Thursday, June 16, 2016

Signs of detente: state agrees to restore Quality of Life meeting name; compile meeting notes; work better with city regarding project impacts

Beyond the not-quite-comforting explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building, the bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including concerns about traffic congestion and seeming delays in the project buildout.



The meeting, as a whole, was far less tense than the previous one, when the victim of some notorious sexual harassment spoke forcefully, putting Greenland Forest City Partners, the developer, and Empire State Development, the state authority overseeing/shepherding the project, on the defensive.

And it suggested some progress in their oft-fraught relationship with the project's neighbors. But the meeting began with a small expression of protest, as Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association pointed out that, with the release of the meeting's bare-bones agenda only earlier that day, residents didn't have time to prepare to attend the meeting knowing that Con Edison would be there.

He got a noncommittal response from Nicole Jordan, who handles community relations for ESD, who introduced Tobi Jaiyesimi, executive director of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, the advisory body that launched in 2015, as well as ESD's new point person regarding the project.

A "very helpful" meeting

Jaiyesimi reported on a "very helpful" meeting last week with community members representing the Barclays Center Impact Zone Alliance (BCIZA). One result: the bi-monthly meeting will return to its original name, the Quality of Life meeting, not Community Update, and, as in the past, community members will be encouraged to send questions or agenda items.

Though semantic, that's a significant change (which shouldn't have had to be made in the first place).

As I wrote last October, a state official called it a "developer meeting," hence the name Community Update. It grew out of a working groups called the Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet

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.

In Spring 2015, reflecting a more top-down structure, the name of the meeting was changed to Community Update. As I wrote, some neighbors criticized it, saying "it went from a community exchange to you talking at us."

Community appreciation

Steve Ettlinger of BCIZA read a statement expressing appreciation for the meeting, which grew out of a letter send in May to ESD regarding lapses in project oversight. "The goals raised during the meeting are improved community engagement, aggregation of community concerns and complaints, and interagency coordination," he noted.

"At the meeting we discussed the memorialized 2007 Atlantic Yards Oversight Measures"--announced after the parapet from the Ward Bakery fell--"which include an interagency working group which meets monthly, and the model similar to District Service Cabinet that was once used for the Project," he said. "We also think facilitating interaction between the community and those actually managing and monitoring the construction and operation of the Project will improve communication, lift the burden of government, and allay community concerns."

At the meeting, he noted, the Mayor's Community Assistance Unit (CAU) "suggested a relevant City agency review process that would have a role for the public and would be promoted better."

Changes coming

The ESD sent a list of several action items following the meeting, including:
  • the changes in the bi-monthly meeting 
  • an agreement to compile detailed meeting notes, which would be sent to AY CDC directors and posted on the ESD web site
  • an agreement that ESD staff work with the CAU to reach out to relevant city agencies
  • an effort to improve coordination between ESD staff, the CAU, agencies, and the developer;
  • and an exploration of the feasibility of analyzing 311 data for Atlantic Yards-specific complaints.
(Unmentioned: a pending request to videotape such meetings.)

"Finally, we know that everyone recognizes that this is an atypical project due to its location and size," Ettlinger stated. " It demands creative and additional resources to protect the community and to produce a lasting, meaningful project... We look forward to future dialogue and a greater partnership."

That's significant progress, assuming it's implemented, though at the same time it's a weary reminder that oversight has in some ways gone backward over the years, not forward.

Ettlinger's line about the "atypical project"--I like to say it's an "extremely tight fit"--was particularly relevant in light of the debris falling. There's just not that much margin for error.

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