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At AY CDC meeting, no timetable for new buildings; will green wall be pulled back?

This is among several articles regarding the 10/17/17 meeting (video) of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC). Also see the timetable for 38 Sixth, and the issue of middle-income units going begging.

The bottom line from the meeting: there's no timetable for new buildings, no timetable for the project as a whole, and just maybe the giant green wall (right) on Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues might get pulled back.

Marion Phillips III, an executive at Empire State Development and president of the subsidiary AY CDC said that construction at the B15 site (664 Pacific) remains "stalled due to site access negotiations."

The issue is murky: a lawsuit with a neighbor has been resolved regarding construction safety, but either negotiations continue either with that neighbor or another. But despite the desire for a middle school at that site, there may not be a business reason for Greenland Forest City Partners to move forward on a market-rate rental tower.

Another contract extension for monitor

In another sign of stasis, the board was told that the one-year extension on the ten-year contract of the project environmental monitor HDR--which the AY CDC endorsed last March--should be extended one more year.

ESD had assumed it would conduct a new request for proposals (RFP) for a potential replacement before HDR’s contract expired, the uncertain nature of the project’s phasing—notably, the stall in construction and brewing plans for a huge shift in bulk to Site 5—argued for a short-term extension rather than a new solicitation and possibly a new monitor.

In March, Phillips said the ESD'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. 

This week, though, he indicated they were kicking the can down the road, saying that, despite no new construction, ESD needs a monitor for work at the railyard, infrastructure, and the 38 Sixth Avenue (B3) site.

Board member Jaime Stein, who had resisted the previous vote, asked again if there were an opportunity to revisit the scope of monitoring.

"At this time it doesn’t make a lot of sense to initiate a new contract because we don’t know where the project is heading," Phillips said. "Going forward, it’s difficult to create a scope of work." However, when the Site 5 project emerges, "that will definitely. shift what’s going on."

He said the guiding document, the Memorandum of Environmental Commitments, in Section 0 lists the scope of work. "It’s hard to reopen negotiation where the scope has already been determined," he said.

After Stein suggested looking at Section O and getting public comment, Phillips said "it’s irresponsible" to issue an RFP given project uncertainty. He added that some suggested changes, "in terms us being able to monitor city agencies, I don’t think that’s within our scope."

What about the green wall?

Project neighbors have long complained about the giant green wall encroaching on Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenue, 16 feet high (double the typical height) and extended into the street, justified as blocking noise and dust during construction. It squeezes bicyclists, vehicles, and pedestrians, as indicated in photo above right.

Currently the wall is gone outside the finished B11 (550 Vanderbilt) and 535 Carlton (B14) sites, and pushed back at the B12 site toward the western end of the block, opposite a post office facility that needs the turning radius.

But it's still at the B13 site. "Part of B13 is used for construction siting for open space and the completion of" infrastructure, Phillips said, "so that portion of the wall can’t come down."

Actually, as the photo I took yesterday, the extended portion of the site seemed used only for parking, the rest of the equipment and materials behind the sidewalk line.

"As long as they’re still working on the railyard and the open space, B13 is where they’re doing their siting," Phillips said.

Stein said community members had told her that the fence across from the post office had been moved back behind the sidewalk and lowered to eight feet, prompting Tobi Jaiyesimi, AY CDC executive director and ESD's Atlantic Yards project manager to say, "No portions of the 16 foot fence were lowered to eight feet, it was only moved laterally to property line."

As the photo below shows, there's an eight-foot fence at the property line.

In a public comment, resident Gib Veconi said Phillips' explanation "doesn’t square with the history of project." There was extensive staging on Block 1129 for arena construction, without a 16-foot fence. The latter was justified not because of staging, but because of noise from the construction of high-rise buildings. He suggested the AY CDC reconsider.

Peter Krashes of the Dean Street Block Association said that the fence had been lowered and moved. "If this is mitigation for noise," he said. " don’t think it makes any sense. It causes extreme disruption on Dean Street. Noise is actually caused by the fence, not lessened." (Note, for example, this traffic jam.)

Forest City New York's Ashley Cotton, representing Greenland Forest City Partners, said, "it was just an eight-foot fence pushed back." (If so, that means that the fence encroaching on the street had already been reduced to eight feet, which was unlikely.)

She said that the developer has "moved more of our railyard construction team onto this site," as well as employees "relocated out of Atlantic Terminal, because we no longer own that mall." A security  guard will be posted to prevent unauthorized access.

"As discussed, there is not noise mitigation happening at this site, that’s why it’s eight feet already," she said, in a statement that begs the question as to why the rest couldn't be eight feet.

Cleaning up B15

Krashes noted that, though the justification of the project is to "eliminate blight.. that is not occurring," given construction impacts and the long-standing failure to pick up garbage around the B15 site… We’re seeing a reversal of development progress in this whole area."

He noted that rats, garbage, and weeds persisted around B15 all summer, as well as a large hole in the sidewalk on Pacific Street, all repaired and cleaned up belatedly.

(As shown in the photo at right taken yesterday, it has been mostly cleaned up, though cigarette butts persist.)

Cotton said, "I do want to say the situation is not acceptable, it has been fixed. It will be fixed on an ongoing basis, not a one-time basis."

Other ongoing construction

Cotton said work on Atlantic Avenue was hoped to be finished in November, but will take until late December, "because of the usual construction conditions."

The MPT--barriers--on Atlantic Avenue near Sixth Avenue also should be removed this winter, "hopefully in December," she said.

Construction on the West Portal, a new connection from the Vanderbilt Yard, where trains are stored and serviced, to Atlantic Terminal, is complete, Cotton said. (Curiously enough, she used the term "Atlantic Yards" for Vanderbilt Yard.)

The next step is to connect the railyard to Atlantic Terminal, so, on two consecutive weekends, beginning December 2 and December 9, trains in and out of Atlantic Terminal will be suspended, with work beginning late Friday night and through early Monday morning.

Railyard complete?

What's the timing for railyard completion, asked board member Barika Williams. (I had pointed to evidence that the permanent railyard was supposed to be finished either this year or next.)

"It’s always tough to answer," Cotton said, because the railyard is being built along with structures to create a platform to support buildings. "So the idea when nothing’s happening there is when the park is open."

(That would be 2025 at best. But it still didn't answer when the promised permanent railyard--seven tracks--would be working.)

Veconi noted statements that permanent railyard was supposed to be done at end of the end of year. "It would be really helpful to have you guys nail that down." He said there was a contract with the MTA. Jaiyesimi said she'd follow up.

Open space, and the fence

Veconi also said that project documents required that parcels not being used for development be turned into temporary open space.

Board member Linda Reardon proposed that the fence be removed on Block 1129 and and temporary open space be required. "How to do make it as formal request?"

"You just did," Phillips said, though no vote would be taken. He said ESD had already "started having conversations with the developer," presumably about taking the fence back, if not creating open space. He promised "a conversation about the plan" in the next several weeks.


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