Atlantic Yards Turf War Heads to Top Court

Lower courts have upheld the project

By Victoria Cavaliere
|  Monday, Oct 12, 2009  |  Updated 2:48 PM EDT
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Opponents of the Atlantic Yards project will get another gasp of hope this week -- as New York's top court is set to consider whether the state had the authority to seize property to facilitate the Brooklyn development deal.

For years now, the homes and businesses of nine property owners and tenants have been slated for government seizure to accommodate the development at the intersection of Atlantic and Pacific Streets, but the Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on their fate Wednesday.

Developer Bruce Ratner's proposed $4.9 billion, 22-acre project includes a basketball arena for the Nets as well as office towers and apartments, funded in part with $600 million in tax-exempt bonds to be sold by a Dec. 31 deadline.

Some businesses and homeowners are challenging the Empire State Development Corp.'s power to force them out, saying the state constitution authorizes eminent domain only for public uses, not  for enriching others. 

“The promise of affordable housing may well never be realized,” the appellants argue. “It is a stalking horse for luxury condominiums and an arena for [the Nets] basketball team.”
    
Lower courts have so far upheld the project.

The defendant in the Atlantic Yards case, the New York State Urban Development Corporation, argues that the development project will transform a “substandard, unsanitary” area to one with civic facilities and thousands of units of housing.

Ratner maintains that plans for the Atlantic Yards, although scaled down due to the the economic downturn, will bring jobs and affordable housing to downtown Brooklyn.

The original eminent domain case was organized by the community coalition group Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, which argues that eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards proposal violates the state Constitution.

A court unanimously dismissed the case in May, and Ratner has said that the decision "is really the last hurdle" to breaking ground on the project.

Earlier this year, Ratner cleared another major hurdle. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which owns the Vanderbilt Railyards, over which Ratner plans to build, agreed to allow the developer to pay $20 million up front with $80 million in deferred payments.

In 2005, Ratner had agreed to pay $100 million cash for the Vanderbilt Railyards.

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