Today’s news:

Breaking news! Ratner wins a big Yards case

The Brooklyn Paper

Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner scored a big win in court this week, as one of the state’s highest courts brushed aside opponents’ claim that the mega-project should be scrapped because its environmental review was a “sham.”

In a unanimous ruling handed down on Thursday, the Appellate Division affirmed a similar verdict made last January in state Supreme Court.

“The 3,500-page final [environmental impact statement] impressively detailed analyses of the project’s anticipated environmental impacts in 16 separately identified areas,” read the four-justice panel’s decision.

The ruling also backed the lower court’s reticence to interfere with legislative authority on issues of land use.

“It is by now a familiar refrain that [courts] may not disturb an agency determination as substantively flawed unless it is affected by an error of law, arbitrary and capricious, or constitutes an abuse of discretion.

“Courts … are bound to defer to the public purpose findings of the legislature and its agencies,” the justices ruled.

The courts’ long-stated reluctance to examine the Empire State Development Corporation’s decision-making process extended to opponents’ other main argument that the ESDC had wrongly concluded that blocks surrounding the rail yard at the heart of the project were blighted.

Real-estate values in those areas were actually soaring at the time the project was unveiled and hyped as a way of eliminating blight.

“There is no dispute that this previously designated area is, in fact blighted,” the ruling stated.

Jeff Baker, a lawyer for a 26-plantiff group that includes Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the Sierra Club, many block associations, the New York Public Interest Research Group and the Zen Environmental Studies Institute, said he would appeal to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, to examine the ESDC’s blight finding.

“This ruling basically said, ‘If you have any reason to back up your blight determination, that’s good enough,’” Baker said. “But that’s not true. Yes, courts have ruled that they must defer to ESDC on whether the project serves a valid public purpose, but courts do not have to show deference to the underlying factual determination that there is blight.”

Baker praised a concurring decision in the case written by James Catterson, who wrote that state law is “ultimately being used as a tool of the developer to displace and destroy neighborhoods that are ‘underutilized.’

“There is sufficient evidence of ‘blight,’ Catterson wrote, “[but] I reject the majority’s core reasoning, that a perfunctory ‘blight study’ performed years after the conception of a vast development project should serve as the rational basis for a determination that a neighborhood is indeed blighted.”

Baker saw an opening.

“I think the Court of Appeals will be willing to consider ruling that the courts do not need to be a rubber stamp on blight rulings,” he said. “Courts can examine the facts and not just defer to the state agency’s unfounded analysis.”

Ratner disagreed.

“Today’s decision speaks comprehensively about the review and approval steps followed for this project and unanimously validates the process,” he said in a statement.

He also claimed to be “ready and eager to break ground,” though the developer has stated that the current economic downturn made him unable to build now.

Ratner’s costs have skyrocketed since the project was announced in 2003 and he has taken most of the development off the table, leaving only a basketball arena and two residential buildings as the first phase of a project that once called for 16 skyscrapers.

Opponents have called for the project to be re-examined in light of an economic downturn that decreases its likelihood of completion. The court ruling, in fact, suggested that policy makers might want to do just that.

“[The plaintiffs’] arguments [represent] legitimate concerns as to the effect of a project of such scale,” the court ruled. “This multi-billion dollar project remains … a matter of social and political volition, [so] the controlling judgments as to its merits are the province of the policy-making branches of government.”

Thursday’s ruling leaves one major case pending. On Monday, the Appellate Division’s Second Department heard oral arguments in a case that challenges the state’s use of its condemnation power to clear land and hand it over to Ratner. That ruling is expected this spring.

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Reader Feedback

Norman Oder says:
More coverage here:
http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2009/02/appellate-court-despite-some-misgivings.html
Feb. 26, 2009, 4:53 pm
Pat from Bay Ridge says:
I'd rather see the project go down on a major finding that private enterprise (including politically-connected billionaires) can't take other people's land in order to line its pockets with taxpayer dollars. Now THAT would be a major ruling. Killing an unconstitutional development on environmental grounds would feel hollow in comparison.
Feb. 26, 2009, 5:18 pm
harry from slope says:
pat.

i like your style.

any property owners built to a percentage less than the blight level want to start a class action suit?
Feb. 26, 2009, 6:49 pm
al pankin from downtown says:
HURRAY, it's time to move on and start building this blighted area. this could have been started long ago and could have avoided this financial meltdown. the other day I was driving toward downtown via ocean ave. I reached the intersetion of ocean ave. and flatbush ave. straight ahead was the ebbets field housing project where the brooklyn dogers once played, they could have been at atlantic and flatbush but were pushed out to go to L.A. it's time to build. what has develop don't destroy developed????? 0000000000
Feb. 26, 2009, 9:10 pm
Pacholo from Red Hook says:
Bring the Nets home. That land was stolen from the Dodgers so it could be a slum. Build, this ain't 1958 or 1973. 2009 is the year for jobs. Pat, stay in Bay Ridge don't come to IKEA.
Feb. 26, 2009, 10:18 pm
Pat from Bay Ridge says:
Sure, build it. Just don't take MY tax dollars to do it. Why do I have to give money to Ratner? He's quite capable of reaching into his own pocket and funding it himself.

PS. The current definition of "blight" is simply land that isn't generating as much tax for the city as a politically connected developer claims he can do.
Feb. 26, 2009, 10:40 pm
Jack from Brooklyn says:
It's funny how everyone seems be be against creeping socialism, but then our collective tax dollars are spent so a sports team and a land developer can make millions?

Folks, subsidizing stuff like this IS socialism.
Feb. 26, 2009, 11:03 pm
Charles from Bklyn says:
I agree Pat ... lets see this project fail on the political corruption aspect of the review process. Having said that, it is shameful that an environmental review can be such a clear case of arbitrary action by a government agency yet the courts are willing to stand aside and let unfairness rule the day. This court's decision was wrong, and when this project fails, the courts will have to look themselves in the mirror and ask: is the New York unified court sytem going to protect its citizens or not?
Feb. 27, 2009, 10:30 am
harry from slope says:
the courts have been able to look themselves in the mirror for some time.

its not a pretty site. they dont seem to mind though.
Feb. 27, 2009, 2:26 pm
David on Dean from Prospect Heights says:
My neighbor Tim has an apt analogy for the legal soap opera against Atlantic Yards:
"I seems to me this has been like trying to convince judges that birds fly ... and the judges keep saying, 'Ah! But what about penguins!'"

... The pharisees have ruled again ...
Feb. 27, 2009, 7:57 pm
neil from bed-stuy says:

How many developers do you anti- crowd have waiting to built, create jobs (don't care how many), & housing? What are your alternative plans? Who is going to fund it? I know, why don't we all just make a farm there, grow food for the homeless? Would that be better? Maybe that will be your last grasp argument. I want to work.
Feb. 28, 2009, 1:23 am
harry from slope says:
neil...

"don't care how many" is what is being challenged. there has been no legitimate analysis of the ratio of benefits to the city/state and developer. there has to be a line somewhere that shows when society is getting the shaft.

should the city give away $100,000,000 for you to have ONE job?

its a reduction to absurdity. dont hold society hostage to your circumstances. i think you can find a job yourself without bankrupting society.

and yes, a farm over the yards is more correctable than this potemkin village. so while we fight it out lets grow the tomatoes to throw at the politicians.
Feb. 28, 2009, 8:19 am

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