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Brooklyn’s sole appointee to the City Planning Commission, one of only two city agencies with an official role in the proposed Atlantic Yards arena, housing and office complex will have no voice, the city said this week.

Dolly Williams, Borough President Marty Markowitz’s sole appointee to the planning commission, will have to recuse herself from any review or other official discussion of the borough’s largest development proposal because, as first reported by The Brooklyn Papers last August, she owns a stake in the New Jersey Nets, a planning commission spokeswoman said this week.

Nets principal owner Bruce Ratner wants to move the basketball team to an arena he would build at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues as part of the Atlantic Yards plan.

Williams’ co-ownership with her husband, Adonijah Williams, of a more than $1 million stake in the team, puts her in the position of having a potential conflict of interest, although the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board has yet to render a determination one way or the other.

A City Planning Commission spokeswoman told The Papers this week that while the commission would have a minor role in review of the Ratner plan, primarily ratifying the state’s right to supercede local zoning and other development regulations, Williams will not be allowed to take part in those discussions because of her Nets holdings.

On the 13-member commission, only one appointee from each borough president is represented, along with an appointee of the public advocate and seven mayoral appointees. Markowitz’s 2003 appointment of Williams to the powerful planning commission made her a key player in the city’s land use approval process.

The City Planning Commission is the only city authority other than the Economic Development Corporation mentioned as having any possible oversight role in the Atlantic Yards planning process in an agreement on public funding and the use of public land signed last week by Ratner, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki.

The Atlantic Yards plan includes construction of a 19,000-seat arena for the Nets and 17 high-rises containing more than 4,500 residential units as well as office and retail space, with the tallest building reaching as high as 60 stories. The plan would be built on more than 21 acres of public and privately held land between Dean Street and Flatbush, Atlantic and Vanderbilt avenues.

The project, sponsored by the Empire State Development Corp. (ESDC) and therefore not beholden to the city’s normal, lengthy review process, also relies on the state’s condemnation of up to 10 acres of private property and the purchase of development rights over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Long Island Rail Road yards.

According to the memorandum of understanding, the ESDC, or a subsidiary, would “exercise, in consultation with the City, including referral to the City Planning Commission and the [Economic Development Corporation] … its power to override local zoning and other local regulation where appropriate.”

“If you look carefully at the wording,” said Rachaele Raynoff, a spokeswoman for the planning commission, “it says what [the ESDC] will do in consultation with us, including referral to City Planning — that would be the part at which the commission is involved.” She noted that Williams would not be a party to those discussions.

“Obviously, the borough president’s appointee is expected to recuse herself from deliberations, or any voting or any discussions on the topic,” Raynoff said.

In a written response to questions about Williams’ recusal, Markowitz said, “Dolly Williams will recuse herself from any deliberations on this matter. Regardless, we have every expectation that Brooklynites and New Yorkers on both sides of the issue will make their voices heard.”

Williams declined to comment for this article.

The Brooklyn Papers reported on Oct. 9 that Markowitz told members of the Park Slope Food Co-op he expected to hear from the conflicts board on Oct. 1 as to whether or not Williams was in violation. Since that time, no determination has been made public by either Borough Hall or the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board.

“If nothing has been made public, then no determination of a violation was found,” said Wayne Hawley, lead counsel for the Conflicts of Interest Board.

Hawley said a policy of confidentiality with respect to investigations conducted by the board prevented him from commenting further.

Williams, who for 25 years has owned A. Williams Trucking and Trenching with her husband, owns a share of the Nets estimated to be worth about $1 million.

Though no information has been offered as to when the couple purchased their share in the Nets, Markowitz has asserted that it was long before she was appointed.

According to city officials, Chapter 68 of the City Charter, which outlines conflicts of interest, does not mandate that the city replace appointees who recuse themselves, even if they are the sole representative of a borough or office.

Raynoff said she’d never heard of it happening before.

“I can say with certainty that members of the CPC have previously recused themselves and to my knowledge there has not been any substitute appointment,” she said.

In the meantime, the borough president’s office has neither insisted upon nor suggested a substitute replacement. When asked if he had considered it, or if the office was concerned about foregoing representation in discussions regarding Atlantic Yards, a spokeswoman for Markowitz dodged the question.

Raynoff added that she knew of two other commissioners with Brooklyn ties, although they were appointed by the mayor.

“We still have two people who hail from Brooklyn,” said Raynoff, who cited planning commissioners Angela Battaglia, appointed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 1996, who is also executive director of housing at the Senior Citizens Council of Ridgewood-Bushwick, and Lisa Gomez, a board member of the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center.

A clause in Chapter 68 allows for “an individual who, prior to becoming a public servant, has an ownership interest which would be prohibited,” to notify the Conflicts of Interest Board within 10 days and either divest of the interest, “or disclose to the board such ownership interest” and comply with a determination.

In a reasonable amount of time, the board must determine whether the interest would be a conflict, and “take into account the nature of the servant’s official duties … and the appearance of conflict to the public,” reads the chapter.

Members of the anti-Atlantic yards neighborhood group Develop-Don’t Destroy Brooklyn have been critical of Williams’ role, and filed the conflicts complaint in August.

A spokesman for the group, Daniel Goldstein, said this week, “It’s hard to think how Dolly Williams would be representing Brooklyn when she’s put money into this project — she’s basically a representative of the developer.”

He said he hoped her recusal would go a step further.

“Simply recusing herself is not enough,” he said, suggesting she shouldn’t be in the room during discussions. “She could simply sit there lobbying for her investment.”

Raynoff assured in an e-mail to The Papers, “[Williams] will not be present at any portion of any CPC meeting at which the Nets may be discussed.”

“It would be a shame not to have an appointee from the borough president,” said Goldstein, “but it would be even more of a shame to have someone deliberate on this who has a vested interest.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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