Appeals Court Hears Atlantic Yards

Opponents of the Atlantic Yards project in New York City that is to include the future home of the New Jersey Nets once again pleaded their case Oct. 14 when the state’s Court of Appeals heard arguments regarding the long-running battle over the land.

Developer Forest City Ratner’s proposed 22-acre Brooklyn project, which has been hit with numerous lawsuits and financial setbacks, will mainly enrich the developer’s pocketbook, opponents say. They argue that the use of eminent domain for the $4.9 billion development is antithetical to the state’s constitution that says “private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation.”

Plaintiff attorney Matthew Brinkerhoff represents a group of business owners and tenants who’ve vowed to stay in the area marked for development. He told the court that while “anything that is owned by the government and opened for public use by law constitutes public use,” the state’s agreement to lease the proposed Barclays Arena back to Forest City, which owns the Nets, means the facility would not be publicly owned.

Empire State Development Corp. attorney Philip Karmel argued in court that the Brooklyn area marked for the construction was found blighted as a whole, which qualified as a legitimate use of eminent domain for the project.

The court is expected to rule on the case, previously upheld by lower courts, next month.

Forest City spokesman Joe DePlasco recently told the New York Times that the developer intends to move forward and begin construction “before the end of the year,” but the project is facing a tight deadline.

Officials announced a $200 million deal with a billionaire Russian investor for a majority share of the team and a minority share in the arena last month, but Forest City needs to break ground on the arena before Dec. 31 to meet an IRS deadline to sell tax-exempt bonds to fund the remainder of the venue.

Atlantic Yards could also be affected by another lawsuit against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that gave Forest City part of the land in question as part of a “sweetheart deal,” the New York Post reported.

“While the MTA is forcing service cuts and fare increases on the people of New York, they are giving … Ratner just about a free ride,” lead plaintiff state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn) says in the suit.