Fighting Atlantic Yards
By Michael Clancy
amNewYork City Editor
February 5, 2007
Developer Bruce Ratner is only a few courtroom victories away from realizing his vision of the Atlantic Yards project, a $4 billion mega-development that would build an arena for the Nets and 16 skyscrapers along a 22-acre tract in downtown Brooklyn.
On Wednesday, his lawyers will be in federal court arguing to dismiss a lawsuit -- one of several legal challenges pending -- brought by 12 plaintiffs who seek to prevent the government from taking their property and homes through the use of eminent domain.
About two dozen people -- including homeowners, a commercial property owner, Freddy's Bar on Dean Street and families and individuals who rent -- are arguing that use of eminent domain is unconstitutional.
"You have a Puerto Rican extended family, a Romanian immigrant, you have a Pakistani family with nine kids -- this is New York. This is Brooklyn," said plaintiff Daniel Goldstein, who helped organize the anti-arena group, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn.
The 8-million-square-foot project will create 6,400 housing units, including 2,250 units for low- and middle-income families. About 600 of those affordable apartments will be for sale. A spokesman for Forest CityRatner declined comment for this story.
Some of the plaintiffs agreed to explain why they signed onto the lawsuit.
Joe Pastore has lived in his one-room apartment on Dean Street for 40 years. A 62-year-old retiree, Pastore likes to fix radios and collect knickknacks. Though he is a plaintiff in the eminent domain case, he is actually a supporter of bringing the Nets to Brooklyn.
62-year-old retiree Joe Pastore.
"I am not against the project," said Pastore, who retired from a city job working with juvenile defenders. "I am not against the arena. I am against what's going to happen to me and my neighbors. ... I don't think I should be put out and pay high rent because a developer that's a billionaire says I have to get out. It shouldn't be like a bully-style."
Maria Gonzalez, a 54-year-old homemaker, has rented her apartment on Pacific Street near Vanderbilt for 35 years. She's lived in the neighborhood her entire life and met her husband on Vanderbilt Avenue.
Maria Gonzalez, a 54-year-old homemaker.
While she shares her apartment in the four-story brickwalkup with her husband and son, her two daughters also live in apartments in the building with her two granddaughters and grandson. She said she doesn't like her chances in the lawsuit, but feels it's her only recourse.
The residents of the building are like family, she said.
"We used to do barbecues with the kids, they ride bikes and the kids consider themselves not friends [but] cousins, aunts and all that.... I really don't want to get no more white hairs than I have but if it's God's will to be that way then let it be that way."
Out of all those who oppose the project, Daniel Goldstein, a 37-year-old graphic designer, has been one of the most vocal and tireless critics.
Daniel Goldstein, a 37-year-old graphic designer.
He is also a person who the project's backers hold up as an example of nouveau Brooklynites who oppose a plan that will brings jobs, tax revenue and affordable housing. Goldstein, who is the last tenant in a condo building where the other owners sold to Ratner, is undaunted by criticism or the seemingly tough odds of prevailing.
"People just feel that viscerally it's wrong," said Goldstein, who has lived in his condo for nearly four years and in Brooklyn for 12. "People want to stay in their neighborhoods of choice. And stay in their homes of choice .... I think that everyone who has stayed here and is on this case is courageous to challenge what is a lot of political and financial power."
Freddy's Bar and Backroom has served as informal headquarters for those who oppose the project and the use of eminent domain. The no-nonsense watering hole has sat on the corner of Dean and Sixth Avenue since Prohibition. The backroom serves as an art gallery and music venue hosting free events most nights of the week, said manager Donald O'Finn.
Freddy's Bar and Backroom manager Donald O'Finn.
"I really want people to understand who and what they were attempting to destroy here," said O'Finn, who gets visibly angry just talking about the loss of the bar. "It's a beautiful thing. It's not just a place where people come and drink. It's not just a bar. People don't come here to get laid. They come for other reasons."
Having worked at the bar for nine years, O'Finn said he has seen the neighborhood rebound in recent years as new buildings have gone up and the rents have too. "It was a blooming neighborhood when this whole arena project was initiated," O'Finn said.
"So blight is absolutely ridiculous, if they wanna say, 'We have money and you don't. We are throwing you out and you suck. We don't.' That's fine. But let's be honest about it. It's not blight."
Copyright 2007 AM New York