Friday, April 29, 2016

After harassment complaints, Greenland Forest City finally rolls out color-coded ID system for construction workers

This letter was taped to a door on Vanderbilt
Avenue between Pacific and Dean streets
A "Dear Neighbor" letter was distributed yesterday on some blocks near the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park site in Prospect Heights, heralding a long-promised color-coded identification system that should make it easier to recognize project construction workers and should put them on notice that they can be recognized.

The letter states that the developer has "zero tolerance for illegal and inappropriate behavior," does not reference the public (and non-public reports) of sexual harassment and other obnoxious behavior by some fraction of construction workers, reported here and in the Daily News.

One resident who was harassed described in December how in the morning "the neighborhood is swarming with construction workers. As a female it is like being in a shark tank just to walk down your own street."

She earlier this month expressed disappointment that it had taken so long to respond, and Greenland Forest City Partners spokeswoman Ashley Cotton said they were aiming to start this month.

The text of the letter:
To ensure a safe and accountable work site at Pacific Park, Greenland Forest City Partners has created a color-coded identification badge and hard-hat sticker system for the hundreds of construction workers across our site. GFCP has zero tolerance for illegal and inappropriate behavior. 
To create greater accountability for workers’ conduct, all construction workers at Pacific Park will be required to wear color-coded ID badges and hard-hat stickers. The colors represent the construction management companies working on our sites – Plaza Construction (yellow), Tishman Construction (orange), Turner Construction (blue), and McKissack Construction (beige). 
In the event of an incident, this new system will make it easier for law enforcement and employers to identify the individuals involved and take appropriate action. If anyone witnesses an emergency or illegal behavior, they should immediately call 911. 
To report a non-emergency, we encourage anyone to call the Pacific Park Brooklyn Community Liaison Office at 866-923-5315 or email communityliaison@pacificparkbrooklyn.com. 
We take any reports of illegal or inappropriate conduct very seriously. We are committed to promoting a safe and respectful environment at our sites and to continuing to be a good neighbor to the community.
Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions. 
Sincerely,
Greenland Forest City Partners

Two information sessions, two Community Board announcements for 461 Dean affordable housing

The 461 Dean web site indicates that there will be Affordable Housing Information Sessions on May 10 at BAM and May 16 at Bed-Stuy Restoration, as well as announcements at the Community Board 2 and Community Board 8 General meetings on May 11 and May 12.

It will be interesting to see how the general public responds to the low number of low-income family sized apartments (just 10 of 181 total affordable units) and whether there are any questions about living next to an arena (crowd noise, event noise) and construction truck pathway, or the modular building's history of construction problems.
Click to enlarge

The web site requests that attendees RSVP to 461dean@mutualhousingny.org or call 718.246.8080 ext 224, but I'm pretty sure you don't have to RSVP to a Community Board meeting.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

History lesson: B1 was not supposed to block the bank, but even B2 would do so (and now does)

The photo below, showing the nearly finished B2 (aka 461 Dean Street) tower from Flatbush Avenue and Sterling Place to the north, reminded me of a fundamental deception behind Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, one that may be relatively small (in the grand scheme of the project) but still telling.

When the project was announced in 2003, Forest City Ratner's promotional material stated that the largest tower, the (then) office building at Flatbush and Atlantic avenue since known as B1, would be "set back slightly from the intersection... to maintain the view corridor to the Williamsburg Bank building."

But that didn't make sense. Not only would the "Miss Brooklyn" tower block the view corridor whether it would be 620 feet tall as proposed or 511 feet as reduced, the tower to the south, B2, would also block the view, as Empire State Development Corporation, the state authority overseeing/shepherding the project, later acknowledged:
However, given the location of the Bank Building, even a 320-foot-tall building would substantially obstruct views of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building from the south along the Flatbush Avenue view corridor.
Indeed. Both the developer and the state should have come clean earlier. But the announcement was riddled with deception, including an estimated ten-year buildout, and the claim that "The complex has been planned to look whole and complete during each phase of construction."

Now, of course, developer Greenland Forest City Partners wants to move the bulk of the B1 tower across the street to create a giant tower at Site 5, which I've dubbed the "Brooklyn Behemoth."

Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt closed this weekend

An announcement for work that was signaled in the recent Construction Alert:
As part of the construction of the Pacific Park Brooklyn project, ConEd will be installing electrical equipment for 535 Carlton Avenue (B14) & 550 Vanderbilt Avenue (B11). To accommodate this work, one block of Dean Street between Carlton & Vanderbilt Avenues will be temporarily closed to through traffic on Saturday April 30th 8:00AM - 6:00PM and Sunday, May 1st 9:00AM - 6:00PM.
Pacific Park Brooklyn Community Liaison Office
1-866-923-5315
communityliaison@pacificparkbrooklyn.com

Empire State Development
1-212-803-3736
atlanticyards@esd.ny.gov

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

As Islanders go to second round of playoffs, neighborhood braces for noise and disruption

So the New York Islanders, by far the better home team at the Barclays Center, have made it to the second round of the National Hockey League playoffs. That means 7 pm home games against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday May 3 and Friday May 6, with a possible game on Tuesday May 10 if the series goes six games.
It means likely sellout crowds and an amped fan base. As Newsday's Randi Marshall wrote, "Fans at Sunday’s Game 6 compared the bedlam with some of their best memories at the [Nassau] Coliseum."

The difference is that the Nassau Coliseum was surrounded by parking lots, which meant a tailgating culture and a place to blow off steam without impinging on the neighborhood (though some fraction of fans could get aggressive and nasty toward opposing fans, as noted in this April 2015 account).

That suggests that arena managers, as well as the police and other public agencies, need to do a better job. (And if the latter don't have the resources, the mayor and governor should make sure they do.)

