Friday, November 04, 2011

More from the AY District Service Cabinet: SEIS process begins; progress on noise complaints; James's dismay at lack of public input; still waiting for demand management plan

At yesterday's Atlantic Yards District Service Cabinet meeting, a bi-monthly meeting of involved agencies and developer Forest City Ratner held at Brooklyn Borough Hall, discussion included not only the timing of construction and jobs/compliance monitor, but ranged over multiple issues.

The summary:
  • Empire State Development (aka Empire State Development Corporation) has begun work on a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) regarding the impacts of an extended project buildout
  • In response to noise complaints, Forest City's contractors improved equipment and adjusted schedules to reduce impacts
  • FCR is supervising additional nearby infrastructure work that's not connected to Atlantic Yards but must be done before the arena opens
  • Council Member Letitia James expressed dismay at the lack of public input
  • A transportation demand management plan will arrive slightly later than initially promised
  • Rodent problems persist in some areas near the project site
  • No decision has been announced on the use of modular parking
  • The state has not yet hired a promised Atlantic Yards staffer
Contract for SEIS

ESD Atlantic Yards Project Director Arana Hankin said the agency has has begun work on an SEIS regarding the neighborhood impacts of an extended project buildout, as required by a judge in a decision the agency is nevertheless appealing.

Hankin said that, at its last board meeting, ESDC approved extension of its contract with environmental consultant AKRF for a “substantial amount.”

AKRF is beginning the process of working on the scope for an SEIS. After the draft scope is finalized in-house, she said, "we will be going to the public, soliciting comments.” No schedule has been set.

Late hours and noise

ESD, Hankin said, received several complaints regarding night work in the area of Times Plaza. The agency, she said, organized a meeting with the city Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to talk about potential mitigations.

DEP, she added, is committed to passing along 311 complaints, “so I'm able to respond quicker.”
While Hankin did not detail any changes, she later explained, in response to my query, that DEP had suggested sleeves for the jackhammer.

After ESD received the complaints, it had its consultant go out at 2 am to measure noise, along with FCR’s Adam Schwartz. “The contractor felt as though they were in compliance, but there were additional things that they could have been doing,” Hankin said.

Complaints declined after the change, she said. (Indeed, complaints about noise at Times Plaza have declined on Atlantic Yards Watch, but there are still numerous complaints about noisy work elsewhere: the railyard, garbage pick-up, Atlantic Avenue work.)

“We knew that the month of October was going to be noisy in the area of Flatbush, Fourth, and Atlantic, because of the depth of the roadway there, which required the use of jackhammers,” Marshall said, noting that the work had to be done in time for the New York City Marathon this Sunday.

More work coming

Marshall said more work is schedule in November, for about three weeks. “I think it's Verizon, as a private utility moving its infrastructure out of the way of the water main,” she said, “they have to face the same field conditions as we did, so there’s going to be jackhammering.. If they are same contractor that did our work, they will be using the least noisy version of jackhammering, which has to do with upgrading the equipment.”

Later, Council Member Letitia James asked if the work could be avoided at night.

Marshall said that the city DOT requires work from 10 pm to 6 am on busy roads.

“I don't know how many nights Verizon is going to do work,” Marshall said, referencing the fact that Verizon is clearing utilities for DEP’s water mains. “It’s not the water main work, it’s Verizon, I don’t know about their scope of work, so it‘s good to have this relationship with DEP so somebody can find out.”

James said she hoped ESDC knows, to ensure mitigation.

“The work that Jane's describing is not work that’s being done as part of Atlantic Yards,” Hankin observed. “Verizon is doing the work. We just happened to step in.”

“It doesn’t have to do with Atlantic Yards?”

“Not at all,” replied Hankin.

“It doesn't, but I just want to clarify one thing,” Marshall said. While the water main has nothing to do with Atlantic Yards, it has been accelerated because of the project. “Of that work were to be delayed, and then a year after the arena opens, this is the fear the city faced. They were worried that the arena would open and they'd be tearing up Atlantic Avenue and the sidewalk. That water main was accelerated as a capital project scope of work under DEP. So Forest City is actually overseeing the construction work of the water main... And the contractor that is doing that is the same that is doing our own sewer and water work.”

“So the city appointed Forest City Ratner to oversee the construction of a water main which has nothing to do with Atlantic Yards?” James asked.

“We're a contractor,” Marshall said.

“Basically we’re providing the oversight,” FCR's Bob Sanna added. “So we competitively bid that.”

“Because you’re there?” asked James.

“I guess that’s why,” Sanna said, “Frankly, we initially objected to it... but DEP prevailed.”

“Are you getting a fee to supervise this?” James asked.

“I'm not sure,” Sanna replied. (Really?)

DOT’s Chris Hrones said work must occur at night if the travel lane needs to be occupied.

James said she still hoped to minimize impacts.

Marshall said Forest City now asks its contractors to do jackhammering as early as possible after its permitted, “so it's not in early morning hours.”

When are plans coming?

When will the operational plan for the arena emerge? “I think we've always said the end of this year, the beginning of next year, which is still what we’re planning to do,” Hankin said.

Marshall said that involves event-day operations, such as a patron code of conduct; security and coordination with public safety agencies; operation of the parking facility; and the overall transit demand management plan.

“I think we're going to get to a place where we can deliver the plan sometime next year, for the public to comment next year,” Marshall said.

