ESD's Arana Hankin had said "that since these meetings are non-deliberative, they are not subject to open public meetings law. [see coverage] Therefore, while we’ve allowed the public to attend and view the meetings, we have prohibited the use of film and photography in order to prevent disruptions."

That seems like a way to avoid the record.

Krashes suggested that, despite the claim of closed incidents, problems remain, such as an announcement of measures residents could reduce construction notice, which was delivered after construction started. "Where did that bog down? And what was the penalty for that failure?"

Getting more from HDR

Stein asked if a representative of HDR could attend the next AY CDC meeting to answer questions. Chan and Phillips agreed.

"I have questions about this report," Stein said, pointing to a document she had been given. It covered the months January through March of this year, was apparently written in August, and was received in October. She added that she had asked AY CDC Executive Director Tobi Jaiyesimi "that appendices be posted on the [project] web site."

Stein noted an observation that ESD had requested the developer to evaluate possible improvements to staging protocols, and said she wanted to learn more.

Better notice

Later, Stein and directors Barika Williams and Bertha Lewis reiterated the importance of sufficient notice and public input, and Phillips invited them to attend such Community Update meetings.

Chan suggested, "Why can't we commit to a bare minimum in terms of public notice," suggesting "at least 14, 21, 28 days notice."

Phillips said they could.

"I think it's fair to say to the public, 'we won't notice a Quality of Life [aka Community Update] meeting, or a community meeting, in less than X days,'" Chan followed up.

(I'd add that notice is just the first step. An agenda and board materials should be released before the meeting, not after, which would be in keeping with the parent ESD board's own practices.)

Chan said they should consider another format so more detailed items can be reported. Phillips responded that, two meetings earlier, Jordan provided a much more detailed report.

Better documentation

"Why can't we just get a transcript, or the minutes of what occurred?" Lewis asked. "Is someone recording this like we have this recorder [transcriptionist and video feed] here? Wouldn't it better if we could actually get what is said?"

"We don’t transcript that meeting, we don’t record that meeting," Phillips responded. "One, it's not really a state meeting, it's a developer meeting, the state is partnering--"

Lewis interjected, as if suggesting Greenland Forest City would cooperate: "The developer wouldn't have any—"

Forest City Ratner's Ashley Cotton, from the audience, intervened: "--I’m not going to volunteer to do that."

"That would solve a lot of problems with this basic issue," Lewis continued. "Then you'd actually have documentation."

(I should credit Lewis, who as a partner on the Community Benefits Agreement has often cooperated with the developer and drawn my criticism, for pushing transparency. The other CBA partner on the AY CDC board, Sharon Daughtry, attended the first AY CDC meeting in February, but has missed the last four meetings.)

"It's definitely a reasonable request to have some sort of summary about comments and what was requested," Chan said, suggesting that producing minutes is a lengthy process.

"It's a developer meeting"

Is it really a developer meeting, as Phillips suggested? Well, the notices and the schedule come from ESD.

Beyond that, the history is murky. The Community Update meeting, formerly the Quality of Life Committee, grew out of the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet, which emerged after a 9/29/10 meeting on the arena plaza.

ESD's Hankin said the agency and Forest City would work with local elected officials and Community Boards to set up community meetings to ensure that the community stays informed and is being heard. Later, when asked about a previous pledge for intergovernmental working group meetings, suggested they would be combined.

The Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet, more of a working group, first met at Brooklyn Borough Hall in November 2010. The hosts were the Brooklyn Borough President's Office and Council Member Letitia James, but it was really the Forest City Ratner show. It met during business hours.

The successor Quality of Life Committee, which was to meet bi-monthly in the evening, aimed to allow for more input from those most impacted by arena operations and responded to a request by Community Boards 2 and 6 in the liquor license process.

The committee was sponsored by ESD, the Borough President’s office, and the offices of Council Members James and Steve Levin. Such meetings involved agenda items from many, including the public.

This past spring, reflecting a more top-down structure, the name of the meeting was changed to Community Update. As I wrote, last week the new structure came in for criticism.

“It went from a community exchange to you talking at us,” commented resident May Taliaferrow. “That’s disappointing.”

“As the project moves forward, there’s a lot more to share,” Phillips responded, completely unruffled. “Back then, it made more sense” to have that exchange.

Yet that doesn't necessarily make it a "developer meeting."

Another suggestion

Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council said that, as Atlantic Avenue roadbed between Flatbush Avenue and points east will have to be rebuilt, there's an opportunity to make it safer and more pedestrian-friendly.

Oct. 20, 2015 Atlantic Yards CDC President Report

1 comment:

  1. Wayne BAILEY7:56 AM

    The residents I talked to were not only frustrated but INFURIATED it's allowed The shortest alternative route to a truck route is right turn onto 6th Ave then right turn on Bergen St then right turn on Flatbush!

    (Unmentioned was that that change frustrated residents, as discussed at a Community Update meeting in September.)