Neighborhood complaints

At last night's 78th Precinct Community Council meeting (which focused on residents' dismay about the NYPD's posture toward and leaks regarding cyclists' deaths, even from a precinct with a good reputation), several residents pointed out how hockey crowds have impacted the neighborhood.

Some reported crowds crossing nearby streets against the light, or vehicles idling on nearby Dean or Bergen streets.

And while residents recognize that there can be an after-game surge, it's been sustained. While ten to 15 minutes might be OK, one said, 90 minutes to two hours of honking and people shouting "let's go Islanders" is not.

Deputy Inspector Frank DiGiacomo nodded to the suggestion of additional foot patrols around Fifth Avenue in the blocks just below the arena. (Surely the police already know that's a hot spot.)

Pacific Street resident Jim Vogel pointed to seeming nightly events with amplification at the Resorts World Casino NYC Plaza (remember, it's a public amenity!), which he said "seems like a blank check" to get ever louder. Sgt. Angelo Pirozzi commented that the NYPD has not approved all the requested sound permits.

Vogel contended that the the decibel levels exceed what should be allowed. (No evidence was proffered.) Arena Community Affairs Manager Terence Kelly told him, "Jim, you have my cell number," and Vogel responded, "But I shouldn't have to" call. The issue was left unresolved.

Fans in the neighborhood

Kelly said close to 7,000 fans were using the Long Island Rail Road, a continued increase. They are using the railroad, but they're also in the neighborhood, which is of course what area merchants and bar owners appreciate. The question is the balance.

As shown in the video below, shot on Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, some exuberant fans are chanting a ditty, to the "Adams Family" tune, that includes the lyrics, "Your sister is your mother, Your father is your brother, you all fuck each other, the Rangers Family."



The fan passion is admirable, in a way, but it's clear that either they haven't been told--or don't care--that they're in a residential neighborhood.

I asked Kelly last night if the reported “Islanders Code of Conduct” video--which I don't think has been published publicly--addresses out-of-arena behavior; he said he didn't know, which struck me as under-informed.

The Daily News also reported that "audio recordings asking fans to behave plays outside the Barclays Center during boxing and hockey events."

If things don't improve--and I say this mostly but not completely in jest--arena managers may have to adopt a sticker system, as with the announced plan to have construction workers wear stickers to identify themselves and their project to deter neighborhood incursions.

By the way, DiGiacomo last night announced that that sticker plan is in progress. Forest City Ratner's Ashley Cotton has said the developers, Greenland Forest City Partners, aimed to roll it out by the end of the month.

Lottery opens for affordable units at 461 Dean modular tower, part of "revolution in building construction" (but no mention of problems)

So it's out, finally, after some delay: information on the 60-day lottery for the 181 affordable (or, better described as "income-linked") units at the 32-story 461 Dean Street, both via NYC Housing Connect and a new website affordable.461dean.com, with lots of cheerful information.

The building is mostly studios and one-bedroom units. In the lottery, 50% of the units will be set aside for residents (or recent former residents) of Community Boards 2, 3, 6, and 8. Residents will pay rent based on 30% of their income, which can range from low- to middle-income, a very wide range.

Doubling down

The 461 Dean website doubles down, claiming Brooklyn as a "trendsetter" and "at the center of a revolution in building construction," given that this is "is the tallest modular building in the world."

Unmentioned: the building has taken twice as long as promised, was plagued by leaks and even mold, and has cost far more than expected. Also, while developer Forest City Ratner once aimed to build the entire project via modular construction, no other modular buildings are planned as of now.

Forest City owns this building exclusively, while its 70% partner on the rest of the towers is Greenland USA.

"Next great neighborhood"

The new web site says:
Pacific Park is Brooklyn’s next great neighborhood where everything you need is steps from your front door. Forest City Ratner Companies and Greenland Forest City Partners, in conjunction with world-class architects COOKFOX, SHoP, Marvel and KPF, are bringing to life a thriving community for all New Yorkers. At the heart of it all is a lush 8-acre neighborhood park designed by landscape architect Thomas Balsley.


First, as the document below states, the location is Prospect Heights. The "lush 8-acre park" isn't adjacent to this building and the section of the privately-operated, publicly accessible open space--not a park--nearest to this building won't open for years.

The language and promotion suggests they're aiming toward those paying middle-income rents, that is, over $2,500 for a one-bedroom and $3,000 for a two-bedroom, who might need some convincing. The scarcity of low-income housing will generate its own demand.

Affordability

This is a 50% affordable/50% market-rate building, with a range of incomes, from low-income to middle-income, as long promised, but without 50% (in floor area) of the affordable units, as long promised, as family-sized units.

Studios range from $559 to $1996, one-bedrooms from $600 to $2504, and two-bedrooms from $727 (one unit!) to $3012 (16 units).

In fact, there only 36 two-bedroom units, and 16 of them are designed for the highest income category, households earning six figures. And that number was achieved only by some arm-twisting by the city.

Note that the 2015 Area Median Income was $86,300 (and is presumably similar now), not $83,900, as stated in the second file below.

The relative lack of affordability in the building was criticized in 2012 by BrooklynSpeaks and various coalition members. “By using up the available subsidies to finance smaller apartments for tenants in higher income brackets, FCRC is making it harder to build truly affordable units elsewhere in the City," said Michelle de la Uz of the Fifth Avenue Committee. That criticism has not been lodged recently.

A document from the April 13 presentation and a railyard photo

There isn't that much illuminating from the six-page presentation from developer Greenland Forest City Partners prepared for the 4/13/16 Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting, but the fourth page shows an image that few people see: the work going on in the Long Island Rail Road's Vanderbilt Yard.