Actually, at the 6/14/11 public meeting on traffic issues, the agency was asked about such plans. The response noted that the FEIS requires the development and implementation of a Transportation Demand Management program for Arena opening:
TheTransportation Demand Management Plan is under development by FCRC, the Nets, and the Arena operations team and FCRC’s traffic and parking consultant Sam Schwartz Engineering (which has prepared these kinds of plans for Citi Field, among others). ESD and NYCDOT will be reviewing the Transportation Demand Management Plan as it is developed. It is anticipated that FCRC will be prepared to present the Transportation Demand Management Plan to the public for comment in about six months.
Well, precisely six months would be mid-December. It looks to have been nudged back.

More transportation concerns

Hankin acknowledged that elected officials had brought up the desire for a Transportation Working Group.

State Senator Velmanette Montgomery asked about the number of parking spaces available.

Marshall noted that the onsite parking has a maximum of 1100 spaces on Block 1129, while there will be additional discount remote garages served by free shuttle buses.

Madison Square Garden, she noted, “has not one parking space, those garages have figured out organically how to deal with event parking.” Unmentioned was that MSG is in a business district.

“Just to let you know how complicated this could be...we have to select the garages, negotiate with the garages, have to have shuttle route approved by DOT, do an RFP.”

Montgomery, who referenced “the current traffic crisis that we have at the [Atlantic/Flatbush/Fourth avenues] intersection, asked whether a lane of Atlantic Avenue that’s currently closed will be permanently closed.

Marshall said no.


The DOT’s Hrones said there will be four lanes going westbound, with three going east, along with a lay-by lane adjacent to the arena for pickups and drop-offs.

Montgomery said drivers were distressed by not being able to make a left off Atlantic until Classon Avenue.

Hrones said banning left turns is based on safety and congestion issues.

Montgomery said more dialogue was needed.

Need for transparency, public involvement

James said it was important for the community and elected officials not to provide input after the fact. “That's the purpose of a monthly interagency working groups. It relates to the security, because I still don't know what precinct is going to be in charge, the operation plan of the arena, and the transportation. It's simple: you're meeting now, why can't we be at the table?”

Hankin said she was happy to meet with the community.

“I appreciate you hearing them,” James riposted. “I don't want you to hear them, I want them to be incorporated.”

Hankin said it was a lot easier if there’s a draft plan to react to, but there’s no plan yet.

James pointed out that the ESDC in 2007 committed to such an interagency working group

“I understand the commitment made in 2007,” Hankin said, but “a lot of things have since changed... This body”--the District Service Cabinet--”was not formed in 2007.”

It was formed, James said, because “some elected officials, including myself” were concerned about the project and the absence of community involvement. She said Hrones was meeting with civic associations every night.

Carlo Scissura, long the Borough President’s chief of staff and now a special advisor as he campaigns to succeed Marty Markowitz, said Borough Hall should host a meeting of such block associations.

“I thank for you for that, Carlo,” James said, but questions remain regarding other issues, like security. For example, she said, we still don’t know what police precinct will have jurisdiction over the arena.

"Not how government should work"

She spoke with a palpable sense of grievance. “I just don't want to be in a position where, we are a couple of months out from opening this arena, you present us with a plan, and then say you’ve got 30 days to respond to it. It's just not fair. It’s just not right. That’s not how government should work. It's not transparent. It’s government from the top down as opposed to the bottom up. It's all the things that I abhor and everything that I oppose.”

“So I would hope that you would consider not only the views of community, this is coming from me”--James pointed to herself--” who I am, what I stand for. The way we are moving toward the opening day of this arena leaves the community on the outside looking in, as evident by the fact that they're back there.”

She referenced three Prospect Heights residents sitting on chairs behind her, likely a fraction of those who might come had the meeting not been held during business hours.

Lingering rodent issues

Forest City continues on its use of "best practices" at the construction sites, having ramped up this summer in response to complaints.

James noted that she and Forest City were contributing to a rodent-resistant trash can giveaway to residents of Atlantic Commons in Fort Greene, but there are ongoing problems at various sites in Prospect Heights.

“So, though I appreciate the trash cans, we continue to have a problem,” she said, asking if Forest City could supply an exterminator.

Marshall said the trash cans are as far as they can go outside the site. “It's more than just Forest City,” she said. “It's about people putting their trash out at the right times... We cannot exterminate on private property.”

James asked if trash can distribution could be expanded west of Fourth Avenue.

“We were not intending to expand the program,” Marshall said.

“At this juncture and or at all?”

“At this juncture and hopefully at all,” Marshall responded candidly.

James, chuckling, muttered, “I love Jane.”

Modular parking plan?

James asked if there would be surface parking on Block 1129 or multi-story, modular parking, as a report indicates.

Marshall said she didn’t know.

When will the decision be made.

“Early next year”

“First quarter?”

“Probably.”

New ESD staffer?

I later asked Hankin if the agency was closer to hiring a promised Government & Community Relations Manager, essentially the successor to Forrest Taylor, who left in June.

“I’m pushing hard,” said Hankin, who in August sounded hopeful someone would be hired soon. It’s apparently not a priority of the administration--and it serves Forest City Ratner’s interest.

Next cabinet meeting

The next meeting of the District Cabinet is tentatively set for Thursday, January 5, at 9:30 am at Borough Hall.

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