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Security study for Atlantic Yards? Sure, but it's Ratner's

A panel discussion last night sponsored by the Municipal Art Society, Security at What Cost? Balancing Security and Public Space, seemed like a good place to ask the Atlantic Yards security question.

A panel of design and engineering experts from the public and private sector had just discussed a variety of issues relating to security perimeters, security barriers, and the importance of maintaining a public streetscape. Post-9/11 New York was a giant "laboratory for security, said Bob Ducibella, principal at security consultants Ducibella Venter & Santore, but the city's been doing well.

Indeed, posited Ray Gastil, director of the Manhattan Office, New York City Department of City Planning, "I've never seen the city stronger, in terms of street life."

Then again, as Ducibella put it, "glass and explosives go well together." His firm has worked on numerous major projects, including the World Trade Center transportation hub and the Bank of America tower at Bryant Park.

A glass skyscraper and an arena

So, in the Q&A, I mentioned that the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement had just come out, with nothing about security and terrorism. People are were concerned about a glass skyscraper and an arena in Forest City Ratner's project, but the Empire State Development Corporation says such a review isn't required under the law, though the city police department has examined the project.

What should people expect from the government in doing a security review and sharing some of that with the public?

There was a pause. Moderator Andrew Manshel looked over at Ducibella and asked if he'd been involved in any EIS reviews.

"I have an unfortunate conflict of interest," Ducibella responded. "Our firm is involved and has been for about a year and a half trying to work with the developer to create an environment" that, among other things, is responsive to police department concerns, he said. "I understand your position and would love to comment, but I'm sorry."

Manshel asked him about such reviews in general. "Most of the projects that are of substances--and that project is of substance--when the original security considerations are developed, they are no longer part of just looking at what kind of electronic security components might be built in, or how many security officers there might be," Ducibella replied.

"There are issues of perimeter boundaries--you've witnessed street closures--issues about lighting levels at night that create local pollution, in some cases screening trucks on streets, which has a real significant effect on local traffic, so it's difficult for a project of significance now to not have security studies done and recommendations developed in advance that don't somehow inform the EIS process."

City Planning demurs

Manshel turned to the city's Gastil. Does City Planning have a position on the issue? "Atlantic Yards is a state project," Gastil pointed out, saying that he wasn't prepared to provide a policy statement on the issue of security reviews. (Atlantic Yards would be the Brooklyn office's bailiwick, anyway.) Still, he said it was a "a good question" and he was willing to take it back to his colleagues.

Bottom line

But the bottom line, so far, is this: because the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) was passed in 1978, and revised in 1987 and 1996, it doesn't reflect a post-9/11 consciousness about security issues, and thus those concerns need not be disclosed in the EIS process.

And if environmental reviews these days are informed by security studies, as Ducibella's general comment suggested, it's hardly clear in the Atlantic Yards review.

City agencies tasked with security and developers who buy insurance surely take security into account. So it's clear that some people have been studying security issues regarding the Atlantic Yards proposal. Given the significant community concerns, it seems that, at the very least, SEQRA needs an update.

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