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At Atlantic Yards meeting, frustration and lack of resolution experienced by nearest residents suggests Beckett

Beyond the pledged plan to resolve traffic snags on Dean Street outside the Barclays Center, and the introduction of new Barclays Center Community Relations VP Roland Guevara, numerous other issues came up at the bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life meeting.

One was bureaucratic: schedule change for the next Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation meeting, to Monday, November 14 at 3 pm, instead of Tuesday, Nov. 15, announced by Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing/shepherding the project.

Much of the meeting, though, could have been scripted by Samuel Beckett, given the gulf between residents' frustrations regarding incursions by trucks, illegal idling, and illegal parking, and the ability/willingness of government authorities to crack down. 

One clear (to me) violation of public space--the use of Atlantic Avenue for VIP parking--got a wink and a nod, while construction workers' dishonest commandeering of public parking got a "won't happen again" response, and a report of harassment outside the arena was left murky because the complainant didn't file a police report.

Abigail Ikner, the Department of Transportation representative who asserted that Dean Street would clear up, faced some tough questions.

Who, she was asked, should residents concerned about illegal parking speak to?

"The precinct," responded Ikner.

"We've spoken to the precinct probably 100 times," responded  Elaine Weinstein of the Dean Street Block Association. "Would you suggest another way?"

"No," Ikner said, noting that, because DOT doesn't issue tickets, it's up to the enforcement agency.

"I also received a question about truck route violations," she said. "Some people are complaining about trucks down side streets." DOT doesn't issue trucking maps or comments to various construction companies, she said, only that they get to a designated truck route as quickly as possible.

Those concerned should send pictures to DOT or Empire State Development, but "we don't issue permits for a specific truck route," she said.

"What about truck idling?" Weinstein asked, pointing to trucks idling two hours during the day,

"That would be an enforcement issue," Ikner said. "As I spoke before, NYPD issues the tickets." Some in the audience, which neared 40, chuckled.

What if trucks damage trees and curbs, as on the narrowed Carlton Avenue between Dean and Pacific Streets?

"It just depends on the situation, but that's enforcement," Ikner said. "You can reach out to our office and we can contact the trucking company directly and ask them to pay [for damaged property]. But, unless enforcement is there, we don't have the ability to enforce."

Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Meeting Notes & Presentation Nov. 1, 2016 by Norman Oder on Scribd

Entering in the meeting later, Wayne Bailey, a resident of the Newswalk condo between Pacific and Dean streets, noted that Pacific was not designed to be a two-way street. Because of the terrible honking, he said, "the community has asked over and over to ask it to go one way."

He then brought up the problems facing Dean Street, and Ikner said that issue had already been covered, but didn't address his Pacific Street request.

Rogue parking

Following up on a report on Atlantic Yards Watch, Charlie Recknagel, a resident of the Carlton/Dean area, recounted how people saw came home on Oct. 3 seeing signs telling them cars needed to be moved by 7 am.

The next morning, as residents moved their cars out, cones were put to hold the spots, and construction workers coming to work took those spots.

Later in the meeting, Forest City Ratner's Ashley Cotton, who represents the joint venture Greenland Forest City Partners, called the situation "terrible" and "completely unacceptable."

That day, she reported, "Charlie called [Forest City staffer] Roberta [Fearon], who immediately reached out to contractors, said you guys should move those cars immediately. Again, it’s legal parking at that point. At that point, the deed, and the very bad deed, was done. It's unacceptable. I’ve never heard an incident like that before. I don’t think it’s happened since. That doesn’t make it any better.

"We have a different hammer," Cotton continued. "We're not enforcement, but we pay these people, so we’re very motivated to make sure the behavior is appropriate… It shouldn’t happen again; if it does, don’t hesitate to call us."

So she implied without certifying it that some penalty may have been imposed, or might be imposed in the future.

How much oversight? How much reporting?

Empire State Development Community Affairs rep Nicole Jordan explained, especially to some newcomers, that ESD had a full-time--if in daytime hours--field inspector, Greg Lynch, who takes photos of issues that need to be reported, but does not go behind construction fences.

"Flatbush and Fourth [avenues] is not walked," one resident commented. "That's why we see food and garbage, from the arena."

ESD, she said, does not have the jurisdiction to take action on, say, idling trucks, but will forward it  to the appropriate agencies, and Forest City, "to make sure an incident does not happen again." (Of course that hasn't exactly stopped the problems.) ESD also has consultants, STV and HDR, that monitor the project, and can go behind fences.

"That's very encouraging. What kinds of things have been reported and improved?" Weinstein asked sardonically. "I can't point to one thing that's improved. I'm curious."

"I believe that the trash incidents have improved," Jordan responded, saying that trash has been picked up on a strip between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues. "We worked to get that done."

The number of incidents being complained about, she said, has gone down. However, that may well be an artifact of community fatigue and the fact that the state only counts incidents that are submitted directly to ESD through phone calls or emails, to Lynch, or forwarded via the Atlantic Yards Watch site, the use of which has gone down significantly.

The state cannot collect project-related data from 311 complaints, and reps claim not to monitor social media, including Instagram, which has become a more popular site for reporting problems, under the tag #bciza, for Barclays Center Impact Zone Alliance.

That said, in 2015, the state was supposed to produce a new app, or digital solution, to allow easy reporting of all incidents. That's been put on hold multiple times, so in lieu of offering that solution, I'd think ESD might stretch a little more to monitor incidents.