Overall, the construction is to serve as footings for a deck to support vertical development, but I believe what's pictured is the installation of electrical substation equipment.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

State says "incident should not have occurred," but no penalties; continued incursions met by lack of enforcement

I got a response yesterday from Empire State Development, the state authority overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, regarding the incident last Friday in which workers unloaded a truck outside his house a block away from the project, blocking traffic, pedestrians, and a bike lane:
“No contractor is allowed to unload anywhere but at the site, and this incident should not have occurred. We have reinforced to the developer to abide by the regulations of the truck protocols and all other site-related guidelines and made it clear that all deliveries must be made to the project site and never unloaded on neighboring streets.”
But my follow-up question--are there any sanctions?--went unanswered.

As I said on the Daily News podcast on Friday, at this point apologies and pledges are insufficient; such incursions must be met by sanctions that offset the advantage the developer gets by inflicting impacts on the community.

Trick waiting to get into loading dock
This was by no means an isolated incident.

More enforcement issues

This past Saturday night, 4/23/16, when Bruce Springsteen played the Barclays Center, a reader was forced to wait in a taxi at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street for more than seven minutes.

The cab blocked a lane of Flatbush traffic because a truck, awaiting entry into the arena loading dock on Dean, blocked that single lane on Dean, cascading backups on Dean and Flatbush.

"There were zero traffic enforcement, NYPD or others there to resolve the issues so that everyone behind the truck just had to wait," the reader wrote. See photo at left.

Beyond that, black SUVs were parked on Dean in a No Standing zone, with no enforcement. See photo below right.

This has become standard operating procedures regarding arena operations.

SUV on Dean Street
The New York Police Department does not seem to have the will or the manpower to enforce the law, concluding, from what I can tell from comments at public meetings, that crime fighting is a priority given limited resources. (The 78th Precinct Community Council meets tonight.)


So, as I said on the podcast, blame goes to the mayor and governor for not making this a priority and for tacitly allowing arena operations to impact the immediate neighborhood.

Further down Dean Street

In another example, a 9 am incident on Friday 4/22/16 posted on Atlantic Yards Watch, a truck spent four to five minutes backing up and out of the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park site on Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues.

That created "all sorts of traffic issues on Dean and Carlton."  There have been no announced sanctions.

Truck backing out of project site on Dean Street

From the latest Construction Alert: new street closures coming on Dean, starting tomorrow

Click to enlarge
According to the latest Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Construction Alert, (bottom) covering the two weeks beginning yesterday and circulated yesterday at 1:54 pm (late) by Empire State Development after preparation by Greenland Forest City Partners, segments of Dean Street should be closing at different times.

Notably, tomorrow, 4/27/16, water connection work for the B3 (aka 38 Sixth Avenue) residential tower requires the closure/partial closure of Dean Street between Flatbush and Sixth avenues.

The work is expected to start after 10 am and be done by 5 pm, as stipulated by DOT permits. Pathways will remain open to pedestrians, as stated in the Community Notice at right. This work will not require any disruption of water service to residents along Dean Street or within the Barclays Center.

Additionally, temporary closures of Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues may occur for electrical installations by Con Edison to serve the B11 (550 Vanderbilt) and B14 (535 Carlton) towers.. If so, community notices will be distributed.

New fences

Also from the alert, pending New York City Department of Transportation approvals, new barriers to streets and sidewalks, part of installation of new MPT [maintenance and protection of traffic zone] and mobilization of equipment along Atlantic Avenue adjacent to the Vanderbilt Yard (west of Carlton Avenue), will begin within the two weeks.

Weekend work, and noise

Drilling of foundation piles near Sixth Avenue in the Vanderbilt Yard below grade will be performed on Saturdays and Sundays during this reporting period. Based on past experiences, that could get loud, though noise is not specified in the alert.

Saturday work may continue at B2 (461 Dean Street, modular), B3, B11, and B12 (615 Dean Street). (There was no mention of weekend work at B14, as in the past.) Night and weekend work is expected at the Vanderbilt Yard.

Progress at B15

And while there seemed to have been a delay in demolishing a two-story garage on the B15 site just east of Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets, that work is now ongoing.

Last week I saw workers demolishing the structure, which is very close to a Dean Street apartment building, by hand.

Other new work is described below, verbatim.

B11 – 550 Vanderbilt Avenue:
• Deliveries of MEP trades every three days. Installation of ductwork on 2nd and 3rd floor, Risers from 8th floor to 12th floor. Setting heat pump on 7th thru 12th floor.
• Window deliveries are ongoing, weekly. Contractor is installing windows / receptors on 9th floor and up where precast panels are set.
• Sheetrock deliveries on Saturdays.

B14- 535 Carlton Avenue:
• Ramps and curbs will be filled at parking levels during this period.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ratner and Gilmartin ranked #66 in Commercial Observer's Power 100

So here's the gentle profile (written by a 2014 college grad!) of Forest City Ratner's executives in the Commercial Observer's Power 100 (here's last year's short blurb):
66. MaryAnne Gilmartin and Bruce Ratner (79 in 2015)
President and CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies and Executive Chairman of Forest City Ratner Companies and Executive Vice President of Forest City Enterprises
“If I have to leave my kids everyday, it better be good,” MaryAnne Gilmartin said.
And as president and CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies, she certainly makes it worthwhile. Ms. Gilmartin, who is in charge of the New York City office wing of its Ohio-based parent company, works closely with Bruce Ratner, together spearheading many of the $1.5 billion in projects FCRC has under development.
The company officially started operating as a real estate investment trust under the moniker Forest City Realty Trust on Jan. 1 of this year, which Ms. Gilmartin said has helped the company align with its peers in the public markets and exposes it to a different set of dedicated investors. “We get more velocity and trading on our stock, and it’s a much more tax-efficient structure which really allows us to drive shareholder value,” she said.
As for Ms. Gilmartin’s first love—building and operating—there is plenty going on. FCRC currently has 1,800 units of residential, 800 of which are affordable, under development at Pacific Park in Brooklyn and is topping out at the Bridge at Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island (a project that Ms. Gilmartin is particularly excited for because it will “change the way we think about spaces”).
“As I say, there’s no favorite child, but certainly the one we’ve been doing for well over a decade is Pacific Park,” Ms. Gilmartin said. “It’s an extraordinary amount of work, and only some of it is visible. It’s not just what you see and is in some ways the tip of the iceberg.”
The company also regained control of the modular factory in Brooklyn, allowing it to push forward with the construction of 461 Dean Street, which will be the tallest prefabricated building in the world when it opens in the fall.
FCRC is also priming site five [sic] of Pacific Park for development and is exploring different ideas of how to use the space. Earlier this month it was reported that FCRC and its partner Greenland USA are looking to sell a stake in three of their Pacific Park buildings.
“As a company, we decided we could do more with less of our equity and align our equity with others,” she said.
—D.B.
(Emphases added)

