Skip to main content

AY CDC signs off on extending environmental monitor's contract. Neighbors (and a board member) say monitor's just not effective.

The meeting Wednesday March 29 of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) was relatively brief and mostly uneventful, but one sequence of exchanges encapsulated the ongoing tensions over the project—and the limits to the board's effectiveness as an advisor to Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing/shepherding the project.

The AY CDC board was asked to endorse the staff recommendation to extend for one year the ten-year contract of the consultant HDR, which serves as the environmental monitor for ESD. The contract value is $500,000, and the cost is reimbursed by the project developer.

As stated in the board materials (bottom), ESD had assumed it would conduct a new RFP for a potential replacement before HDR’s contract expired, the uncertain nature of the project’s phasing—notably, a stall in construction and brewing plans for a huge shift in bulk—argues for a short-term extension rather than a new solicitation and possibly a new monitor.

Board member Jaime Stein, who directs the Sustainable Environmental Systems program at the Pratt Institute and is consistently the board member most willing to push back on the parent agency, suggested that the board needed more time to review the scope of HDR’s work, and offer an opportunity for public comment. (Here's the webcast.)

“I've been in this role for almost two years,” Stein said, which means that after a year extension, “I probably will not be here... this is why I took the role. to have a meaningful impact” on monitoring quality of life issues. (She was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio. I wonder if the developer would lobby him to appoint a more passive successor.)

The project, once assumed to last ten years, could last 30 years, Stein said, and impacts have shifted. “I think we need to use this as an opportunity to pause.”

Marion Phillips III, the AY CDC President and a ESD Senior VP, Community Relations, responded that to not continue the contract would be “borderline irresponsible,” because it could leave the project unmonitored.

“I'm questioning as to why this was not brought to us a year ago,” Stein responded, noting that she was asking only for a pause to examine the contract.

Is current monitoring enough?

HDR's scope of work
Phillips said the authority’s goal was to start the next process within six months. “If we change the scope of this contract, we'd need to re-issue the RFP, which means this contract could expire,” leaving the project unmonitored.

“It's just to continue what's been happening on the monitoring side,” chimed in Howard Zemsky, the Buffalo businessman who chairs the ESD board and also the AY CDC board. “My own observation is that this project is more heavily monitored than any other I've seen, by about a factor of five.”

“I think the monitoring that we have in place,” responded Stein, “although it is very well resourced… fails to meet the recurring persistent Quality of Life issues.”

Phillips said that they would reevaluate the monitoring in the next contract.

“I'm frustrated we didn't do this six months ago,” Stein said.

Board member Daniel Kummer acknowledged that Stein’s comments “have some merit,” but said, after hearing Phillips’s comments, he opposed the motion. “It’s really a very brief extension.”

Community concern

That was not exactly the posture of the few community members present at the daytime meeting.

“I’m very concerned about this,” said Dean Street resident Peter Krashes, who lives across from the site. For the first time, he learned HDR’s scope of work, “which is very narrow.” He said that scope didn’t cover air quality impacts last fall, such as a paint-like substance drifting in, or dust caused by trucks.

North Park Slope resident Steve Ettlinger noted that community members “bear a unique burden,” and suggested it was time to use public resources more efficiently.

Elisabeth Martin, who lives on across from the project on Carlton Avenue, echoed Krashes’s points. “The issues that we face are very scarcely reported by your staff,” she said. “Despite the fact that I gave you pictures of the dust, nothing was done, because the developer continued to send those trucks.” She also said that she and neighbors experienced cracks inside their buildings, without knowing what do so.

Stein’s motion for a pause got one more vote, from new board member Cy Richardson, an urban planner appointed by Borough President Eric Adams. But four gubernatorially-appointed board members, along with Zemsky, voted no. (Three other board members appointed by local elected officials didn’t attend.)

Board member Liz Harris joined Kummer in saying that the community comments should be taken into consideration.

Updates from ESD

Phillips finally acknowledged that a once-promised app—or digital solution—to report and monitor project impacts is dead. “I just have to fall on my sword... We just came out with a great idea... it is something that could not be integrated, and I apologize.”

He said ESD had considered social media monitoring companies like Keyhole and Digmind, and concluded they wouldn’t be effective. He said that direct communication with staff, as well as monitoring Atlantic Yards Watch—which is barely used lately—is effective enough.

New community relations staffer Jeremy Cooney said there were only eight incidents listed on the complaint log since last November, such as debris on the construction site or obstructed walkways.

Updates from the developer

Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, representing Greenland Forest City Partners, provided a swift update on the project.

The 461 Dean and 535 Carlton towers have TCOs (temporary certificates of occupancy) for all floors, except for the “hoist units,” where the elevator on the outside the building used to be. The sidewalk bridge outside 461 Dean may be removed in a month. Both buildings have residents.

The 17-story condo building 550 Vanderbilt has a TCO for the first eight floors. A fence on the Dean Street site should be mostly gone, she said, except for the part that protects the open space construction.

The lottery for 38 Sixth, which like 535 Carlton is 100% affordable (though oriented to middle-income households), has closed, paving the way for tenant selection.

Cotton also showed a picture of construction at the Vanderbilt Yard, including tunnels known as the West Portal and East Portal, as well as foundations for future construction.

She offered no new schedule for any buildings or the overall project.

Regarding plans for Site 5 and the developer’s desire to get ESD to change the General Project Plan, the project’s governing document,”unfortunately, given litigation, those plans are still on hold.” But those are very big plans, to shift perhaps 760,000 square feet of approved bulk from Building 1--now occupied by the arena plaza--to Site 5, creating a giant two-tower project.

The Site 5 project could be three times the bulk of--and 50% taller than--the Williamsburgh Savings Bank building
Stein asked ESD to describe the process behind the expected Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), and asked if there were a budget to bring on technical experts for community workshop

“Does the board have ability to hire its own?” Phillips asked rhetorically. “That's the point of the EIS... it would be rather redundant to have two parallel EISs going on.”

Maybe, maybe not. If the AY CDC were seen—or saw itself—as representing the public, it could engage experts to critique the expected, well-massaged SEIS from ubiquitous consultant AKRF. After all, during the 2006 environmental review, that’s what the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods did.

A final question

In the final comment period, Martin asked who’d pay to repair the damages by vibration.

Zemsky said he couldn’t answer, not knowing the source or the cause. “I’m not a lawyer.”

“You are not responsible, no; you are responsible to give an answer,” Martin responded.

“Jeremy will be in touch,” Phillips chimed in.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.” Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to …