Saturday, December 24, 2005


Will ESDC consider terrorism/security issues--and would Ratner build an under-arena garage?

Does Forest City Ratner still plan to build a parking garage--a tough-to-defend terrorist target--under the proposed Brooklyn Arena, the keystone of the Atlantic Yards plan? If not, where would arena parking go? And will the state Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) consider security and terrorism issues when it produces a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Atlantic Yards?

Those are three key questions as we await ESDC's issuance of a scope--the range of issues to be studied and study area to be considered--for the Atlantic Yards DEIS. The draft scope, written by consultants AKRF (hired by ESDC, but paid for by developer Forest City Ratner), brushes off challenges affecting police and fire service, and ignores larger security and terrorism issues, lapses that have drawn harsh criticism not only from critical local officials but also Community Boards around the project footprint. And it leaves the arena parking issue murky. (The draft scope also has been criticized for its treatment of traffic, parking, and pedestrian issues. Note that I originally wrote that FCR hired AKRF for the draft scope, not ESDC; FCR has hired AKRF on other aspects of the project.)

It's possible, based on the available evidence to be discussed below, that the developer no longer plans a garage under the arena, that additional parking may be planned offsite near public transit, and that the state review will be forced to confront the terrorism issue. If not, expect some major conflicts over these issues.

Some context about consultants AKRF, who have worked on projects ranging from Shea Stadium to Battery Park City. Obviously large developers value AKRF's work, but a frequent critic is Richard Lipsky, whose Neighborhood Retail Alliance lobbies for local businesses over big boxes and large developments. In a post on his blog, Lipsky wrote, "The AKRF folks are simply rationalizing their job which is to make a great deal of money by minimizing impacts and conducting dishonest research." In another post, Lipsky deemed AKRF "accommodating consultants" and "trained in the abject aping of its master’s whims."

But don't expect Lipsky to challenge AKRF's work on the Atlantic Yards project. He backs the development, despite Forest City Ratner's track record of bringing national chains to its Brooklyn properties. Lipsky, according to an 11/14/05 profile in the New York Observer, is getting paid by Ratner to organize an amateur sports league at the proposed Brooklyn arena and to do other lobbying for the developer's projects. Lipsky generally opposes projects that require eminent domain, but told the Observer, "If it was bringing in big-box stores or displacing other retailers, we might have different feelings."

The plan for a garage

An arena that can seat 18,000 to 20,000 people, even at one of the city's busiest mass transit hubs, would require associated parking, as would a significant amount of residential units--initially projected to be 4,500, now 7,300. At least that's what Forest City Ratner concluded in its early plans for the project. The first set of press releases, in December 2003, announced 3,000 underground parking spaces (1,100 for the arena + 1,900 for the housing development to the east), as noted in these architectural sketches .

The 2/18/05 Memorandum of Understanding between the developer and city/state agencies, shows underground parking beneath both the arena and housing (see p. 18 of the PDF), and describes how tax-exempt bonds would finance both the arena and "the on-site Arena garage" (see p. 6 of the PDF), which would apparently be under the building.

Since then, however, it's gotten murky. The 9/15/05 draft scope issued by the ESDC describes 4,000 parking spaces, including 2,100 to be built in the first (arena + surrounding towers) phase. It acknowledges: The study area has a very limited parking supply, and thus, the proposed project anticipates providing a substantial number of new spaces.

But the draft scope, prepared by the developer's consultants, does not specify that the parking would be underground. It does state that one challenge is to "assess the potential impacts associated with proposed parking facilities."

Does Forest City Ratner still plan an under-arena garage? Company spokesperson Lupe Todd did not respond to four queries. Staffers at Brooklyn Borough Hall also wouldn't answer that question (though they responded to others).

However, comments on the draft scope submitted by Borough President Marty Markowitz hinted that, given the parking crunch, more parking areas would be needed outside the proposed footprint: For arena events, however, the distribution of structured parking, particularly those near transit services, within at least approximately one mile should be estimated and analyzed.

Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN) secretary Jim Vogel commented, "There is no definite parking garage in the current plan as put forward by the developer, as far as we can tell. Until we can see exactly what is proposed there is nothing definite to respond to. As we have said by way of our statement of support for the new NIST [National Institute of Standards and Technology] guidelines, underground parking is problematic from a security point of view."

Problematic indeed, as architect Jonathan Cohn wrote on his Brooklyn Views blog: Does anyone really believe, post 9-11, that we’ll allow unchecked passenger vehicles to drive under an arena filled with 20,000 fans at events carried live on national TV? Could the vehicles be checked first? Proper checking takes time...

One solution, as Cohn observed, would be to try to prevent parking on neighborhood streets--a further incentive to use mass transit. At a Borough Board hearing on traffic and parking earlier this month, there was much discussion about the need to encourage use of mass transit, but there was no mention of the onsite garage.

Then again, a report in Oculus, the magazine of the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter, on Frank Gehry's late November appearance in New York, described "3,900 below-grade parking spaces." Do the architects know something the rest of us don't?

