Friday, April 15, 2016

Forest City: neighbors documenting Atlantic Yards impacts are "hunting for problems" (or maybe tight-fitting project has tiny margin for error)

Ok, tell us what you really think, Ashley Cotton.

The Forest City Ratner Chief of Staff, who serves as spokeswoman for the joint venture Greenland Forest City Partners (which is developing Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, with the exception of the arena and one tower) as well as Mikhail Prokhorov's Onexim (which owns the Barclays Center operating company) offers some notably derisive quotes in the Daily News today about residents forced to become community activists because project-related activity regularly disrupts their lives.

The article is headlined Fight Night: Atlantic Yards neighbors lash out at developers as harassment persists, and takes off from the Community Update meeting Wednesday night, where, among other things, sexual harassment victim Elicia Howard expressed frustration (as I reported) that too little had changed to prevent aggressive behavior from construction workers.

Forest City fights back

Here's the key section:
“We’ve been complaining about these things for years,” [resident activist Wayne] Bailey said. “When will there be actual consequences?”
Bailey and a handful of other neighborhood activists have turned to Instagram, YouTube and other social media platforms to document the disruptions in their daily lives from the project.
The social media posts frustrate Cotton, who worked on the staffs of then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg before she joined Forest City Ratner as vice president of external affairs eight months before the arena opened in 2012. She has chided residents at recent public meetings for posting their gripes on social media instead of reporting them directly to her or her staff — she can’t address the community’s complaints if residents don’t bring them to her attention, she said.
When asked specifically about Bailey and other Atlantic Yards social media critics, Cotton’s response was sharper: “These guys are hunting for problems,” she said
“This is among the most regulated projects in the state,” adds Cotton, who said the project is on average more than 95% in compliance on state noise, dust and truck regulations. “Pacific Park is subject to numerous environmental regulations no other project has to deal with.”
(Emphases added)

Are they hunting for problems, or are the problems coming to them, like when Bailey last November documented a delivery truck for the Barclays Center stopped in one-lane Dean Street, forcing vehicles to drive on the sidewalk?

Cotton's quote enters the annals along with this notably chilly end-justifies-the-means quote to the New York Times about eminent domain: “We know our neighbors, we’re sympathetic to whatever experience they’re having, but this is really another enormous milestone on the path of Pacific Park.”

Seeing it in context

Yes, Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park may be "among the most regulated projects in the state," and it may be "more than 95% in compliance" with regulations.

That still doesn't mean it's no imposition. The project is an extraordinarily tight fit, as the state overrode city zoning in several ways, including to put an arena in a residential area.

Let me repeat: the arena backs into a residential neighborhood--that's a quote not from neighbors "hunting for problems" but from the arena architect.

That leaves a very small margin for error, which is regularly violated, by vehicles related to construction of the project, operation of the arena, and bringing/picking up arenagoers.

Remember this quote from a visiting limo driver: “When they build a stadium like this and put it in a residential area, we don’t know what to do."

The closing

The Daily News noted that Cotton and staffers face "enormous challenges," and said "she addresses gripes and seeks solutions at night and on weekends as well as during business hours."

Um, well, she's a lobbyist and external relations pro above all, not a site safety manager.

The article ends:
Bailey, she adds, has had tremendous access to the developer, police, state transportation officials and other agencies involved in the project.
“Nothing satisfies his frustrations,” she said.
Bailey said he’ll be satisfied when he’s no longer hit with the same recurring problems. He said Howard is not the only resident to complain about harassment — a gay neighbor has received so many taunts from construction workers that he is now afraid to leave his home.
“We have one resident that the police have to escort out of their house every day,” he said. “How can anybody not know about that?”
As I reported, the state agency overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards, Empire State Development, did not know about it. [Updated and clarified] Forest City's Cotton at Wednesday's meeting indicated that she didn't know about it, but a company spokesman later said they did.

The latest flashpoint

More importantly, separating out the harassment issue, Cotton on Wednesday was combative, apologetic, and constructive regarding the most recent documentation of blocked streets and sidewalks.

"The incident reports [see my post] in the last 48 hours as it relates to Dean [Street] and Carlton [Avenue] have obviously skyrocketed, and again and again and again, it is Con Ed work," she said. "And it is not my job to pass the buck, but I’m in a tough situation, where I don't notice [meaning "issue a notice regarding"] that work, I don't do that work."

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association, who along with Bailey is the most active documenter, started to intervene, prompting Cotton to say, with some snark, "Let me finish, Peter, I know you're going to have something really clever about why I'm wrong."

"So it’s frustrating to me, to you," she said, "so I called Con Ed, 'What's your protocol...' and I started that conversation, because the incidents are overwhelming... I’m well aware of the problematic style of Carlton and Dean these days. Hopefully I can come with something for the interim."

Resident Steve Ettlinger asked if she was referring to posts on Instagram.

"I got a call from a friend [from the neighborhood] this morning," Cotton said. "Frankly, I see a million things."

"Con Ed has been through this before," Ettlinger said. "It’s not new to them that they're interfering with people's lives."

"That’s my update," Cotton responded.

"It is Con Ed work, but it is in coordination with Plaza [Construction, which works on Pacific Park]." said Krashes. "I spoke to the folks on Monday... But beyond that, setting all this aside.. the work is being done to facilitate the project... if you're closing a street--"

"I'm not closing the street," Cotton snapped back.

"Con Ed is closing the street to facilitate the project," Krashes said. "I still, even after this meeting, I don’t know when the work's going to end, nobody has provided any notice to anybody about street closures that are happening for three days in a row."

"That's what I proactively brought up. You can tell everyone what I just told you: I am aware of the non-noticed, short term street closure that are creating parking lot situations on Block 1129, and it's not OK for me to just say that's Con Ed, so I’m coming to say I’m going to try to do better on that, and if I fail, I'll let you know."

"Is there a sense of how long it’s going to take?" Krashes asked.

"It’s not my work, I have no idea," Cotton responded.

I asked for clarification, if this was not Con Ed work to facilitate the construction of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park.

"There’s a million things going on out there," Cotton responded. "Some of it I know for sure [is their project], some of it not... I would never say that the work out there is 100% not our project."

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