December 22, 2006
Atlantic Yards Enters New Phase, and Faces Next Hurdle: Lawsuits
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
If all goes according to plan, work will begin within weeks on the $4 billion Atlantic Yards project near Downtown Brooklyn, which won final approval from a state oversight board on Wednesday after three years of furious debate.
But large development projects rarely go according to plan — even when they do not face multiple lawsuits, which the project, one of the biggest in the city’s history, already does. And months or years may pass before anyone will be able to divine the precise gap between the plan for Atlantic Yards and the reality of it.
On paper, the project’s developer, Forest City Ratner Companies, expects to begin construction sometime next month, though much of the early work will take place below street level, amid the Vanderbilt railyards along Atlantic Avenue. The plan calls for the eight-acre area to be rebuilt, then covered by a platform from which portions of the project would rise.
Forest City has privately purchased much of the property it needs to build the project. But it faces a federal lawsuit by some residents and business owners on the site, who refused to move or sell their properties to Forest City and now face condemnation from state officials.
Among the plaintiffs is Daniel Goldstein, the spokesman for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, a coalition of community organizations and elected officials opposed to the project. Mr. Goldstein’s apartment building, of which he is the sole remaining owner, would need to be torn down to make way for the arena.
City and state officials last year rebuffed alternative proposals that would not have required eminent domain, and now Mr. Goldstein and others say they are left with no choice but to fight in court.
“We’re confident we will win this lawsuit,” he said yesterday. “Our victory will force a reshaping of the project, while protecting owners and renters nationwide from abuses of eminent domain.”
A second lawsuit was filed two weeks ago by tenants of rent-stabilized apartments owned by Forest City on the project site. The lawsuit claims that the Empire State Development Corporation, which is overseeing the Atlantic Yards project, illegally approved the buildings’ condemnation without first obtaining permission from state housing officials to erase the tenants’ leases.
City and state officials are pushing to have both lawsuits dismissed. But George S. Locker, a lawyer for tenants in the second suit, said that was unlikely. “I’ve never seen cases that have such substantial legal issues, in such a variety of state and federal forums, with such enormous consequences, speed through in less than a year and a half,” he said.
By 2010, lawsuits notwithstanding, Forest City hopes to have completed most of the structures on the western portion of the 22-acre project site, near Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. That includes the 18,000-seat basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets, which Forest City hopes to begin building next fall and open in time for the 2009-10 season.
In the same time frame, the developer also hopes to complete the project’s signal tower, called Miss Brooklyn, and more than 2,000 apartments, about 30 percent of which would be subsidized.
In the second phase, scheduled to end in 2016, Atlantic Yards would creep eastward toward Vanderbilt Avenue, adding the bulk of the project’s roughly 6,400 rental apartments and condominiums.
Forest City officials said it was possible that vacant buildings on the site that are already controlled by the company might have to be demolished in the coming months, but that it was unlikely they would move to demolish any of the buildings figuring in the lawsuits.
A broader group of elected officials and community and civic organizations, centered on the Brooklyn Speaks coalition, remains hopeful that it can force more changes to the project next year, after Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer takes office. Although the project has formally been approved, officials at the development corporation have signaled they are willing to entertain further alterations to the second phase.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company