Downplaying security issues

Security gets short shrift in the ESDC's draft scope. One of the tasks, Task 5, addresses "Community Facilities and Services," including police and fire protection, schools, libraries, day care, and health care needs. The ability of both the police and fire departments to provide fire protective services for a new project usually do not warrant a detailed assessment under the state process, the document states, "only if a proposed project would affect the physical operations of, or access to and from," the fire and police stations.

Thus the draft scope does not propose detailed analyses of police and fire protection for the largest project in the history of Brooklyn. Note that Forest City Ratner has previously downplayed the cost of increased police and fire protection, though the city Independent Budget Office observed that "costs to the city for policing the new Nets arena could be significant."

Rather, for Task 5, the draft scope proposes analysis of public schools, libraries, health care facilities, and day care centers. That emphasis drew criticism from the CBN, which pointed out that Engine Company 219/Ladder Company 1 at 494 Dean Street abuts the project site, and the 78th Precinct at 65 6th Avenue is less than two blocks away--and both would be affected by construction, street closings, and traffic. Even Markowitz's submission to the ESDC said that "the impact of the induced traffic on emergency services should be assessed."

The three affected Community Boards were even more forceful in their testimony to the ESDC. CB6 pointed out:
Contrary to the project sponsor’s assertion, a full and detailed analysis of fire and police protection impacts must be performed. The project will result in the permanent loss of city streets, street and lane closures throughout the next decade, the removal of 2 bridges, the removal of excessive amounts of construction and demolition debris, the delivery of an excessive amount of building materials and the delivery and regular use of heavy construction machinery and equipment. Taken together, these impacts will prove a substantial impediment to mobility and access in an area that is already notoriously among the worst for baseline traffic conditions and pedestrian safety. Without question, the sheer size and duration of the project will directly affect the fire and police departments’ abilities to respond to emergency calls. Failure to analyze the project’s impacts on fire and police protection in detail will place our communities at an unacceptable and avoidable risk.

CB8 noted security concerns: Prior to the 9/11/2001 attack, a plan to destroy the Atlantic Avenue station was fortunately thwarted. Because of the real possibility of another incident on American soil, special attention needs to be paid to security concerns related to international or domestic terrorism. Recently released Department of Homeland Security's 15 National Planning Scenarios, covering both natural disasters and domestic or foreign attack, reveals that over half of these scenarios apply to the BAY project.
Among the possibilities: Truck bombs and/or car bombs entering, or just passing by, the BAY complex.

CB8 also asked about parking: Will parking in underground lots be restricted during arena events given the example of how parking has been restricted at the US Tennis Open in Queens? How might such parking restrictions impact traffic & thus impact evacuation and rescue operations as well as the local economy?

Was security discussed at the Borough Hall meetings aimed to provide input on the draft scope? Borough Hall spokeswoman Regina Weiss responded: On November 29, safety and security issues were discussed during the meeting of the Brooklyn Borough Board Committee on Atlantic Yards regarding community facilities. Representatives from the FDNY and NYPD advised the committee that they will be reviewing the plans for Atlantic Yards to make sure that all security concerns will be addressed.

I wasn't there, but CB2 district manager Robert Perris said the above description was "a fair summation of the discussion on the topic of security," though "To the best of my recollection, no aspect of security was discussed in detail."

Security issues beyond Task 5, "Community Facilities"

Because the draft scope doesn't include a separate section on terrorism, the meetings at Borough Hall haven't considered it. But the CBN, in its voluminous written testimony to the ESDC, stated: The EIS should include a section on Terrorism because the project site would meet several criteria that define a terrorist target of opportunity: a prior terrorist attack, the city’s third largest transit hub, a major sports arena, location under a La Guardia Airport flight path, the height and limited setbacks of buildings, and the large numbers of people living, working and visiting the site.
Risks. The EIS should disclose all significant risks associated with the location of the project and design of the buildings...

CB2 also commented to the ESDC: The EIS should include, to the degree that this is possible, discussion about the review by the New York Police Department of the project as a possible terrorist target. Transportation hubs and places of public assembly are documented potential targets. The most recent redesign of the “Freedom Tower” clearly indicates that there is a public interest in, and a public policy for, such a discretionary review.

Indeed, Bernard A. Tolbert, chief of security for the National Basketball Association, said in 2003: "While some of the security concerns like crowd control, scalpers and unruly fans have always been considerations, we now find ourselves looking at issues like potential suicide bombers, the vulnerability of heating and air conditioning intake systems, vehicle bombs and food supply chain safety."

Security analysts Christinia Cope and Alan Rosner warned in a July 2005 white paper that requirements for vehicle searches would cause "widespread traffic jams and extreme delays throughout downtown Brooklyn." Rosner, at the ESDC hearing in October, also asked that the scope be expanded to require that the NYPD (with the Deparment of Homeland Security) examine this project just as they did Ground Zero. See more coverage of security issues at NoLandGrab.

In October, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn commented to the ESDC that another arena site, notably Coney Island would be safer: Given the obvious concerns for traffic and security from terrorist attacks, to name a few, there are clearly alternative locations for the arena that may mitigate those impacts.

Expect more questions, and more discussion, especially when FDNY & NYPD provide the reports requested by Borough Hall. However, the Borough Hall meetings are a shadow to the ESDC process, and the bigger question is whether the revised scope, and the subsequent Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), will address security and terrorism issues with the seriousness required.

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