Well, that modular building has taken twice as long as promised, and it's cost them way more than they expected.

Site 5 is not so much being "primed" as being prepared for a new environmental review, and proposed revision to state documents to approve what I've dubbed the "Brooklyn Behemoth," an astoundingly large building that would require the transfer of bulk from the arena plaza across the street.

Regarding that sale of a stake, well, Gilmartin's statement is pretty gnomic: "As a company, we decided we could do more with less of our equity and align our equity with others." In other words, take less risk?

as I've explained, the company dominated by Greenland was supposed to bring its own equity. Is this new move because of pressure on Greenland from the Chinese economy?

Police scrutiny of off-route truck traffic increasing, linked to death & Atlantic Yards; expect discussion at Tuesday's Precinct Council meeting

DNAinfo reports, in Police Crack Down on Trucks After Cyclist's Death, But Summonses Are Rare, how enforcement efforts in Park Slope last Thursday were welcome but rare.

And yes, there's an Atlantic Yards angle:
In addition to local officers, a team from the NYPD's Highway Patrol Motor Carrier Safety unit was in the neighborhood Thursday to issue summonses, a police source said. Those officers are specially trained to spot trucks operating illegally and they were invited to Park Slope by local police, the source said.
The action was planned before Gregg's death in response to a recent increase in truck traffic around the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park construction site, the source said.
Expect more discussion of the truck issue at tomorrow's 78th Precinct Community Council meeting, held at 7:30 pm at the station house, at 65 Sixth Avenue at Bergen Street.

What about that MPT presentation about narrowing streets and sidewalks? Not finished, says the state.

Those at the 3/13/16 Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Brooklyn Community Update meeting saw an MPT (Maintenance and Protection of Traffic) presentation, regarding how access to streets and sidewalks will change as construction on the project moves forward.

But that presentation, prepared by Greenland Forest City Partners consultant Stantec and discussed--if not fully evaluated--by the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT), has not yet been made public on the page maintained by Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing and shepherding the project.

I checked with ESD, which told me that the presentation will be posted only when DOT approves it. While it makes some sense to want the most up-to-date information, this was a public meeting, and attendees could simply try to reconstruct the presentation. There's no reason, in my book, not to share that presentation under the caveat that it's a draft.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Are there really 1,700 construction workers (no) and 2,500 arena workers (questionable)?

So, how many people actually work on Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park construction?

Forest City Ratner's Ashley Cotton was quoted in a 4/11/16 New York Daily News article regarding plans to create a sticker system to identify construction workers: “At any given time we could have 1,700 construction workers out there. I need levers in order to create accountability for these workers."

However, at the Community Update meeting 4/13/16, Cotton said, regarding that sticker plan, "I have a thousand workers to ID."

That suggests that there are currently 1000 workers. That's tough to believe, just based on the eyeball observations that I and others have made of the site.

But if there were more oversight, as well as the Independent Compliance Monitor required by the Community Benefits Agreement (but never hired), maybe we'd know.

Could additional construction on the project site ultimately mean more workers? Possibly. But again, let's have a neutral party evaluate numbers.

How many arena jobs?

In another article, the Daily News reported, "About 300 of the arena’s approximately 2,500 employees work full time."

As I wrote 4/14/16, The figure of 2,500 employees is certainly more than the "2,000 jobs" projected in 2012, with 1,901 part-time and 105 full-time. And 300 full-time employees would be a notable increase. (In what department are those jobs?)

But the real question is FTE (full-time equivalent). How different is the current FTE compared to the 1,240 FTE originally projected? We don't know.

But hiring more workers without adding FTE positions not only makes it look like the arena is a good corporate citizen (all those ads for jobs!), it also increases the pool and potentially lowers hours for current workers (as I was told).

Saturday, April 23, 2016

On Daily News podcast, I and DN's O'Keeffe talk Barclays Center, Pacific Park, and the need for government to step up

Yesterday, I appeared on a New York Daily News Sports podcast with Michael O’Keeffe of the Daily News Sports I-Team, which produced four articles (scroll down to I-Team) on the Barclays Center and the larger Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project, and their impact on the neighborhood.



We discussed a lot about the project, including the arena's location, which uses public transit but has a very small margin for error given the tight fit in the neighborhood, the recent quality of life complaints regarding project construction and operations, why some fears of the project didn't come true, the "Culture of Cheating," how sports fandom sometimes leads to narrow thinking, the reason for an arena not designed for hockey, and the impact of the Islanders and "tailgating culture."

I several times said "the devil's in the details," since that refers to so much regarding the project, including whether arena workers are truly happy (they get too few hours), whether the "affordable housing" is truly affordable (only some of it), and whether a lack of arena-related parking has deterred people from driving (yes, but the opportunity for free parking in the neighborhood, as well as illegal parking/idling, means some people still drive).

What the government should do

At the end of the podcast, host Andy Clayton asked what I'd like to see done by the owners/oeprators of the Barclays Center. I said it's partly up to them, as well as the owners/operators of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, but it's more the responsibility of the mayor and governor, who oversee the project or agencies that oversee it.

