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At AY CDC, questions about oversight of Times Plaza, Site 5 plans; need for state to coordinate agencies; project "has never been feasible"

Also see coverage of the Atlantic Yards CDC meeting regarding project timing, explanations for the giant green fence on Dean Street, a planned pedestrian refuge at Atlantic and Sixth avenues, and building updates/railyard progress/delayed no-parking signs and more.

One question that arose during the most recent Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) meeting was exactly how the board would fulfill its mandate: to "improve oversight and monitoring of the project," which includes monitoring developer compliance with public commitments, monitoring quality of life issues, making recommendations on increasing transparency, and "evaluating the quality and effectiveness of monitoring, support, and other services."

Answer: it's still pretty fuzzy, because 1) the parent Empire State Development (ESD) has ceded control on certain issues to other agencies, 2) ESD does not necessarily keep AY CDC members fully in the loop, and 3) only a handful of AY CDC members--not those nominated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo--have tried to rock the boat.

Starting with Times Plaza safety

At about 50 minutes into the video, board member Jaime Stein--a mayoral appointee, who's asked the most questions--noted public concern about safety at Times Plaza, and improvements planned by the city Department of Transportation (DOT) in coordination with an upgrade of the open space.

"The charge of this board is to oversee mitigations and how they’re enacted," she said. "It seems as though there is some movement on Times Plaza." She asked for a presentation, perhaps by DOT along with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to understand the plans.

Stein noted that commenters at the CB2 meeting warned that the proposal wouldn't work as a public space.

"We can arrange that, for presentation at the next [AY CDC] board meeting," said ESD executive Marion Phillips III, who serves as AY CDC president.

What exactly will be arranged remains unclear, as the MTA did not sent a representative to that recent Community Board 2 committee meeting.

Site 5 plans, and oversight

There's a huge, if delayed, plan to build on Site 5, currently home to P.C. Richard and Modell's, by shifting bulk from the unbuilt B1 (aka Miss Brooklyn), the tower over the arena plaza, across the street, turning a building already approved at 440,000 square foot to a two-tower project perhaps 2.5 times the bulk and more than three times as tall.

That requires approval from ESD to changing the project's governing General Project Plan and, given gubernatorial control of the state authority, that hardly seems unlikely, though it will require a perhaps year-long process involving public hearings. Given an unresolved lawsuit from current property owner P.C. Richard, the plan has not yet moved forward.

Stein suggested that the AY CDC board consider a request for proposals (RFP) to hire consultants "to walk the community through" the expected Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).

Phillips responded, "We currently have consultants on board who can walk the community through that. And so, when we are prepared to move forward, I don’t think there’s a problem in trying to share that information."

Stein suggested that, given that an SEIS starts with a Draft Scope of Work, a consultant or a facilitator could work with community based organizations and help shape that final scope. "I would like for an opportunity to be proactive."

ESD planning chief Rachel Shatz said that the Scope of Work "is fairly standard" and formulaic, setting out required sections and methodologies. "I’m wondering," she said, if "maybe it’s more helpful to have some assistance once the DEIS [Draft EIS] is drafted… Of course, we welcome comments at scoping session, but it’s just that purpose of that comment opportunity is to say where is a methodology inadequate or where somebody feels that additional time periods or study area for community facilities is inadequate."

Stein said she recognized that state law--the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA)--lays out parameters, but "perhaps we’ve overlooked an area."

Board member Barika Williams, a City Council appointee, said that a "community-involved conversation" would allow the community to bring up with might be missing.

"Let me figure out ways we can have that discussion internally and get back to you," Phillips said. "We have plenty of time." While "I can’t promise pie in the sky," he said, " I think there’s a way to engage the community."

Shatz said "there's probably some way to have that additional engagement as part of the scoping process… I don’t think we have to create anything new. If needed, you just extend your scoping comment period…And when the Draft EIS comes out as well. Whether we do this by briefing the board or whether there’s additional outreach, I think we can probably figure it out."

Williams noted that, based on recent concerns about rezonings, there's a recognition that "being able to engage earlier is critical and important."

Oversight of Times Plaza design

Later in the meeting, Ashley Cotton, representing developer Greenland Forest City Partners, described how safety improvements were presented at the CB 2 meeting, along with the new design for the Times Plaza open space that the developer is required to pay for as a mitigation (for a deficit of open space for workers!).

"That goes through the DOT plaza approval process," she said, "so we’re sort of hand in hand with DOT, but they’re really the lead."

"How is this board meant to actively engage in the creation of a mitigation?" Stein asked.

"In this instance with Times Plaza specifically, as with just about all of these from the original [project] EIS, it’s pretty difficult," Phillips said. "I think going forward it would be much more different."

"My understanding is this is a mitigation from 2014," Stein said, correctly referring to a previous Supplemental EIS, rather than the original 2006 project EIS.

"It’s as Ashley said, it’s under DOT’s jurisdiction," Shatz said. "It’s under the city’s process. Our requirement was that [the developer] provide this amenity, but that they consult with the agency that has the approval."

"I guess my answer is very simple," Phillips said. "Once we’re required to turn it over to another entity, in this case a municipality, the city, the mitigation was to provide funding for it, we do lose jurisdiction of that."

"Is it possible for DOT to present to us?" Williams asked.'

"They hold their meeting through the [Community Board] process," Cotton said.

Shatz noted that the developer can make the presentation of its work.

Jurisdictional overlap--or silos?

