Court Orders New Study of Atlantic Yards Project

     MANHATTAN (CN) – The agency supervising New York’s controversial Atlantic Yards project must reevaluate how extensive delays in the second phase of enormous development will affect the surrounding communities, a state court judge ruled.

     The results of the supplemental study may unravel plans to build more than two-thirds of the project’s high-rise buildings, critics of the project say.
     Described as the largest single-developer project in New York City history, Atlantic Yards stretches across 22 acres of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. It is best known for including the sports arena that will bring the New Jersey Nets into New York.
     Established in 2004, the nonprofit Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn has been leading 26 community and neighborhood groups in a lawsuit against the developers and state agencies behind Atlantic Yards.
     Citing the Final Environmental Impact Statement, the organization says that the project’s skyscrapers will cover blot out the sun from nearby neighborhoods, flood communities with game-time traffic surges and drive out local residents in a process they describe as “instant gentrification.”
     Although the judge did not grant all of the demands sought by Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), the organization said in a statement that it was “very pleased” with the ruling.
     “DDDB has always argued that the claimed benefits were illusory and would never occur and the community would be burdened by a poorly conceived project,” the organization’s legal director Candace Carponter said in a statement. “It is now clear that the timeframes and benefits of the original project were never even remotely feasible.”
     New York’s agency overseeing the development, the Empire State Development (ESD), emphasized that construction will move ahead.
     “Yesterday’s decision on Atlantic Yards did not enjoin construction of the Barclays Center and all components of this important project will continue,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell said. “ESD believes that it complied with all laws applicable to the Project, and is reviewing today’s decision to decide on the best course of action for continuing to move the Project forward.”
     Construction for the first phase of the project, currently underway, includes the arena, four to five buildings in its vicinity, a new rail yard for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Long Island Railroad, and transit-access improvements including a new subway entrance.
     Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Marcy Friedman refused to halt this phase.
     “It is undisputed that infrastructure for the Project commenced in 2007 and is nearly complete, extensive excavation and foundation work on the arena has already been performed, work on a new subway entrance is in progress, and a temporary rail yard for the MTA has been completed, with remediation work in progress on the site of the permanent rail yard that FCRC is required to construct,” Friedman wrote.
     “Extensive public and private funds have already been committed to Phase I construction.”
     Develop Don’t Destroy urged New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to step in where Friedman stopped short.
     “While the Court felt it could only reverse the approvals for Phase II and require a new environmental review, it is time for Governor Cuomo to assert control over the ESDC [Empire State Development Corp.] and the project site and require a complete reassessment of the Atlantic Yards project,” Develop Don’t Destroy attorney Jeffrey Baker said in a statement. “We regret that the Arena is going forward. However, the project was never justified in phases. All of the purported benefits would have come from full development, not a stand-alone arena and a couple of high-rises.”
     Friedman noted that the second phase of construction “will not start for many years” and is now slated to end in 2035, making an injunction blocking it “premature.” She added that Develop Don’t Destroy can refile a petition for a stay if construction runs ahead of schedule.
     Developers originally estimated a 10-year build date, which Friedman wrote “lacked a rational basis.”
Phase II covers construction of 11 of the project’s 16 high-rise buildings.
     The supplemental study will probe the effects of the extensive delays.
     “Notably, the Technical Analysis is silent as to the impacts on neighborhood character and socioeconomic conditions of vacant lots, above-ground arena parking, and construction staging which may persist not merely for a decade but, as petitioners aptly put it, for a generation,” Friedman wrote.
     Develop Don’t Destroy co-founder Daniel Goldstein, who used to be one of the last holdouts living in the footprint of the project, urged politicians to force Forest City Ratner developer Bruce Ratner to amend his plan to involve community input.
     “Legally we know the Court has found that ESDC t misled the public and required ESDC to commence a supplemental review of the project because of the bogus timeframe ESDC clung on to,” Goldstein said in a statement. “But politically it is time to end Ratner’s control of the site and move towards a UNITY plan style solution. … It has now been proven, in and out of Court, that Ratner simply cannot and will not do the job he promised his supporters and elected officials he’d do.”

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