And by now, I said, pledges to do better are insufficient. I described how, last November, a delivery truck for the arena stopped outside the loading dock, causing cars to drive on the sidewalk, which was documented on video by resident Wayne Bailey, who appeared in one of the Daily News stories.

There were apologies, I said, but at some point, "you need to make them hurt in reciprocity to the advantage they're gaining." That hasn't happened.

New York City’s Political Power 50: Jonathan Rosen at #26 (and now BerlinRosen part of fund-raising probe)

From the New York Observer's New York City’s Political Power 50:
26. Jonathan Rosen, Co-Founder ofBerlinRosen
Mr. Rosen, of the PR firm BerlinRosen, is perhaps Mr. de Blasio’s best-known outside consultant—but the mayor’s relationship with Mr. Rosen and others has been gaining greater scrutiny. Mr. Rosen is not a lobbyist and as such does not have to disclose his meetings with the mayor, but his firm represents a slew of boldfaced names that have major business at City Hall. BerlinRosen also handles the mayor’s nongovernmental press, putting out his message as Mr. de Blasio continually tries to influence national politics and spinning on issues like his campaign contributions.
One of those boldfaced names Rosen represents is, of course, Greenland Forest City Partners and the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project.

It gets complicated

Today, the New York Post reports:
A top aide to Mayor de Blasio and a consulting firm that helped him win City Hall are under investigation as part of a widening state and federal corruption probe — all sparked by a suspected gifts-for-favors scheme involving top NYPD brass, The Post has learned.

Emma Wolfe, de Blasio’s director of intergovernmental affairs, and BerlinRosen Public Affairs are being probed by the Manhattan DA’s Office and federal prosecutors for their roles in fund-raising by de Blasio during his failed 2014 bid to help fellow Democrats take over the state Senate, multiple sources close to the investigation said.
Of course, an investigation is just that, not a conclusion, and a City Hall source told the Post that Wolfe followed the law. (BerlinRosen wasn't quoted.)

The New York Times reports:
An investigation by the New York State Board of Elections found evidence of flagrant violations of campaign finance law by a team of people that Mayor Bill de Blasio created to raise money for Democrats running for the State Senate in 2014, according to a confidential board report.
...The board’s report says that the fund-raising effort was run out of Mr. de Blasio’s City Hall and involved Emma Wolfe, his top political aide, and Ross Offinger, a fund-raiser for the mayor’s election campaign as well as the Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit created by Mr. de Blasio to support his agenda. The report also names several union officials and political consulting firms, including BerlinRosen, which has longstanding ties to the mayor.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Photos: 535 Carlton contractors use Prospect Heights corner a block away for noisy unloading

What's going on here?

Well, as a Prospect Heights resident living near the corner of Bergen Street and Carlton Avenue wrote to Empire State Development (copying me and others), his family and house guest " awoke to copper pipes being dropped into bins at 7:50 am this morning by construction workers from the 535 Carlton Project."

That location, the corner of Bergen and Carlton, is one block south of the construction site, outside the delivery area (and in front of a fire hydrant).

That posed dangers to pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles, as the bins blocked both traffic land and bike lane.

The resident confirmed to me that the materials were being delivered to 535 Carlton, which has a fence that extends into the street purportedly to accommodate cranes and deliveries.

Violations

This seems to be both a vehicular violation (blocking street, parking at hydrant, etc.) as well as a violation of the state Memorandum of Environmental Commitments the developer signed, which states, among other things:
  • To the extent feasible, curbside deliveries shall occur within delineated closed-off areas.
  • Truck deliveries shall be scheduled, and untimely deliveries shall, in general, be turned away or reassigned with different delivery times.
  • On-site designated staging areas shall be maintained throughout the construction period to store materials and to accommodate construction vehicles that require early arrival and marshalling for immediate material delivery to high-demand construction areas. Wherever practicable, FCRC shall establish dedicated queuing areas instead of using streets for queuing.
  • Once building foundations are completed, delivery trucks are to be located adjacent to noisy streets (i.e., Atlantic Avenue, Flatbush Avenue and 6th Avenue) rather than at quieter streets, such as Dean Street and Pacific Street, where there are residences;
  • Operating delivery trucks behind the noise barriers where practicable
Even if it was not "practicable" to bring the truck inside the 535 Carlton barrier this morning, for some reason, that doesn't mean it's OK to use a residential street.

DBP's Reed and BP Adams call for downtown Brooklyn upzoning (more/again?) for office space

A 4/20/16 op-ed in Crain's New York Business, from Downtown Brooklyn Partnership President Tucker Reed and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, is headlined The Brooklyn boom could get much bigger. Here's how: Unlock the borough's commercial potential before it becomes a victim of its own success.

Citing the surge in high-resident residential construction, the strain on infrastructure, and the low office vacancy rate, the authors write:
To truly satiate demand and allow for firms to grow and stay in the borough, we must look beyond basic market forces to generate the additional commercial density needed to secure the future of Brooklyn’s economy.
Wasn't that exactly the point of the 2004 Downtown Brooklyn rezoning? Yup. Except the rules were written loosely enough to allow upzoning for housing development, without any reciprocal affordable housing, and that was far more lucrative than building office space.

They call for measures to "meet the original goals of the neighborhood rezoning," but don't explain why it went wrong.

Density increase

Now, beyond freeing up government office space downtown by moving it to other locations, like Broadway Junction (a win-win for both Adams as BP and Reed for his Downtown Brooklyn real estate constituency), they call for "tools that increase the supply of affordable housing in and around downtown" and, crucially:
At the same time, increasing allowable density for office uses will provide an alternative to residential as the highest and best use in the area, and finally realize the original vision of downtown Brooklyn as a 21st-century office market.
(Emphasis added)

I'm not sure what that means. Are they saying density should be increased on unbuilt sites within the 2004 rezoning? (How many sites are available?)

