Following a meeting in which a state official admitted that developer Forest City Ratner was in violation of an agreement by not having a community liaison at the Atlantic Yards site full time, the company agreed to mend its ways.
At a contentious meeting between two Prospect Heights block associations and state and Forest City Ratner officials, Rachel Shatz, vice president for planning and environmental review at the New York Empire State Development Corporation, said, when questioned, that because the liaison was only at the 22-acre mega-project once or twice a week, Forest City Ratner was violating the Memorandum of Environmental Commitments in which it promised to “maintain an on-site construction coordinator to function as a liaison between FCRC and the community with respect to construction-related issues.” (See full memo in the photo gallery, the relevant passage is on page 21, section 8.)
This morning, Joe DePlasco, a Forest City Ratner spokesman said via e-mail that while the company already has “two people who are on the site consistently and full time at least two days a week,” from now on the developer “will ensure that there is at least one person always on the site during working hours.”
Meanwhile, the ESDC’s top spokeswoman, Elizabeth Mitchell, denied that the mega-developer was ever in violation, saying that the agreement never specified how many hours the liaison had to be on site.
Peter Krashes, president of the Dean Street Block Association, called the response “bittersweet.”
“It’s a positive step that they’re responding,” he said, but added that the issue has been going on “for quite awhile.”
“The fact that it takes a public meeting and someone like me drilling down on the question to get them to respond is sad,” he said.
He added that he wasn’t even sure the change would make a difference.
“The community liaison is only effective and responsive if the people she reports to are responsive. … At this point the trust is broken.”
Illegal Parking and Residential Parking Permits
At last night’s meeting, which was organized by the Dean Street and Carlton Avenue block associations and attended by about 50 people who crowded into the Soapbox Gallery on Dean Street, residents also complained about construction workers and police personnel illegally parking their cars in bus stops, no-standing zones and even on sidewalks without getting ticketed.
Krashes said that a recent survey conducted by community members along with Transportation Alternatives found 83 illegally parked cars, 12 with goggles, hard hats or other construction gear inside, and 11 with phony police placards.
The ESDC’s Arana Hankin said she has repeatedly asked the 78th Precinct to ticket the cars and Forest City Ratner officials to stop their construction workers from parking illegally.
One official said that construction workers are fired if they park illegally three times, but community members were skeptical the rule was being enforced, since they say the illegal parking is rampant.
"I’ve been in this neighborhood for 11 years and I’ve never had parking problems like this," said Eustace Greaves Jr., an area business owner.
Residents again asked for residential parking permits, and once again, Chris Hrones of the city’s Department of Transportation said his office would look into it, but added that he didn’t “want anybody to get the impression it’s a done deal.”
After the meeting, Hrones said that although there are no areas in the city that have residential parking permits (the permits in Forest Hills are on private land), that doesn’t rule out the possibility for the Atlantic yards area.
“I think this is a unique situation and we’re willing to take a look,” he said.
More Trees for Prospect Heights?
Another issue that came up was a request from resident Alexa Bradley for more trees and landscaping on side streets. Currently the DOT has a plan to add some trees on Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, and Forest City Ratner said it would put trees around the perimeter of its surface parking lot.
But Bradley said that wasn’t enough, saying that the community was being asked to make a “huge sacrifice” for the arena and at the very least, the developer could do some additional landscaping.
“I want to see a state-of-the-art greenscaping plan that just blows us all away,” she said, adding, “because maybe then there will be something good about this.”
Anger and Frustration
The meeting was filled with anger and frustration from the residents, which rose every time one of the officials said in response to a question that they would work out a plan in the future to deal with specifics of traffic management and other concerns.
Anger bubbld over when one of the officials asked how many of the attendees actually lived in the neighborhood (almost everyone in the room raised their hands).
“I think you are a little disrespectful, we are the people who live here and we are here to talk to you,” said resident Szymon Radziszewicz.
“When you guys come and talk to us, there is often a perception that you guys are minimizing the complaints,” added Krashes.
“The expectation is that you can provide us with some sort of master plan or some forethought. … What is nothing works, if everything fails, what is the worst cases scenario?” said Jimmy Greenfield, who owns the Soapbox Gallery. “Be honest with us, finally, be honest with us.”
To which Hankin replied, “"The situation is not going to be perfect, the people who live on Dean Street and Carlton are going to inconvenienced.”
“There is going to be a lot of traffic and a lot of pedestrians,” she added. “We're trying to mitigate as best we can.”