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Double trouble for agency as Armory project is stalled.

The Empire State Development Corporation is facing new challenges in the redevelopment of the Seventh Regiment Armory into a cultural arts center.

On February 1, New York Supreme Court justice Marilyn Shafer placed a temporary restraining order on the ESDC to prevent it from seizing control of the property while she decides whether the state agency should be required to receive permission from the City Council to proceed with renovation plans.

The Seventh Regiment Armory, located on Park Avenue between 66th and 67th Streets, has served as home to the Veterans of the Seventh Regiment for more than a century. The Veterans had used the building as a meeting space, drill practice facility and partly as a venue for art exhibitions, in addition to converting the Armory into an emergency response center after September 11.

However, citing the building's state of disrepair, the ESDC has come up with a plan to turn the facility into a visual and performing arts center, spurring opposition from the Veterans. The temporary restraining order placed by justice Shafer will delay the ESDC' plans and might force the agency to follow an old New York State Constitution provision that requires the consent of the City Council to take over the management of the property.

In addition to taking legal actions, the Veterans had also sponsored an independent environmental review and assessment of the proposed ESDC project, accusing the agency of minimizing the impact of the project on the community.

According to Brian Ketcham, of Brian Ketcham Engineering, P.C., the ESDC under-represented the traffic, air pollution and noise that would result from the creation of a cultural arts center at the Armory.

"There were anomalies in the analysis itself. I compared baseline data the ESDC was reporting against city data for the area along Park Avenue and they were under-reporting [traffic]," Ketcham said. "It's a trick to get projects approved without litigation. And they underestimated the impact of the project itself--the number of trips it would generate in the community, the traffic near the streets [surrounding the Armory], they used a very crude model for estimating noise impact instead of the state noise model. All of this has an impact on air pollution and noise."

Ketcham said he has presented his findings to the local community board, but does not yet know whether the Veterans will file an additional complaint about the errors in the environmental review report. He did say, however, that the ESDC-sponsored analysis had a lot of holes in it.

"It has major flaws and needs to be fixed," he noted. "Until it is, nobody should approve this project."
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Author:Misonzhnik, Elaine
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Feb 22, 2006
Words:437
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