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Is giant Dean Street fence for construction mitigation or to protect improper worker parking? State obfuscates (and says fence will be re-evaluated in six months)

Also see coverage of the AY CDC meeting regarding project timing.

So, is the giant 16-foot construction fence--which needs more support than the typical 8-foot one--encroaching on a good portion of Dean Street outside the southeast block of the project site there to mitigate noise from construction activities?

Or does it mostly provide free parking for construction workers, thus benefiting developer Greenland Forest City Partners?

Free parking inside Dean Street construction fence, 6/7/17
The fence, justified when vertical construction was ongoing for the 535 Carlton and 550 Vanderbilt towers, remains in place for those mitigation reasons, state officials insisted at the meeting 6/6/17 of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC).

They claimed there was ongoing construction behind that fence, despite evidence to the contrary. Nor had they publicly acknowledged the fence had already been partially reconfigured.

An undisclosed change

The discussion began at about 37:40 of the webcast. Board member Jaime Stein noted that the board had been told that the fence would remain at 16 feet to mitigate noise and dust impacts. She said that she'd noticed, and been informed by community members, that the fence had been decreased to 8 feet on Dean Street opposite the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) facility near Carlton Avenue.

Stein asked how that happened and what the impact was.

Tobi Jaiyesimi, AY CDC executive director and the Atlantic Yards project manager for Empire State Development (ESD), the state authority overseeing and shepherding the project, didn't clarify the issue, suggesting that the fence was in front of some open space currently being worked on.

Free parking inside Dean Street construction fence, 12/6/16
ESD planner Rachel Shatz related that the USPS approached the city Department of Transportation, which in turn approached the state authority. "They had logistical conflicts with being able to enter into their loading base," she said. So to allow USPS trucks to make turns, "we would reduce the fence height so we could move those barriers back. It was a safety issue over mitigation."

"I don’t remember being informed of that," Stein responded, in diplomatic rebuke. "I sort of view the role of the board to oversee the enactment of the mitigations."

"I may have been mistaken," Shatz said, regarding informing the board. "It went in a response letter to DSBA [Dean Street Block Association]," which last fall raised concerns about the fence once the developer announced an unspecified delay in project construction. (See letters below.)

"Ongoing construction activity"

"I understand there have been requests by community to reduce the full length of the fence," Jaiyesimi said. "It is for mitigation measures, there is still ongoing construction activity that’s happening at the fence."

"I think there’s also a dumpster right behind the shortened fence," Stein said, "so I’m wondering, what’s the impact on the folks right across the street, who are meant to benefit from 16 feet?"

Below is a 4/7/17 video of a garbage truck operating behind the lowered fence. (It's gone now.)

"I think we need to review site conditions," Shatz said, and colleagues concurred.

Moving the fence back

"My concern isn’t the height of the fence," added board member Linda Reardon, acknowledging the height was necessary during active construction. "Could the fence location laterally, not of height, be shifted around the rest of the block, given the safety concerns that have been voiced about the current traffic configuration there, with bicycles alongside buses in a very constrained width?"

"Especially since we were told there would not be active construction there for a while," Reardon added, "could the fence be located further back, to mitigate the traffic safety concerns?"

The 16-foot fence requires more barriers for support
"We’ve asked the developer to consider that, but apparently there’s space that’s needed within the site, for their equipment and whatever vehicles are needed to get around the site," Shatz replied. "And that to move it in is a huge undertaking, first of all, because of what has to be dismantled… the size and the weight of the cement blocks. It didn’t seem reasonable to us to ask them to keep moving it in and back."

(The challenge must not be that huge if the fence was partly moved to accommodate the USPS. That said, ESD has asserted that it would be impossible to both move the fence back and keep at at 16 feet, because of the support structure behind the taller fence.)

Reardon asked for further information about the circulation needs behind the fence, "because the cost to me doesn’t seem to be equal to the safety concerns on the public side."

Shatz said there "there are no concerns from the emergency vehicles."

(Actually, some have been stalled by traffic jams, as indicated in the screenshot below, from 7/10/15 post.)

"And we’ve made observations on the site about how the buses can access" the block, Shatz said, "and it's fine, unless someone illegally parks on the other side of the street, which is an illegal condition." (Of course that means the margin of error is smaller.)

Shatz noted that moving the fence back would not restore parking on the block: "there didn’t seem to be enough of a win in the whole package."

Impact of project timing

A longer delay could change things, officials acknowledged.

"If we are here six months ago and there’s no work, and there’s still no determination there’s going to be work, we agree 100%," said ESD Senior VP Marion Phillips III. "We’re looking at six months, a year, 18 months with no construction, it’s a different conversation... Right now, we do not believe, based on conversations, we’re going to be in a long period of no work. Right now there is work going on behind the fence. But in terms of when they’ll start going vertical again, it could be sooner rather than later."

(As shown in the map below, which I annotated and published last October, B11 and B14 are finished, but B12 and B13 construction has not started.)

"Is around six months a trigger?" asked board member Cy Richardson.

"I think it gives us a better perspective to approach the developer: 'Do you have a timetable?'" Phillips responded. "If the answer is no, it’s easier for us to make another request." (Representatives of the developer, though present at the meeting, were not asked about the timing.)

"We constantly ask that, and they’re constantly evaluating," Phillips continued. "But we’ll get the information you asked for, which is the type of work going on behind the fence."

A rebuke from the public

The only public commenter was Peter Krashes of DSBA, at 1:43:45 of the webcast. He noted that the DSBA sent a letter regarding the green wall last fall, after the halt of vertical construction. "The [ESD] response described our request as being the lowering of the height, which is not correct; we were asking for the wall to be moved back."

