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Community update: NBA All-Star weekend plans; re-striping of hazardous intersection; unresolved concern about huge green wall

Also see coverage of green roof plans. Update 5 pm Feb. 13: Empire State Development tells me that the agency did review the scope of work for the monitor, and Marion Phillips misspoke. Thus there's no lapse, as the evidence suggested.

Officials last night disclosed extensive—if somewhat belated preparations—for the upcoming NBA All-Star Weekend, including buses routed to a waiting lot in Red Hook, and announced a new effort to re-stripe the hazardous intersection at Sixth and Atlantic avenues.

Also, indicating concern if not resolution regarding the biggest headache for neighbors of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Brooklyn, they agreed to meet with stakeholders concerned about the enormous, street-encroaching fence set up to enclose construction work on the block bounded by Dean Street, Carlton Avenue and Vanderbilt Avenue.

The Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Meeting, hosted every few months by developer Forest City Ratner and Empire State Development, was testy at times, especially regarding the “green monster,” as some call the fence, as well as ESD's role.

The meeting was held at the Shirley Chisholm State Office Building at 55 Hanson Place, which was wisely chosen because it was closer to the project site than previous locations (Borough Hall, YWCA). The next Quality of Life meeting will be held Wednesday, April 22, at the same location and time, 6-8 pm, announced ESD community affairs manager Nicole Jordan.

Representatives of several officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, Assemblymember Walter Mosley, Council member Laurie Cumbo, and State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, were present.
ESD sent staffers Marion Phillips III and Sam Filler along with Jordan, as well as Tobi Jaiyesimi, the executive director of the new Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC).

No board members of the new AY CDC attended, though mayoral appointee Jaime Stein, a Pratt Institute professor, sent a graduate student to take notes and ask questions.

Fixing intersections

Filler, the Atlantic Yards Project Director for ESD, said the agency and other governmental bodies had received numerous concerns about dangerous intersections, at Sixth and Atlantic and Carlton and Dean.

“It has been identified that Atlantic and Sixth is a dangerous condition,” he said.

Atlantic and Sixth avenues, from Atlantic Yards Watch
Forest City Ratner external affairs executive Ashley Cotton said they’d received “terrifying reports of people sprinting cross the street,” some misled by a crosswalk that leads in the wrong direction.

(See for example this posting on Atlantic Yards Watch, and accompanying photos.)

She said the company’s team that works on the adjacent railyard—the work that in part has spurred the diminished access—met with the Department of Transportation.

“As soon as weather permits, we're going to re-stripe” the intersection, she said, and in the interim will use barrels to demarcate a safer crossing.

“We’re still looking at Carlton and Dean,” Filler said, noting the complication of the requirement of a 16-foot fence to block noise and dust, part of why the fence goes so far out in the street.

Improving circulation around the arena

Sgt. Angelo Pirozzi of the 78th Precinct, said that traffic circulation had improved around the arena, as traffic agents were posted yesterday at Sixth and Carlton avenues to keep traffic moving and ensure errant drivers didn’t turn south on Sixth at Pacific Street. This responds to conditions described in my post yesterday.

Also, VMS (variable message signs) that previously indicated that drivers should use Sixth had been fixed. “Through lack of coordination, somebody dropped the ball,” Pirozzi said.

All-Star prep includes bus lanes

Regarding the All-Star weekend Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Pirozzi acknowledged “this is a large event... there's going to be inconvenience,” but stressed that the 78th Precinct tries to put the community first.

Police will set up a security checkpoint at Dean Street and Flatbush Avenue to admit black cars that have credentials to be on that block, as well as others with credential “We will be staffing that block starting at 3 o'clock on Friday continuously through the whole weekend.”

NYPD also will install be a couple of light towers at Dean and Flatbush, facing the arena, not at the residences on the south side of Dean.

The transportation plan involves 100 buses and 200 black cars/limos, with a placard system, using designated lanes to drive from Manhattan, and a queuing area.

Barclays Center Community Affairs Manager Terence Kelly said the plan was aimed to create the least impact on the community, but it “is going to be not negligible.” Generators for the TV show have been placed at the southeast edge of the arena, and in Sixth Avenue.

Generators will run until 6 pm Sunday, and removal will begin last night. Arena events will run Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon, so some set strike will begin during the day on Sunday.

