‘Poletown’ ruling could hurt Ratner’s plan for Downtown

Could the end of “Poletown” put the breaks on developer Bruce
Ratner’s Atlantic Yards proposal?

Opponents and residents who could be displaced by the massive residential,
commercial and arena development plan are hoping so.
Reversing two decades of land-use law, a Michigan court this week overturned
its own landmark 1981 decision allowing local governments to seize private
property for private use.

In the 1981 ruling, the court allowed the city of Detroit to seize land
in the neighborhood of Poletown (named for its Polish immigrant community)
and give it to General Motors to build an auto plant.

“Poletown was the first major case allowing condemnation of areas
in the name of jobs and taxes,” said Dana Berliner, an attorney with
the Institute for Justice, a Washington D.C.-based public interest law
firm specializing in eminent domain.

The ruling was the first of its kind and has been used to set precedent
in eminent domain cases naionwide, according to Berliner.
Atlantic Yards opponents are hoping the new ruling will carry some weight
with New York courts.

The Atlantic Yards project, including a 19,000-seat arena for the New
Jersey Nets, four towering office buildings and 4,500 apartments, would
stretch from Flatbush Avenue to Vanderbilt Avenue between Atlantic Avenue
and Dean Street.

In order to build there, Ratner would have to buyout or have the state
use its power of eminant domain to take over 10 acres of privately-owned

Opponents of the plan have hired civil liberties attorney Norman Siegel,
who called this week’s ruling “a very important decision.”
“This suggests to courts nationwide that a renewed look at the meaning
of the concept of public use for eminent domain purposes is warranted.

“We plan to persuade the New York court to follow the precedent of
the Michigan supreme courts and hopefully the victory for individual rites
in Michigan will serve as a framework for a similar victory for the businesses
and property owners and residents of Prospect Heights,” said Siegel.

A spokesman for Ratner declined to comment on how the decision could effect
the proposed development.

Illinois, Arizona and California have all also recently ruled that eminent
domain taking for private developer is not a public use.

Says Siegel, “What happened in Michigan can only help our case.”