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Atlantic Yards Project Can Proceed, Court Says

(CN) - A New York appellate division has determined that a Brooklyn neighborhood was just blighted enough to allow the Atlantic Yards mega-development to proceed. Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn challenged environmental findings for the project under the Urban Development Corporation Act and the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

The Atlantic Yards redevelopment, encompassing eight city blocks, intends to build 16 high-rises and an 18,000-seat sports arena. The residential component would provide more than 16,000 housing units, one-third of which are intended to be affordable.

Local residents oppose use of eminent domain for property condemnation, and criticize both the scale of the development and its use of public funds.

The 1st Department of the New York Appellate Division pointed out that its power to judge the project's environmental impact statement is limited, given the latitude that state agencies have. The court addressed each of the petitioners' issues in turn.

To the argument that the impact statement hadn't addressed the threat of terrorism, the appellate court said that state law wouldn't require this unless the development was something like a nuclear storage or a biological weapons laboratory. Such a project would "by its very nature present a significantly elevated risk of terrorism and consequent environmental detriment."

Although "build years" - the amount of time estimated to complete the project - may have been underestimated, this doesn't affect validity of the data. The 3,500-page impact statement also provided enough alternatives to the project in a detailed 83-page section, the court continued.

The opinion focused largely around the definition of blight, as petitioners argued that much of the redevelopment area is not "substandard and unsanitary." Three city blocks, comprising nearly 40 percent of the project zone, fall outside of the heavily blighted Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area.

Calling blight a "highly malleable and elastic concept," the majority opinion acknowledged the legitimacy of residents' concerns while upholding the Empire State Development Corporation's conclusions as reasonable.

Justice James Catterson, in a sharply worded concurring opinion, wrote that the state laws are "being used as a tool of the developer to displace and destroy neighborhoods."

Catterson criticized the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority for allowing Vanderbilt Yards to become run-down, and questioned the quasi-governmental nature of the Empire State Development Corporation.

Catterson believed that a "blight study" did not take into account economic trends in the area. Certain regions "in the midst of an economic revival" were harmed by the corporation's "mandate to step in, stop all productive development, and, in partnership with a private enterprise, develop the neighborhood according to its own vision of urban utopia, complete with professional basketball for the masses."

Catterson wrote that "[w]hile I deplore the destruction of the neighborhood in this fashion," he upheld the legal finding of blight.

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn has a pending separate lawsuit challenging eminent domain claims.

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