The NBA will contract about 100 buses—5000 people, to my estimate—to bring executives, staff, owners, and guests, as well as about 200 for-hire vehicles. On Friday night (Rising Stars game), the crowd should include about 5,000 NBA guests and 10,000 people with standard tickets, while on Saturday night (Skills Challenge, Slam Dunk Contest) it will be 10,000 guests and 5,000 with standard tickets. Sunday will be more low-key, with the Development League game.

Buses will drop-off on Atlantic Avenue in the truncated space at the arena plaza, and will pick up later in the evening along Flatbush Avenue. The limos/black cars will drop off their passengers along Flatbush Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Dean Street. Some will drop off on Dean between Flatbush and Sixth avenues. Most limos will pick up along Atlantic Avenue.

There will be no parking on Dean Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues on the north side of the street to allow for the passage of vehicle.

As soon as vehicles drop off their passengers, they will be sent—not through residential blocks—to a waiting lot in Red Hook, and return using staggered pickup times. “We have a precedent for this,” Kelly said, saying 120 student buses delivered people to see the Disney show Frozen last November without incident.

“In order for NBA to take on this large event, the city made the NBA hire a company to coordinate all the vehicles,” Pirozzi said.

Kelly noted that there are pop-up stores, such as Nike’s Jordan Brand store next to Shake Shack at 166 Flatbush Avenue. Pirozzi said NYPD would meet with the security staff today regarding crowd control.

“You've got to announce to people not to drive to Downtown Brooklyn,” observed resident Peter Krashes.

“There's going to be message signs” to advise drivers, Pirozzi indicated. “This came down the pike fairly quick and fairly late.” He indicated that there might be 50 more buses, but said the extensive coordination required by planners, as well as increased presence of traffic agents, is aimed to keep things under control.

I asked if they were also promoting transit, given the Barclays Center’s much-touted presence at a transit hub. Yes, said Kelly, stating that “the NBA has bought an enormous block of MetroCards.”

Moving the generators?

One resident asked if the generators that are “taking up half of Sixth Avenue” could be put on arena property.

“This is what the city permitted,” Pirozzi said, indicating they recognized “it's a burden on the community, it's a burden on the precinct.”

Kelly said the “pad” next to the loading dock has been eliminated for construction staging.

Pirozzi noted that a tent being installed in the arena plaza will be used for security screening. “They’ve hired hundreds of people,” he said, indicating it should move smoothly. “They don't want executives waiting in line.”

Krashes noted that generators placed on the parking lot on the east side of Sixth Avenue between Dean Street and Pacific Street will be making noise next to a house with a six-week old baby. He asked that they be moved, but didn’t get an answer.

The need for protocols for large events

Regina Cahill of the North Flatbush Business Improvement District said the emerging plans provide “another example of why we need to create protocols for these large events.” When she got a community notice regarding “load-in” for the All-Star Weekend, that connotes a finite in-and-out effort. “What we have is a kind of occupation.”

“It’s great that we have these SWAT teams directing traffic, but I think we need to be way more proactive,” she said.

Kelley said “we should definitely debrief after and figure out where we go.”

The wall at Carlton Avenue
The giant green wall

Residents reiterated that the green wall constricts traffic on Dean Street and Carlton Avenue, hampers deliveries and pick-ups, stalls fire trucks, damages trees, and endangers residents, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

Officials expressed sympathy, but said they’re working toward a solution.

“The most helpful thing to us would be to hear what the construction imperatives are,” Krashes commented, noting that a parked FedEx truck stops traffic

Forest City’s Cotton said she had been meeting with community members and businesses. The fence, she noted, is twice as tall as typical, in order to block noise and dust. It also must be out in the street to enclose cranes and drilling equipment. Large footings—anchors shaped like huge cubic trunks—are required for support.

(Cotton also showed schematics for two new buildings, 535 Carlton Avenue, with six retail spaces, and 550 Vanderbilt, with three. Regarding 535 Carlton,  she said, “we have every intention to do neighborhood-oriented, small retail.”)

“I think the overemphasis on the height of the fence and the footing distracts us from the choices you made,” Krashes said.

“These plans were driven not by us making something up, but by actual design teams and construction management,” countered Forest City’s Jane Marshall.

She noted that they considered but rejected a smaller perimeter initially, and a larger one later. “It's a complete piece of construction,” she said, indicating it can’t simply be moved. “It has to be demolished and rebuilt

Regarding Carlton Avenue, Krashes said with grievance, “I have to tell you, in all the years you've heard me advocating and nagging, I haven't seen anything quite like this.”