Later, Forest City's Cotton said, "I want to say what the state just said. Don't wait 'til this meeting, feel free to contact us. I know some people post on social media, I'm not monitoring social media."

Of course the developer is actively using social media to promote the project.

Dust in the neighborhood

Oct. 18 dust incident
Elisabeth Martin, a resident of Carlton Avenue, recounted how dust from the 535 Carlton construction periodically blankets the neighborhood. "We would like to know what we are breathing," she said.

Jordan said that the Department of Environmental Protection investigated, and "their official response was there were no toxins" or "violations of dust management procedures." Martin didn't get an answer regarding the composition. Nor was the product identified.

Jordan said the incident she was tracking was September 27, but there was another incident, unmentioned at the meeting, on Oct. 18.

While there may have been no levels of dust that caused toxicity, the product, which according to the Oct. 18 photo appears to be Laticrete Supercap (which controls moisture from concrete), comes with hazards. The product data sheet warns "Harmful if inhaled" regarding Part A and "Causes skin irritation. Causes serious eye irritation." regarding Part B. (I'll update when I know more.)

Pacific Park updates

Cotton went fairly quickly through some construction updates, and non-updates, regarding project buildings. Note my unofficial timetable, below.

At the 461 Dean modular tower flanking the Barclays Center, Cotton said, "tenants are going to move in this month." As those who won the lottery for the 181 affordable units get approved by city agencies, "as people free themselves to move, you are going to start to see move-ins happen." The 181 market-rate units are also being marketed now.

She said segments of the project's construction fence, near the loading dock, will be coming down soon.

She said the lottery for 38 Sixth, a second 100% affordable building (after 535 Carlton) could be announced by end of year.

Regarding 664 Pacific (aka B15), the market-rate tower just east of Sixth Avenue containing a school, "we are still in litigation with the people who own property next door," she said, regarding access to 497 Dean to shore up the structure during construction.

For the two buildings on Block 1129, the southeast block of the project between Vanderbilt and Carlton avenues and Dean and Pacific streets, "we are in total TCO [Temporary Certificate of Occupancy] mode," she said, which will allow people in the lower floors to move in.

The lottery for 535 Carlton has closed, and Greenland Forest City hopes for people to move into that and the 550 Vanderbilt condo in December or "definitely January." That will mean the "green monster" fence surrounding the block will be partly moved in, and sidewalks and some parking restored.

Cotton showed slides of the interim open space, and permanent open space for the two buildings. There will be grass, an interactive play and seating area, and pavings. Plantings will be installed in the spring, and construction work continues. (I'll add graphics when the presentation is posted.)

The open space, obviously, does not yet extend to the demapped Pacific Street.

"What's the possibility of getting the community involved" in designing the open space, asked one resident.

"We're designing it ourselves," Cotton said.

"So no input from the community?"

"The whole project got input from the community when it got approved," Cotton said, "it went through public approvals years and years ago."

"Maybe not," interjected Gib Veconi, an active commenter, via BrooklynSpeaks, during the approval process.

"It was voted on by public parties that you guys elected," Cotton continued, which was not quite true: though subsidies were voted on by elected bodies (as part of omnibus bills), the project was approved by the appointed ESD board.

Tobi Jaiyesimi, executive director of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, pointed out that the the open space is being designed according to the design guidelines, and had been presented at the Quality of Life meeting and the AY CDC.

Cotton followed up, saying that landscape architect Thomas Balsley came to the meeting, but "it was not a public charrette."

Asked the size of the temporary open space around 535 Carlton, she said it was a half acre.

Veconi asked for an update on the developer's stated plan to request a change in the state Modified General Project Plan to change the B4 tower to office space, and to move the bulk of the B1 tower over the arena plaza to Site 5.

Cotton said she had no update. (The Site 5 plan is on hold because of litigation with P.C. Richard, an owner of one of the two properties there.)

Illegal parking outside the arena

At the Islanders' home debut
Recknagel brought up the common use of a stretch of Atlantic Avenue outside the Barclays Center behind a construction fence for VIP parking during certain events.

"We've talked about it many times," Cotton responded. "It’s a situation that has been been sorted out with the police, in order not to have those cars in other places that no one would want. They tuck in nicely. Obviously it’s not a permanent solution."

She didn't explain "places that no one would want" but that to me sounded like either illegal parking or paid parking garages a little farther away.
Harassment update

Without the complainant present, Bailey, who also chairs the 78th Precinct Community Council, cited the harassment issue brought up at last week's Precinct Council meeting, in which a woman and her wife were harassed by construction workers outside the arena (though it's not definite they were working on the project).

Jordan said she got an update from the NYPD regarding what was said at the meeting.

"I want to know about oversight," Bailey said. "She [the victim] couldn't identify them because they didn't have the labels, the hats." After a previous harassment incident, contractors are supposed to wear color-coded ID stickers, but not all do.

Cotton said that, after the incident, the woman "spoke to the super [site superintendent] of a building [project]. We were notified immediately. She was asked to call 911, she chose not to... she was asked if she’d like to speak to us directly. She didn't."

"So I get put in a tough place," Cotton said. "So help us get the incidents reported, so we can arrest the people, so we can go ID the people, we are here to be responsive to it. It's a little tough when we hear it way after the fact."

"As for stickers and IDs, those are not state-regulated," she added. "It's not in any of their regulatory documents." Some workers don't have the stickers or IDs "because we are hiring people on such an ongoing basis."


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