"Marion’s letter said it was never anticipated that there would be a change in the height, which exactly what happened, because of USPS," Krashes added. "To my knowledge, the notice of the lowering came from Dean Street letter to ESD, not the ESD’s letter to us." The block association has not received a response to its second letter.

Krashes noted that the fence was "put in place in the middle of the street, without any outreach to the existing businesses, at least two of them which have the same loading dock issues as the post office."

"The fence is magnifying the construction impact over time on that block rather than reducing it," he said, noting the "dumpster"--actually a truck rather than a receptacle--caused the most noise.

Krashes added a larger critique of the project. "This is somehow the lesson that ESD has never learned, which is that a 10-year project becomes a 30-year project, a delay in construction that may be four months becomes two years. That mitigation needs to change, you need to be flexible and adjust."

"And I would add that there is very little construction happening behind the fence," he said, "and the construction that is happening is parking for construction workers, which is illegal." (It's likely improper, if not illegal.)

An exchange of letters (full text embedded at bottom)

Free parking inside Dean Street construction fence, 6/7/17
The DSBA on 12/6/16 wrote to ESD President Howard Zemsky:
In October, Greenland Forest City Ratner [sic] announced delays in starting construction for B13 and B12. With no concrete construction schedule for those sites, we believe the street would be safer and the community’s quality of life improved, with the fence moved temporarily to restore Dean Street’s full travel lane, parking lane and northern sidewalk to the public.

Since the placement of the fence on Dean Street adjacent to the B13 and B12 lots, the sidewalk and street bed behind the fence have primarily been used for construction worker parking.
ESD's Phillips responded 3/2/17, writing that the fence:
will be maintained at 16 feet due to its ability to mitigate significant adverse noise impacts and construction staging logistics...
Reducing the fence height to eight (8) feet would not result in restoring a vehicular travel lane... [or] restoring parking on Dean Street or widening of the northern sidewalk."

Per the Developer, temporary Open Space construction on the B11 and B14 Sites will be ongoing from the first quarter through the third quarter of 2017. There is no anticipated construction schedule for B12 and B13 currently; however, construction activity may increase in the fall of 2017. In the interim, B12 and B13 sites will be used for construction staging activities related to work ongoing at the rail yard until such time that they are needed for building construction. The Developer also indicated that the Memorandum of Environmental Commitments (MEC), which requires the fence, calls for a 16 foot fence, and does not contemplate installation of multiple fences of varying heights.

Additionally, a construction noise barrier height comparative analysis was conducted in November 2014... [it] determined that the lower 8-foot barrier height would result in increased noise levels primarily at the second and third floors of residential buildings on the south side of Dean Street across from Block 1129.
The DSBA responded 3/21/17 (emphases in original):
From your reply, we understand the primary issues related to the fence are:
... significant adverse noise impacts and construction staging logistics.
Since the wall’s inception, the Dean Street Block Association has worked on the noise mitigation issues listed in the Memorandum of Environmental Commitments (MEC). We advocated successfully for double paned windows and have long advocated for Empire State Development (ESD) to identify the level of noise reduction sought via the current mitigation.
The community’s primary request is for the fence to be moved north [to] provide full access of Dean Street and the northern sidewalk, not for a height reduction. In your response, you state:
Reducing the fence height to eight (8) feet would not result in restoring a vehicular travel lane on Dean Street. The shorter 8-foot fence would be positioned atop a smaller concrete jersey barrier, which would provide only an additional approximately five feet of space to the existing vehicular travel lane.
On this matter, we agree. The community is not seeking a mere five feet of travel lane access. We’re seeking full access to the street and sidewalk. Moving the fence will help in the following ways:
1. Reduce the enhanced vehicular noise bouncing from the walls into our homes and businesses
2. Limit traffic congestion and therefore lowering noise levels
3. Improve emergency response (from the great women and men at Engine 219 and Tower Ladder 105)
4. Support our local businesses with their day-to-day operations
Additionally, your letter states:
The Developer also indicated that the Memorandum of Environmental Commitments (MEC), which requires the fence, calls for a 16 foot fence, and does not contemplate installation of multiple fences of varying heights.
Yet, today a multi-height fence is exactly what exists. Today’s fencing is considerably lower across from 588 Dean than from 620 Dean Street. So installation of fences “of varying heights” has been accomplished..
To ensure common ground and understanding, we thought to list activities related to block 1129 on Dean Street.
• Eastbound route for the B65 Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) bus line
• Eastbound bike lane travel per New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT)
• Access for over 7 parcel trucks from the United States Postal Service (USPS)
• Access for multiple daily visits from 18-wheel USPS trucks coming from their East New York facility
• Move-in staging for new residents of 535 Carlton Avenue
• Vehicular access for existing businesses
• Pedestrian access for current community members
• Pedestrian access for the new residents of 535 Carlton Avenue and 550 Vanderbilt Avenue
And as stated in the preceding letter (dated December 22, 2016), the current area behind the fence (street bed and sidewalk) is primarily utilized for construction worker private vehicle parking, which is illegal per the NYC DOT’s MPT requirements.
As you note:
... construction activity may increase in the fall of 2017.
Per this statement, we understand that activity may not increase. The Developer’s track record coupled with public announcements related to continuing the development of B12 and B13 lead to the potential for ongoing delays. With no concrete construction schedule for those sites, we believe the street would be safer and the community’s quality of life improved with the fence moved temporarily to restore Dean Street’s full travel lane, parking lane and northern sidewalk to the public. We believe that the quality of life and safety improvements outweigh the mitigations you state.
DSBA Letter - Green Construction Fence 12-6-16 by Norman Oder on Scribd


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