Or are they calling for an increase in density outside the boundaries of the rezoning, with no upzoning for residential? If so, that's both a reminder of the mistake made 12 years ago, as well as a bonus for landowners in the area for upzoning.

And that should be quantified and evaluated rather than simply cheered.

The Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park implication

I have to think that this argument, in some ways, connects to the separate plan by Greenland Forest City Partners to turn the B4 tower from residential to office space and to move the bulk of the B1 tower over the arena plaza to Site 5, where already a large tower is approved.

The former does not add density, actually, and seems like a gamble unless the developer already has an anchor tenant or tenants in mind.

However, the B1 move--1.1 million square feet--would be a significant boon for the developer, which would avoid having to build over the arena plaza, a tricky and difficult process. And it would result in a giant building of 1.55 million square feet--which I've dubbed the "Brooklyn Behemoth"--across the street from row houses.

This is a state process, not a city one, so outside any upzoning that Reed and Adams promote. But there are conceptual links.

LIRR weekend pile-drilling work announced; Dean Street block closed this weekend for utility work

There will be Long Island Rail Road pile-drilling work this weekend, according to an announcement from the developer, though no indication was made regarding the level of noise. (This weekend work was not specified in the most recent Construction Update.)

Also, Con Edison will be doing electrical work this weekend, thus closing Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues during daytime hours Saturday and Sunday.

This also was not specified in the Construction Update, which typically covers only work done at the behest of developer Greenland Forest City Partners. However, community complaints at the last public meeting led the developer to pledge to try to alert residents to such project-related work.

A message from Pacific Park Brooklyn:
As part of the Pacific Park Brooklyn construction, contractors will be drilling piles below grade in the LIRR yard near 6th Avenue between Atlantic Avenue & Pacific Street from 7AM - 7PM on Saturday, April 23, 2016 and Sunday, April 24, 2016.
Additionally, in an effort to better improve communication we will make every attempt to notify the community of upcoming ConEd work when information is provided to us prior to the work.
ConEd will be installing electrical vaults for 535 Carlton Avenue (B14) & 550 Vanderbilt Avenue (B11). To accommodate this work, one block of Dean Street between Carlton & Vanderbilt Avenues will be temporarily closed to through traffic on Saturday April 23rd 8:00AM - 6:00PM and Sunday, April 24th 9:00AM - 6:00PM. 
Pacific Park Brooklyn Community Liaison Office
1-866-923-5315
communityliaison@pacificparkbrooklyn.com
Empire State Development
1-212-803-3736
atlanticyards@esd.ny.gov







Thursday, April 21, 2016

A bicyclist killed by truck in North Slope off truck route; continuing concern regarding trucks on residential streets around Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park

Yesterday, as reported by outlets such as Gothamist and Streetsblog, a truck driver on narrow Sixth Avenue killed a cyclist at Sterling Place. (I lived near there for 17 years.)

There's no evidence the truck was heading to or from the Barclays Center, but the construction and operation of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has changed the road system, sometimes on a daily or weekly basis. One Gothamist commenter wrote, "Trucks on 6th have become much more of an issue since the Barclays Center opened."

Gothamist noted that the 78th Precinct, which has found a number of moving violations, has not issued tickets for violating a truck route. The rules are somewhat flexible, but not completely so:
An operator is allowed to travel on a street that is not a designated truck route for the purpose of arriving at his or her destination.When accessing such a location, the operator must leave a designated truck route at the intersection that is nearest to his/her destination, proceed by the most direct route, and then return to the nearest designated truck route using the most direct route.
The Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park effect

Indeed, city and state officials have allowed trucks to go on residential Dean Street, saying that obstructions make it difficult to turn on Sixth Avenue to get to nearby Flatbush Avenue.

The overall impact has been exacerbated by periodic temporary street shutdowns or jams. As one Dean Street resident wrote on Atlantic Yards Watch last week:
Dean Street, between Carlton & Vanderbilt Avenue, has been closed to my knowledge since yesterday morning and is still closed today. This has created a parking lot on Dean Street between 6th & Carlton Avenues. The honking outside my door has been going on since early this morning. I have a home office in my living room - this situation is both unpleasant and distracting. I am rather exhausted by this development and construction completely taking over our neighborhood.
Recent postings on Instagram and YouTube point to blockages and disruptions on Dean Street.




Huge delivery truck is backed into Dean/Carlton entrance to block 1129, closing Dean and Carlton and disrupting/dwarfing the neighborhood. The entrance is not included in the truck protocols and this maneuver, like a number of maneuvers to enable convenient delivery of construction materials, has never been detailed to the public. Watch the whole video here to get the picture: https://youtu.be/rU3zp3hw5As. My neighbors and I have all seen trucks like this driving the wrong way up Dean from Vanderbilt to Carlton while the street was officially open! Note that there is a clear approach to this location from inside the fence but it is presumably less convenient so not used. More photos to come. Tuesday, April 12th, 2016 at 8:08 am. @EmpireStateDev @nyc_dot @nycmayorsoffice @nyc311 #bciza #pacificparkbk @hdr_inc @STVGroup @nypd78thpcc @atlanticyards_pacificpk_report
A video posted by @pplegacy on






Another Islanders playoff game, another episode of post-game honking and yelling

At least it didn't happen around midnight, as on Sunday. The post-playoff experience last night, after the New York Islanders' playoff game, started at about 11:15 and lasted 30 minutes, with fans honking and screaming.



That suggests that the recently-announced Islanders Code of Conduct hasn't had any effect; in fact, if it is this document, it says nothing about post-game conduct.

Some Islanders fans commenting on Twitter, YouTube, and my previous post essentially said "Get over it."

