Supreme Court Declines to Hear Atlantic Yards Challenge


In an unsurprising move, the U.S. Supreme Court today denied the petition to grant a hearing to 11 property owners and tenants opposed to the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. The plaintiffs had turned to the High Court after a lower federal court dismissed their challenge to the state’s use of eminent domain for the mega development in Prospect Heights.

Lacking avenues in the federal courts, Atlantic Yards opponents now plan to take their lawsuit to state court, where in a long-shot effort, they will argue that the use of eminent domain for the $4 billion project violates the law of New York because the state government is attempting to seize their private property not for the public good, but for the private benefit of the developer, Forest City Ratner Companies.

Matthew Brinckerhoff, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement today:

“We are, of course, disappointed that the Court declined our request to hear this important case. This is not, however, a ruling on the merits of our claims. Our claims remain sound. New York State law, and the state constitution, prohibit the government from taking private homes and businesses simply because a powerful developer demands it. Yet, that is what has happened. Recent events have revealed that the public, and the Public Authorities Control Board were sold a bill of goods by Ratner and the Empire State Development Corporation. We now know that Ratner’s project will cost the public much more than it will ever receive. Now we will turn to the state courts to vindicate our rights. We will soon file an action in New York state court under state law as we were expressly permitted to do by the rulings of the federal courts.”

Supporters of Atlantic Yards, on the other hand, have argued that the development provides public benefits in the form of thousands of units of promised affordable housing, and jobs associated with the planned sports arena.

Developer Bruce C. Ratner said in a statement today:

“We believe, and the courts have repeatedly agreed, that Atlantic Yards provides significant public benefits, including thousands of affordable homes and much needed jobs for Brooklyn. We are gratified that the Supreme Court has decided to put an end to this lawsuit. The opponents have now lost 20 court decisions relating to Atlantic Yards, and we are now one step closer to making these benefits a reality for the borough and the city.”

Coincidentally, today is also the third anniversary of the Supreme Court’s controversial Kelo v. City of New London decision concerning what constitutes an appropriate use of the government’s power of eminent domain. In June 2005, the Court held in a 5-4 decision that the government could seize property for the purpose of promoting private economic development.

While this most recent denial is no doubt a setback for Atlantic Yards opponents, an audience with the Supreme Court was never believed to be a sure thing. In fact, their litigation has seemed also to serve a strategic purpose, which is to slow down the project increasingly being hindered by rising costs that have narrowed its scope.

Next up: opponents await the outcome of a case now in state appellate court challenging the environmental review process of Atlantic Yards.