Up in the air: New justice assigned to Pier 6 case as towers continue to rise

A likely ‘story’: Park tower will be a bit higher than expected
ODA Architecture

Talk about a deep bench.

The court case over two towers planned for Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park is being assigned to a new justice after four months of arguments that were supposed to conclude this month, and construction on the high-rises can proceed in the meantime, the judge currently presiding over the case ruled on Friday.

Justice Lucy Billings began hearing the Brooklyn Heights Association’s arguments against the development at the foot of Atlantic Avenue in April, but was instructed to give up the legal battle after being recently assigned to oversee asbestos litigation, she said.

The new judge, Justice Carmen Victoria St. George, will now decide whether to accept or reject the civic group’s claim that building the towers at Pier 6 violates the terms of a 2006 agreement that mandates park honchos only erect as much housing in the green space as is needed to maintain it.

But construction on the high-rises, which got underway last month, will be allowed continue as long as nothing is built that can’t be undone, the outgoing judge said in response to the Heights Association’s demand for an injunction halting work until the court rules.

The civic group’s injunction request followed its attempt to get Billings to stop construction in an emergency hearing last month, which she denied because she did not find the activity to be unlawful. But the judge guaranteed the Heights Association that the final ruling would not be influenced by how much work is complete, telling lawyers for the park, “I can’t see anything that can’t be undone.”

More than 400 steel beams are now being hammered into the ground as part of the project’s first phase, which will be followed by concrete pouring. Developers RAL Development Services and Oliver’s Realty Group need to decide whether it is worth going ahead with additional construction given they may need to pay to undo it, but a rep for the green space said the builders will move forward without delay.

“Today’s outcome does not affect our progress and construction will proceed as planned,” said spokeswoman Sarah Krauss.

Now that the case has been reassigned, its transcripts and filings will be passed onto St. George, who will read them and decide whether she can make a ruling or needs to call the litigants back into court.

The transcripts will include the Heights Associations’ argument as to why at least one of the towers should be blocked, which reasons that because the high-rise will contain below-market-rate housing, it does not uphold the 2006 agreement’s terms that development parcels within the park must be used to make money.

The neighborhood group’s attorney said he was happy with Friday’s proceedings.

“We’re pleased with the outcome of today’s ruling, which demonstrates the court has taken the BHA’s claims very seriously,” said Richard Ziegler. “The preliminary injunction ensures when the case is finally decided the fact that construction will proceed in the meantime won’t affect the final ruling.”

St. George was appointed to the state Supreme Court bench in June after working as an associate for Weitz & Luxenberg, a firm known to fight for plaintiffs or “the little guy.”

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill