Last week’s headlines in the Atlantic Yards dispute seemed to go developer Bruce Ratner’s way: A state court green-lighted his bid to demolish six properties on the footprint of his proposed NBA arena and housing complex. In December, engineers retained by Ratner had deemed the buildings—:which Forest City Ratner owns—unsound and the Empire State Development Corporation okayed their destruction. Local opponents of the Atlantic Yards plan thought that Ratner was trying to move forward with development before the required environmental review was completed. They went to court.
On a first glance at the ruling handed down last week, it seemed they lost. Justice Carol R. Edmead rejected the request for a stay of demolition.
But over at Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, they saw it as a win, because Justice Edmead sided with the opponents on the issue of David Paget, a lawyer for ESDC who has also worked for Forest City Ratner. DDDB saw a conflict, and so did the judge:
The oft bottom-line, profit-making pursuits of real estate development corporations may not necessarily align with the stated, valid environmental interests of the ESDC, whose very function in this matter is to subject the action to a high level of environmental review … Avoiding even the appearance of impropriety is critical in a case of this magnitude and with such long lasting effects [on] the Borough of Brooklyn and the City of New York generally.
Ratner’s opponents see that decision as landmark, because it might narrow the revolving door through which lawyers with expertise in development end up working alternately—or even simultaneously—for developers and state agencies regulating development.
“The judge ruled loudly and clearly that they do not have a collaborative relationship, that the ESDC when overseeing projects, has a responsibility to protect the public interest, instead of a tight embrace between ESDC and Ratner,” writes DDDB spokesman Daniel Goldstein.
The question is whether Edmead’s decision will remain a landmark; ESDC has appealed. A more pressing concern for the opponents of the Ratner plan is whether there is another way to stop or even slow the project. Not that they haven’t tried: In recent months, members of the anti-Atlantic Yards faction has advanced arguments from terrorism (Will the Nets arena be a target and has the NYPD been consulted on it?) to solar energy (Will Ratner’s big buildings cast shadows that preclude area residents from future installation of solar panels?).