Judge OKs Ratner’s demolitions

The Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like Brooklyn Paper on Facebook.

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,” she said.

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 evaporates.”

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 collapse.

“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,” she said.

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.

Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like Brooklyn Paper on Facebook.

Reasonable discourse

Enter your comment below

By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:

You agree that you, and not or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.