In other words, this is what happens with a boisterous fan base after an important hockey game, and it's wrong or unrealistic to expect quiet. Maybe.

If so, then maybe it's important not to build sports facilities without more of a cordon around them, as New York City zoning regulations require--and were overridden by the state in the case of the Barclays Center.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Are new Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park investors sought to make project go "even" faster? Evidence suggests some delay (+Greenland stress?)

On Tuesday, 4/12/16, the Real Deal reported that Greenland Forest City Partners was seeking new investors for three buildings: the planned B12 and B13 condo towers on the southeast block of the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park site, as well as the B4 tower--where the developers aim to build office space, after previously planning apartments--at the northeast corner of the arena block.

The next night, at the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting, a spokeswoman for the developer wouldn't say much about that plan, but her words, I think, were inadvertently revealing,

"There was report earlier about B12, B13, B4 being marketed," said Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council. "Is that accurate?"

"Yes, there is a report that is accurate that we are seeking to recapitalize our investment in order to make the project run even more expediously [sic]," responded Forest City Ratner's Ashley Cotton. "So we are interested in building out Pacific Park, obviously it’s been a long process for us. So we are seeking even more recapitalization to do that."

See black arrows for sites at issue
Is project moving faster?

Let's put aside expediously--which should be a word, but isn't (though another Forest City executive has used it)--and consider Cotton's statement.

While the project certain has speeded up over the 21 months, the design for the B12 condo tower, at 615 Dean Street, was unveiled last September but the building hasn't really broken ground. That's neither expedient nor expeditious.

In other words, they're slightly delayed.

Why are they seeking new investors? Notably, Cotton did not invoke the strength of the condo market nor suggest investors are clamoring to buy in. (Who wants to buy into a speculative office tower, with no anchor tenant named?)

Greenland backing off?

So that hints that senior partner Greenland Group, which owns 70% of the project going forward (excepting B2 and the Barclays Center), may be less willing to spend its own money, in contrast with previous assurances. (Greenland is plurality-owned by the government of Shanghai, and formerly majority-owned.)

Remember, when the joint venture was announced, in a 7/1/14 Forest City Enterprises press release, Zhang Yuliang, Chairman and President of Greenland Group, said, "Together [with Forest City], we're confident we can expedite the construction of Atlantic Yards and build a new community within this extraordinary borough."

Months before that, as I wrote 11/4/13, Zhang told reporters in Shanghai (according to the Wall Street Journal), that he thought the project could be built in just eight years. “We have development funds, development expertise and experience and an enormous customer base,” and Forest City has the local execution capability, he said.

Back then, I was skeptical about that timeline, since the new 2025 completion date had not been negotiated.

Today, after that new timetable was set at the time of the joint venture, Greenland may think less ambitiously.

After some stock market gyrations, it may have a smaller amount of "development funds" or, at least, funds it wishes to risk. And its "enormous customer base"--for the condos--may have more trouble getting its money out of China.

If B4 tower won't include affordable units, will they go into Site 5? Developer won't say.

Unofficial mock-up of proposed plan, with larger Site 5 
tower and no B1 tower over the arena/plaza 
On 6/27/14, Governor Andrew Cuomo and other officials announced a plan that set 2025 as the deadline for the Atlantic Yards affordable housing--after the longstanding ten-year timetable had been extended to 25 years, with an "outside date" of 2035.

The compromise also included this pledge:
Ensuring sustained development of affordable housing by requiring that the project developers will provide 35 percent of the completed units at the site as affordable housing units until 1,050 affordable housing units are built. This new deal ensures that the delivery of affordable units does not lag behind the creation of market rate units.
After 1,050 units, then the percentage of affordable units could drop, for a time, to 25 percent, until it was raised with a final buildout of three 50/50 (affordable/market-rate) towers.

Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, who helped negotiate that new timetable, warned--as I wrote 4/6/16--that if the B4 tower at the northeast corner of the arena block is switched from residential space to office space, the developers of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park won't meet that 35% threshold.

What about Site 5?

He brought up the issue at the 4/13/16 Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting, suggesting that affordable units might have to go into the new tower at Site 5 (which I've dubbed the Brooklyn Behemoth), to keep the ratio as market-rate residential units are built there.

Tentative plan, as of 2014, with B4 as residential tower; click to enlarge 
(So far, that tower is expected to have--at least--office space, condos, and retail.)

"How many affordable apartments will be going into Site 5?" Veconi asked Forest City Ratner spokeswoman Ashley Cotton, representing the Greenland Forest City Partners joint venture.

"I have no idea," Cotton responded.

"Well, you have an architect," Veconi said, referring to Cotton's statement earlier in the meeting that they were "working to select" an architect. (Surely they are farther ahead on their plans than they are ready to disclose.

"You and I had this conversation," Veconi continued in a firm tone. "I just want to emphasize: at some point in the very, very near future, you guys need to explain where the affordable apartments that were supposed to be in B4 are going to go. I’m assuming that there are some apartments that are going to go into Site 5, and not very many of them can be started without affordable apartments in parallel. If B4 is being marketed [for new investors], and being marketed presumably with the expectation of a conversion to office, the public needs to understand how that threshold will be met.

"I totally agree," Cotton responded. She just didn't provide a timetable when the plans would be disclosed.

So the questions linger: What will be the solution to meeting that 35% threshold? Or can/will they find a loophole to avoid meeting the requirement?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

When truck delivering sheetrock blocks Dean Street, it also signals flaws in modular plan (incomplete components installed)

The main point of the Instagram posting below from yesterday is to show how a delivery truck for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park construction blocks a turning lane (and bicycle lane), next to a closed sidewalk along the B3 (aka 38 Sixth Avenue) site on Dean Street between Flatbush and Sixth avenues.

From November 2012 presentation
But note that the truck is delivering sheetrock to the site of adjacent B2 (aka 461 Dean Street), the only tower being built via experimental--and, we now know, flawed--modular construction.