Marshall said a smaller fence meant “the issue goes way, but we are not meeting environmental compliance.”

Cotton said that, when they presented the plans at the Quality of Life meeting last November, “frankly, the meeting was smoother than I expected... maybe it was hard to imagine what was going to happen.” (I’d agree, since the schematics did not fully explain it--more graphics would have been helpful-- and I failed to grasp it sufficiently in my report.)

She volunteered to bring the engineers back to explain the plans again. “I strongly, strongly hear you,” she said. “I think the state does too… I think there is a trust gap, and we will try our best to be as transparent as possible.”

It strikes me that this is all driven by the scale of the buildings; a smaller project would create less noise/dust, and require less equipment. I asked if a gradation in the project would affect the walls.

“Short of this being a one story building, no,” responded the ESD’s Phillips. (I’d be interested in an expert opinion.)

Compiling concerns

At one point, Haley Cox of Pratt, representing AY CDC board member Stein, asked if there was a log related to community complaints.

Cotton said there are different channels, including Forest City, the Barclays Center, ESD, and the community, crowd-source portal Atlantic Yards Watch.

Cox again asked if there was a single repository. Phillips said the state keeps its own logs and will present details to the AY CDC board on a regular basis.

Community pushback on oversight

Krashes reiterated the Dean Street Block Association's request that board members of the new Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation be allowed access to meetings with the state’s consultants, such as environmental monitor HDR and owner's rep STV.

“I'll look into it,” responded the ESD’s Phillips, who also chairs the AY CDC. “We've never had any of our board members attend staff meetings.”

“We’re trying to help you do a better job,” said Krashes, who was unable to attend the first meeting of the AY CDC and surely would have raised the question there, as well.

“I think we have a very talented board, and a very talented staff,” Phillips responded.

“We also asked you to release a scope of work” for that monitor, Krashes said.

“It's not our scope of work, it's Forest City’s,” Filler responded.

“You have reviewed it,” Krashes countered. “It’s perfectly reasonable for us to ask to see it… We’d like to help you do a better job.”

“We did not review the scope of work because it was their RFP and we already had HDR working for us,” Phillips responded.

“If you look at the Memorandum of Environmental Commitments, you’ll see that you guys are supposed to review the scope of work for the OEM,” Krashes responded.

He’s right. The document states, with emphasis added:
2. FCRC shall promptly seek to retain the services of a qualified engineering firm to serve as the on-site environmental monitor (“OEM”) pursuant to a scope to be reviewed by ESD, and shall use commercially reasonable efforts to retain the engineering firm to serve as the OEM on or before September 15, 2014.
Krashes asked Forest City if the state had reviewed the scope of work for Remedial, the company serving as OEM.

“I have no idea,” Cotton responded.

“We're seeing problems,” Krashes said, noting that a clump of dirt expelled from the work site near Dean Street and Carlton Avenue broke a car window.

Maintaining the site

Residents expressed dismay about bridges and sidewalks around the Atlantic Yards site that remain hazardous because of snow not shoveled. Cotton said the parts not shoveled are the property of public partners, such as the strip north of the railyard along Atlantic Avenue, which is Long Island Rail Road property.

If they shoveled the snow, “we'd be liable for slip and falls,” Cotton said, referring to lawsuits. “It's a non-starter.”

Regina Cahill of the North Flatbush Business Improvement District said that steel plates at Atlantic and Sixth avenue are “like ice skating rinks” and thus slippery.

Keith Bray of DOT said they’d look into whether the plates could be replaced with others offering more traction.

Later, Phillips said he’d take back concerns about the snow shoveling to the Long Island Rail Road, and DOT's Bray will do his part.

“Hopefully we'll get that squared away before next season," Phillips said, provoking many grumbles.

“You said the same thing last year,” responded Krashes.

“We don't manage the Long Island Rail Road,” Phillips responded.

“But the governor does,” Krashes countered.

“We do make an effort to reach out," Phillips said. "They're a very large agency as well.”

“This is a sign of incompetence on the part of the governor [clarified: and] of the state of New York,” Krashes said.

“When Peter called us incompetent, I wasn’t going to to answer the question,” Phillips said.

When another audience member asked for action, Phillips said he would reach out now, as would Bray. "My point was, we’re going to try to get this done."


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