A state appellate court struck down a crucial, but not final, legal challenge to Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project Thursday, as the court rejected a challenge to the environmental review brought by project critics.
Mr. Ratner is still awaiting a key decision on a lawsuit that challenges the use of eminent domain for the project, which calls for the development of a Nets basketball arena and more than 6,000 apartments near downtown Brooklyn. The project has struggled in the economy and has been unable to proceed due to the legal challenges; and at the same time, the developer is struggling to make the project financially feasible in the rough economic climate. Many observers expect the eminent domain lawsuit to ultimately be dismissed given the relatively broad power New York eminent domain laws give to the state.
Opponents had higher hopes for the environmental suit. Environmental challenges have doomed large projects in the past—see Westway, the failed plan to remake Manhattan’s western edge—and a victory could have necessitated lengthy changes to be made by the developer, Forest City Ratner.
Ultimately, the court came down against the critics, who said that the environmental review did not address key concerns such as the risk of terrorism, among other claims.
In the opinion, the justices sounded rather sympathetic to opponents’ problems with the more than $4 billion project, though they were not deemed relevant in the court. From the opinion:
“While we do not agree with petitioners’ legal arguments, we understand those arguments to be made largely as proxies for very legitimate concerns as to the effect of a project of such scale upon the face and social fabric of the area in which it is to be put. Those concerns, however, have relatively little to do with the project’s legality and nearly everything to do with its socio-economic and aesthetic desirability, matters upon which we may not pass. To the extent that the fate of this multi-billion dollar project remains, in an increasingly forbidding economy, a matter of social and political volition, the controlling judgments as to its merits are the province of the policy-making branches of government, not the courts.”
Justice James Catterson, writing a concurring opinion, seemed more vitriolic:
“Because I believe that the New York Urban Development Corporation Act (McKinney’s Uncons. Laws of N.Y. § 6251 et seq.) (hereinafter referred to as ‘UDCA’) is ultimately being used as a tool of the developer to displace and destroy neighborhoods that are ‘underutilized,’ I write separately. … While I deplore the destruction of the neighborhood in this fashion, I cannot say, as a matter of law, that the ESDC did not have sufficient evidence of record to find ‘blight.’”
UPDATE: 3:25 p.m.
For the first time I can remember, Mayor Bloomberg has issued a post-judicial ruling statement, reminding everyone of his support for the project:
“The Atlantic Yards project will create thousands of jobs and generate badly-needed tax revenue. The court’s unanimous affirmation today that the review and approvals processes were comprehensive and properly completed is a big step towards the start of construction.”
The project critics who brought the suit issued a statement vowing to appeal the case to the state Court of Appeals, while Forest City issued a statement hailing the ruling. The firm also said it was “ready and eager to break ground,” a bit of an optimistic statement given that it does not yet have a final arena design, or financing.