They're not supposed to have to deliver sheetrock. That's the whole point of modular construction.

As developer Forest City Ratner (which owns this building outright, as it's not part of the joint venture with Greenland USA) explained in 2012 most building components--sections of apartments--are supposed to be delivered finished from the factory, with workers on site placing the modules and connecting building systems.

However, after leaks and mold plagued the lower floors, as I reported last August for City Limits, a state inspector reported that the builders exercised caution, for example installing the ninth and tenth floors with some drywall (same as sheetrock) sections omitted.

So the current work looks like catch-up for a deeply flawed, if not failed, modular effort. It wasn't supposed to happen. And because of that, it wasn't supposed to block public streets and endanger pedestrians.


Another hazard: blocked street crossing light

A photo posted by Carlton Ave Bk (@carltonavebk) on

Resorts World NYC Casino Plaza: public amenity or fan gathering space?

Oh, remember that one justification for moving the bulk of the unbuilt B1 tower across Flatbush Avenue to build what I've dubbed the "Brooklyn Behemoth," according to Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, is that "a key thing we think we can accomplish with this is keeping the plaza permanent open space."

That positions it as a public amenity, rather than a branded business deal, since the official name is the Resorts World NYC Casino Plaza.

It's also a key safety valve for arena attendees. In fact, as WPIX-11 (a partner with the Barclays Center, remember) reported yesterday, in Islanders fans swarm Barclays Center for playoff festivities, it was the scene for a modified tailgate: attendees "were greeted by live bands, team gear and a chance to hang out with some hockey legends."

Monday, April 18, 2016

For now, AY CDC's Jaiyesimi wears new hat, taking over ESD Atlantic Yards role from Filler

An interesting piece of news emerged at the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting last Wednesday.

Tobi Jaiyesimi, who last January was named Executive Director of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, an advisory body that's a subsidiary of Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency overseeing/shepherding the project, now has additional duties.

"I wanted to let you know a slight staffing change on our end. Sam Filler is currently still at ESD. He has transitioned roles, and he will no longer working directly on this project," Jaiyesimi said. " I will be taking on some of his responsibilities as relates to this project specifically."

This needs an update
Does she have a new title, I asked.

"No, I like Director of the AY CDC," she said, adding that things are still in transition.

Indeed, they'll have to update the Welcome message (right) on the ESD's Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park page, at least.

Question raised: institutional memory

This raises a question of institutional memory.

Filler in July 2014 replaced Paula Roy, who replaced Arana Hankin, who, after being named the first-ever project director in 2010, left in July 2013 for a fellowship.

(Filler has worn several hats at the state authority, notably heading the craft beverage initiative, and I think Roy had other duties.)

Filler and Roy have master's degrees in urban planning; Hankin and Jaiyesimi do not. Jaiyesimi, a former chief of staff to Assemblyman Walter Mosley, was hired more for her expertise in the local political scene than experience overseeing real estate projects.

More importantly, the steady turnover means that developer Greenland Forest City Partners, notably through the role of longtime Forest City Ratner employees, has the most institutional memory regarding this project.

It also may mean that higher-ranking ESD executives, notably Marion Phillips III (Community Relations) and Joe Chan (Real Estate), call the shots. Heck, I'd bet Gov. Andrew Cuomo--to whom Forest City executives have good access--calls the shots.

Question raised: institutional cross-over

The job of AY CDC executive director was supposed to be a full-time job, as noted in the job posting below.

The job requires support for the AY CDC board members, most of whom are appointed by the governor, but several of whom--not appointed by Cuomo--who've emerged as persistent questioners of the parent agency. In other words, it could potentially support efforts to push the parent ESD.

But the executive director is also supposed to:
  • support the AY CDC President (Phillips)
  • "Provide strategic support, advice and positioning for the AYCDC President and related ESD Staff"
  • "Work with the developer, State and City agencies as needed, to resolve community issues, under the direction of the AYCDC President and related EDS staff"
  • "Assist in development of ESD/Atlantic Yards Project communication strategy; actively contribute to website & utilize methods of the social media"
  • "Represent ESD at community events and meetings in the Brooklyn community"
  • "Perform other job related duties and projects as required by the AYCDC President and or ESD Executive Management"
In other words, there was a lot of cross-over baked into the role from the start. And now that cross-over seems even more solid.

Atlantic Yards CDC Director Job Posting

The Islanders win a playoff game. Fans celebrate at midnight. Neighbors endure it, on a school night.

It was their first playoff game ever in Brooklyn last night, and there was a full house watching the New York Islanders win in overtime, their first victory in three games against the Florida Panthers.

One witness describing the atmosphere--in a building often criticized for being unfriendly to hockey--as "every bit as lively, raucous and boisterous as what you’ll find in any other building in the National Hockey League."

And that meant it spilled out into the street as midnight approached, and even afterward--on a school night. The video below--shot halfway down Pacific Street from the arena--shows yelling and honking.. Apparently the new "Islanders Code of Conduct" can only go so far.

The arena operators need to do more, but they face a challenge. Fans understandably want to celebrate, and they'd be even louder if they were tailgating outside the Nassau Coliseum.

But the arena backs into a residential neighborhood. The next home playoff game is Wednesday, also starting at the relatively late time of 8 pm.



Sunday, April 17, 2016

A hazardous situation at Sixth Avenue and Dean Street

Yesterday was a rough one for pedestrians at Sixth Avenue and Dean Street, where construction continued on the northwest corner for the B3 tower, aka 38 Sixth Avenue.

As detailed in the first Instagram post, a flagger waved vehicles through even when pedestrians had the green, thus putting them in peril. As shown in the second post from Wayne Bailey, a truck blocked southbound traffic on Sixth Avenue, though there should have been a place inside the construction fence for such trucks.