"I’m wondering," Stein said. "How are we meant to exercise what we were created to do, which is to sort of —to oversee… mitigations. And we’re completely removed from the process. I only learned about it because someone told me."

She said the challenge was similar regarding siting for the new middle school at the B15 site: "It was the same thing; all those meetings were happening outside this board.... We were given a presentation, it was very much after the fact."

Phillips said that "the mitigation was that the school had to be provided.. once that whole process goes to the city, ESD has zero say in the school." It was then the responsibility of city agencies, the School Construction Authority and the Department of Education.

Tobi Jaiyesimi, who's both executive director of the AY CDC and the ESD's Atlantic Yards project manager said that, moving forward, they'll try to inform the board of related meetings "that we’re not running."

Williams said it was important for the board to have input on issues like safety on the site, given the proximity of the planned school to construction. "How close to construction workers is something that this board, developers and ESD all need to be deeply aware of," she said. "I don’t understand how those two things should be disconnected."

"I think part of the implicit mission of the board is to control for jurisdictional siloing," commented Cy Richardson, an appointee of the Brooklyn Borough President. "I think municipal government is notorious for that."

"The best we can do is make sure you’re informed," Phillips said, noting that others have jurisdiction in several cases. "Where AY CDC can be engaged, we will."

Public criticism

At about 1:40 of the video, Tamara McCaw, acting chair of the meeting, opened up the public comments agenda item of the meeting.

Actually, there should have been a comment period after the specific agenda item involving Phillips' president's report, as well as an open comment period at the end. Given that the meeting managers allowed the one public commenter to go well over the four-minute limit (for an organizational representative), comment was not squelched.

Peter Krashes, representing the Dean Street Block Association and the Barclays Center Impact Zone Alliance, made comments on four separate issues.

At the CB 2 meeting regarding Times Plaza, he noted, city DOT officials "expressed real frustration they were unable to get MTA involved." He suggested that the AY CDC board, and ESD, could get the MTA--another state authority controlled by the governor--to participate.

So far, he said, the "outcome is that the plaza is a much more modest renovation than I think the community wanted to see."

Citing the discussion of affordable housing, he noted that, when the project was approved, "all of the buildings"--well, the rentals--"were to be integrated across affordability brackets and market rate, within each building... that’s not what we’ve gotten."

He noted that there were several goals, including to fulfill the promises and to get the project finished. "This project, in a lot of ways, from the community perspective, it has always been described as feasible but has never been feasible," he said. That connects to the changing schedule and the frustration the nearest residents have with mitigation of construction impacts, "and how they’re dealt with by the state on a time frame that’s not a real experienced time frame."

The regular Quality of Life meetings, he said, "have failed. The reason why they’re no incident reports [submitted by residents] is because there are no city agencies at these meetings." He said the irregular participation by the DOT and the NYPD means that questions don't get answered.

He cited a photo (right) in Cotton's presentation meant to illustrate frustration caused by yet-to-be-installed street signs.

"Actually, that photo showed cars parked in a turning lane, which is illegal, and could be enforced without the no-parking signs," he said. "The problem is we’re not seeing everyone in the room together... The community has given up on the efforts of the state in terms of trying to bring everyone together."

For example, he said, "there's no street cleaning on Dean and Pacific [near the project]... we have illegal parking all over the place… This is the responsibility of the state, and you do have the ability to do something about it."

"Sometimes the impression is that the community is separated from elected officials, from agencies," he said. in conclusion. " I don’t think that’s a successful strategy to delivering a successful project over time. You’re dealing with a project that is going to be under construction for at least one generation. You have to do things differently."

Lost in translation

Earlier in the meeting, summarizing community issues raised at the most recent Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Meeting, at about 34:28 of the webcast, Jaiyesimi said, "More specifically, there were concerns about the traffic patterns, parking regulations, including installation of new parking signs, and just addressing some changes that have happened to construction fences around the project site."

Wait a second. The "concerns" had to do with cars improperly blocking bike lanes that couldn't be ticketed because no signs were up.

According to the meeting notes compiled by ESD:
Publicly accessible Open Space will be available at B11 and B14 in July. New parking regulation signs will be installed along Vanderbilt Avenue. Vehicles parked in the bicycle lane cannot be ticketed until signage is installed, and there is posted regulation to enforce. Following the construction update, there was a discussion about traffic conditions at the intersection of Atlantic and Sixth Avenues. The Developer will look into ways to improve site conditions, including restriping the intersection.
Jaiyesimi also cited "a conversation about Barclays Center operations and also the calendar of events for upcoming activities at the arena." That rather downplayed what was stated in the meeting notes:
A resident asked that non-ticketed events be added to the calendar of events so the community is aware of events at the arena. Barclays Center representatives will look into the request.
That issue is not insignificant: such events, including graduations and a recent protest rally by traditional Orthodox Jews have included crowd surges and traffic blocking.

Changes at the ESD

At 31:45 of the video, Phillips said, "Jeremy Cooney, who was with us for a short while, has transitioned to do some strategic work [with? for?] the governor’s office." (I heard it as “with” but maybe it was “for”.) Either way, Cooney's job is with Mercury LLC, a private company.

In the interim, Phillips said, Jaiyesimi has taken over that role, adding to her role as AY CDC director, and also the ESD's Project Director for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park.

Also, Senior Counsel Robin Stout has moved on to the Javits Convention Center, and has been replaced in his role by Lauren Axelrod.


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