OKs Ratner’s demolitions
Bruce Ratner’s wrecking ball could start swinging as early as next
week, thanks to a state Supreme Court ruling Tuesday that cleared the
way for the developer to demolish five buildings that are part of his
Atlantic Yards mega-development.
Justice Carol R. Edmead ruled against a coalition of community groups
that argued that Ratner has no legal right to tear down the buildings
because his arena, residential and commercial project has not been formally
approved by the state.
“Being concerned about the impact of large projects is legitimate,
but is not a legitimate reason to stop these demolitions,” Edmead
said in a straight-from-the-bench ruling.
In December, the Empire State Development Corporation gave emergency permits
to Ratner to demolish the buildings, citing an engineering study that
they were about to collapse. Edmead’s ruling upheld those permits.
But in a victory for the community groups, Edmead ordered the lead state
agency on the project to dismiss a prominent environmental lawyer it hired
last year because he had previously worked on the project for Ratner.
The state must now replace the lawyer, David Paget, within 45 days, Edmead
ruled, citing “a crippling appearance of impropriety” and “a
taint on the process.”
“On the slim reed of public interest, he should be removed,”
Although flatly defeated on the larger issue of demolition, opponents
of the project hailed this part of the judge’s ruling.
“It shows that the court is concerned that the process to date has
not been objective and has been far too collaborative” between Ratner
and state authorities, said Jeffrey Baker, lawyer for Develop — Don’t
Destroy Brooklyn, the lead plaintiff in the case.
As Baker mulls whether to appeal the larger part of Edmead’s ruling,
Ratner moved briskly to capitalize on his win.
On Wednesday, workers in blue protective gear started clearing asbestos,
the first step towards next week’s demolition.
Within minutes of the work beginning, the Department of Buildings received
a complaint that Ratner was performing asbestos abatement at one of the
buildings without a properly posted permit. The developer does have a
permit for the asbestos work, although he still has not received a permit
to do any actual demolition.
The day before in court, community activists were watching every move
closely. Donning yellow “Develop — Don’t Destroy Brooklyn”
pins and cackling in protest at key moments of the hearing, Ratner opponents
were upbraided several times by Edmead, who eventually called in a police
officer to act as hall monitor.
With a blunt eye to larger ramifications of the case, Edmead alternated
between chastising Baker and his Ratner counterpart, Jeffrey Braun, showing
little tolerance when either tried to stretch arguments beyond the specifics
of the case.
“If you put a spin,” she told Baker, “your credibility
But at one point, she blasted Braun as “bone-headed” for claiming
that Ratner did not even have to inform state authorities that he intended
to demolish the buildings he owns.
And Baker scored points when he presented evidence showing that Ratner
had filed a demolition plan months before his engineer declared the buildings
an imminent danger.
But it was too little, too late; Edmead accepted Ratner’s argument
that the demolition was legal because the buildings are at risk of immediate
“There is no requirement for the hard look of environmental impact
review with [this] type of demolition,” she said.
The judge, however, was willing to give a hard look at the relationship
between the developer, the state agency and the lawyer, David Paget.
Edmead interrogated Braun after he said the relationship between Ratner
and ESDC is supposed to be collaborative.
“In the big picture, the issue of independent counsel is really important,”
Experts said Edmead’s ruling would bolster opponents’ contention
that state agencies must not collaborate with developers whose projects
are under review.
Atlantic Yards is still awaiting final state approval, which is expected
later this spring. DDDB’s failed attempt to block demolition was
in part motivated by fear that the sight of the wrecking ball would convince
less-committed area residents that Atlantic Yards is a done deal.
©2006 Community News Group