Today’s news:

It’s unconstitutional! Yards foes pull out new ace in the hole

The Brooklyn Paper

Lawyers for a declining number of holdout residents of the Atlantic Yards footprint may have found the silver bullet in their ongoing battle against state plans to condemn properties for developer Bruce Ratner: the state Constitution.

Though the United States Supreme Court opted last month not to hear the tenants’ and property owners’ challenge to the state’s use of eminent domain power to facilitate the Ratner mega-project, lawyers filed suit last week in New York State Supreme Court citing a clause in the state’s Constitution that bars public money from underwriting any urban renewal project unless “the occupancy of any such project shall be restricted to persons of low income.”

Ratner’s development, which is slated to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in direct public subsidies and tax breaks, includes thousands of units of market-rate housing. That appears to be a violation of Article 18, Section 6 of the state Constitution, which was adopted during the Depression.

The latest suit to halt the $4-billion, 16-skyscraper project comes after three federal courts — including the highest court in the land — declined to rule on the plaintiff’s principal argument, namely that state officials agreed to condemn land for Ratner in a “sham” process that touted the project’s supposed public benefits as a “pretext.”

But plaintiff’s lawyer Matt Brinckerhoff believes that his existing argument, coupled with the interpretation of New York’s Constitution, will win the day in state court.

“The language is plain,” he said. “That clause was written during the Depression for the clear purpose of clearing slum conditions with state subsidies and that any subsidized slum replacement must create low-income housing and nothing else. That is what the law says. There is no nuance.”

A spokesman for the Empire State Development Corporation, which has argued that it must use eminent domain to eliminate “blight” around the Atlantic Yards site, declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation. Brinckerhoff said that ESDC would most likely argue that the Depression-era language of Article 18, Section 6 does not apply to the modern Atlantic Yards project.

Briefs are due in November and arguments in the case are expected in January, 2009. That timeline would throw a monkey wrench into Ratner’s stated goal of beginning construction this fall, though that schedule is already in jeopardy due to the economic downturn (see main story).

Eleven plaintiffs were on the most-recent federal version of the case, but that number has dropped to nine. Neither of the two former plaintiffs have sold out to Ratner, according to Daniel Goldstein, spokesman for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn.

“They chose not to be on the suit,” he said.

Goldstein was also hopeful about the chances for the state court suit.

“Ratner and the ESDC want people to believe that the federal courts have all affirmed the project’s public benefits, but none of those courts did that,” he said. “Rather, they simply chose not to rule on the merits.”

Brinckerhoff believes that the state court will.

“This same court, just one year ago, invalidated a proposed [eminent domain] taking on the grounds that it did not have a public benefit,” he said. “That is our argument here.”

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Reader Feedback

al pankin from downtown says:
another waste of time with another losing argument, the laywer's are on life support.
Aug. 8, 2008, 9:18 am
RobW from PS says:
Goldstein and his Milken-money doesn't even live there any more. What a farce.
Aug. 8, 2008, 10:26 am
Daniel Goldstein from Prospect Heights says:
Goldstein here.

1st: I don't live here any more? Of course I do, it's my home. That is an absurd statement.

2nd: Though you seemingly would like to think that I'm the only person fighting the use of eminent domain in court, there are other homeowners, rent-stabilized tenants, commercial property owners and commercial tenants (the beloved Freddy's) on the lawsuit. We're all here.

3rd: Milken money? What are you talking about?
Aug. 8, 2008, 2:35 pm
Charles from PS, Bklyn says:
Hey RobW, get used to being wrong about a great many things.

One is the new lawsuit in state court, which seems to have a pretty good argument for killing this project. Who would have thought it would come down to a little known prohibition on government power in our state constitution. I read Article 18, section 6, and it seems to be designed to prevent the exact type of corruptive, flawed eminent domain taking and government facilitation of individual private developers that the Atlantic Yard developement represents.

For New Yorkers, this is one of the many times when we have to say, I love New York.
Aug. 8, 2008, 8:32 pm
Bob from Brooklyn says:
Daniel, you are pathetic.

We know you're acting out your oedipal fantasy of fighting your daddy (who is of course, a real estate developer). Could you just talk it out with him, and not try to "save" a crappy area which if you really look at it and think about it with an open mind, is ripe for renewal?

Thanks!
Aug. 18, 2008, 6:39 pm
Steven from Brooklyn says:
Mr. Goldstein,

What you are doing is for selfish reasons. Overall the area would benefit from the atlantic Yards project long term. I know it is not me having to sacrifice, but sometimes the greater good is more important than the rights of a few. A sports franchise back in Brooklyn, more businesses, more jobs, and part of the project is affordable housing. Take the money they offered for your place and stop blocking progress.
Aug. 19, 2008, 6:14 am
anita from crown heights says:
for all my family was put out by bruce rat...
during the building of metro tech in 1990. we went to court and failed as u will. The court
is on the side of big business only. My mom and dad was 96 and 94 when as to leave a house they lived in for 50 years. I ask you how can a corrupt govt police itself.
Aug. 23, 2008, 6:10 pm

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