Hours before Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony for Bruce Ratner’s Barclays Center arena, a New York State Supreme Court judge ruled in the developer’s favor on what is the last of the major lawsuits against the mega-project.
Justice Marcy Friedman found that the Empire State Development Corporation acted within the law when it overhauled its Atlantic Yards construction plans last year — a revision that sweetened the deal for Ratner and allowed him to put down just $20 million for the Vanderbilt rail yards and pay the rest in installments through 2030.
But Friedman acknowledged that project opponents were justified in their criticism of the way ESDC handled Atlantic Yards.
“ESDC … lacked the candor that the public was entitled to expect, particularly in light of the scale of the project and its impact on the community,” Friedman wrote.
Candace Carponter, the legal director for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, one of the opposition groups on the case, said that the ruling only reinforced their stance that Ratner and his state partners were allowed to undertake the major project without a public process.
“That is the legacy and hallmark of Atlantic Yards,” said Carponter. “A total failure of democracy.”
Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman for the same organization, shared Carponter’s frustration with an argument consistently trotted out by judges: that ESDC was following the law, even if the law is not fair — and, as a result, the judges can’t overturn the agency’s actions.
“[Judges] are not constrained by the law to the extent they’re claiming,” said Goldstein. “If a judge thinks an agency acted without transparency, shouldn’t he question the deference given to the agency?”
Despite the strongly-worded ruling, the ESDC is basking in the glow of its string of recent legal victories — most significantly the ruling last week that gave the green light to the state’s seizure of properties in the project footprint through eminent domain.
“ESDC is extremely pleased with [Wednesday’s] court ruling and looks forward to the major milestone being celebrated [on Thursday],” said ESDC spokesman Warner Johnston, referring to the groundbreaking ceremony, expected to be attended by Gov. Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg and other pro-project pols.