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At uneventful AY CDC teleconference meeting, no updates on platform or affordability, but claimed commitment (amid doubt) regarding affordable housing deadline

The first virtual meeting of the advisory Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, held yesterday by teleconference, was brief, under 40 minutes, and mostly uneventful, punctuated by static and sometimes less than audible statements.

No member of the public submitted a public comment by the deadline, the previous afternoon, and there was no opportunity for public comment after the agenda items.

There was a significant discussion of the plans, yet unrevealed, to meet the 2025 deadline for affordable housing, with the developer alluding to ongoing negotiations, yet unresolved, with the Long Island Rail Road to build the first phase of the platform.

That platform, expected to take three years, will support three towers, likely two of which must be built by the deadline. Note that master developer Greenland Forest City Partners, dominated by Greenland USA, last year predicted that first phase would start in early 2020 and be finished by 2022.

There was no discussion, however, of the level of affordability of either the ongoing units or future ones, though evidence suggests all or most under construction will be geared to middle-income households earning over $100,000.

President’s presentation

Joining AY CDC President Marion Phillips III, an ESD official, were Scott Solish of Greenland USA and Amir Stein of TF Cornerstone, but only Solish spoke. Phillips told the participants that the B15 and B4 towers were making progress--as indicated in the recent Quality of Life meeting and in the presentation at bottom--and expected to top off by the end of August and the end of September, respectively.

He said construction workers are required to go through temperature checks and wear masks on site, and are reminded about “being a good neighbor”—an oblique reference to concerns from local residents that some workers don’t wear masks while in the streets.

Later, AY CDC Executive Direcctor Tobi Jaiyesimi, summarizing issues raised at the bimonthly Quality of Life meetings, merely said that concerns had been raised regarding such workers not wearing masks in the community.

Unresolved issues

Phillips was predictably vague on several pending issues, noting that, while permits for the B5 tower—the first over the railyard—have been filed, that is “part of a long design review process.”

Meanwhile, Greenland USA is working with the Long Island Rail Road regarding approvals for the platform needed to construct B5 and two adjacent towers over the first of two railyard blocks, between Sixth and Carlton avenues, and Pacific Street and Atlantic Avenue. Once an update is available, Phillips said, “it will be made available.”

He said they had no update on plans for construction at Site 5, catercorner to the Barclays Center and currently home to Modell’s and P.C. Richard, nor ongoing lawsuits between original developer Forest City Ratner and P.C. Richard, which won a lower court ruling requiring that it be guaranteed space in a future building at that site.

Affordable housing

Board member Gib Veconi asked for an update on plans for the platform. “We are in discussions with a contractor and LIRR,” said Solish, not offering any prediction on timing.

Once the contractor is engaged, how long would it take to mobilize, asked Veconi.

That could happen quickly, but it all depends on the (unresolved) construction schedule for the railyard platform, Solish said.

From ESD
Veconi asked for the strategy to build the remaining 876 affordable units, an issue he's pressed on as a member of the BrooklynSpeaks coalition.

“I don’t think Scott has broken it out yet,” Phillips said.

Solish noted that his company has been in discussion with city and state affordable housing agencies regarding “opportunities for affordable housing,” and that the conversations today are different, “given ever-changing budget issues.”

“Meanwhile, design and planning for those buildings is ongoing, and we intend to meet the requirements,” he said.

Veconi noted that most recent Exhibit M (see below) showed that B5, B6, and B7 each would be 50% affordable. (While that might offer a pathway to the affordable total, it seems unlikely the third building would be finished by 2025, and even the second might be a stretch.)
Sept. 2019; my annotations show 200 affordable units at B12/B13, but there will be 240
Phillips said that Exhibit M gets amended after each building comes online, so “I’m not sure we can use it to project out.” (Indeed, it’s likely that at least one new tower will be 100% affordable, or at least more than 50%.)

Veconi repeated a previous concern, noting that the platform could take three years, so “the concern is only getting larger, in terms of meeting the deadline.”

Questions from directors

Director Cy Richardson asked if any of the project sites were damaged or vandalized during the recent protests.

AY CDC Executive Director Tobi Jaiyesimi said none of the sites were damaged.

Richardson asked if the developer had been monitoring the site.

“There was no actual damage,” Solish said, but there was some minor graffiti. “We usually have security at the sites.”

No one mentioned the significant graffiti at the Barclays Center, most of which was removed quickly, or the metal wayfinding sign permanently dislodged and made part of a conflagration.

Director Daniel Kummer asked about further action by the ESD board on the issue, deadlocked last year at the AY CDC, regarding changes to the project plan to allow underground space for Chelsea Piers below B12 and B13.

Phillips said that “the ESD directors did approve modifications” to the project’s guiding General Project Plan. Jaiyesimi said that, in response to directors’ concerns, the open space design would be reconfigured, with play area shifted to avoid ventilation structures.

Veconi said he recently attended a virtual meeting at which a tenant at 535 Carlton raised several concerns, including renewal leases that required long printouts (rather than fillable PDFs), erroneous or absent rent calculations, and missing new leases.

Solish said Pinnacle City Living was still managing 535 Carlton and 38 Sixth, but the onsite manager left the company in mid-May and a new manager has taken over. He said a meeting had already been set up with tenants.

A new ESD chair, and a request for video

One piece of news regarded the meeting’s presiding officer: Empire State Development (ESD), the AY CDC’s parent authority, has a new Chairman, Steven M. Cohen, appointed last week to succeed Howard Zemsky. (The latter was both Chairman and CEO; Eric Gertler remains CEO.)

Cohen was formerly a top aide to Andrew Cuomo as both Governor and Attorney General, as well as an attorney in private practice and in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.

At the end of the meeting, board member Ethel Tyus, chair of Community Board 8, said she believed that the decision not to meet using video meant the state was out of compliance with the Open Meetings Law.

Phillips said that a gubernatorial executive order overrode that law.

Cohen said that video is “something we can consider,” noting that for some meetings it’s helpful and for others it’s counterproductive.

“I am a Brooklynite,” he said. “I raised my three kids in Brooklyn, my father and mother are from Brooklyn.” (It’s unclear whether he still lives in Brooklyn; he didn’t mention a neighborhood, and his LinkedIn bio says “New York, NY.”)

“I am delighted to be on this board," Cohen said. "And I do look forward to getting to know all of the board members, but also the members of the community who have an interest in this project… If you are patient with me, I will be available to you.”