Court Rules that Atlantic Yards Project Needs More Review, Developers Will Still Open Arena This Fall


In a feat for community groups that have been critical of the controversial Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, a judge has ruled that the project needs further review.

But that’s not stopping the developers from pushing forward with a central part of their plan: a new arena for the Nets, which is slated to open in the fall.

Yesterday, an appeals court ruled unanimously that the state’s Empire State Development Corp. must go back and review how the decades of projected construction of the massive 22-acre project will impact residents in the surrounding neighborhood. This Supreme Court Appellate Division ruling upholds a lower court’s decision last July that said a new environmental review of the second phase of the project was needed. That means that the 11 towers Bruce Ratner plans to build in the next phase of the project must be reviewed, while the first part of the project — which includes the arena on Flatbush and Atlantic avenues — is clear to move forward as is.

At the center of this debate is questions of the project’s commitment to affordable housing and job creation, and also concerns over how long the construction will actually take. The developer has secured an extension from the state until 2035, which has been a major sticking point for some in the neighborhood, and was a fact that originally prompted the lawsuit.

This morning, the Voice caught up briefly with Council Member Letitia James, who has frequently spoken out about this project.

The Councilwoman, who is expected to run for the public advocate seat in 2013, said that the latest ruling in this ongoing case — Develop Don’t Destroy (Brooklyn), Inc. vs. Empire State Dev. Corp. — should be a sign to this developer and others that local zoning rules matter and that the state can’t just overlook them for large projects.

“[If] the Atlantic Yards footprint is allowed to remain vacant for the next 25 years, the promise of affordable housing and jobs is going to be put on hold,” she said. “It’s totally unacceptable.”

She said it’s been difficult to get support in Albany.

“Unfortunately, all of our cries and pleas have been falling on deaf ears…The promise of jobs and housing have not been realized,” she says. “The question is whether it will ever be realized.”

James is urging the developer and the state to consider making the land that has not yet been built on available for other developers who can support community interests, such as the need for school space.

That seems unlikely. A spokesperson for Empire State Development, which is run by the state and is overseeing this project, said today that it will continue working toward the full build-out of the project.

“Although Empire State Development is disappointed with the decision, we are fully committed to building a world-class development that will bring thousands of jobs and affordable housing to Brooklyn. The decision does not prevent the arena opening this fall, nor does it affect any aspect of Phase I development, and we will continue working toward the full build-out of the project,” Arana Hankin, director of Atlantic Yards for the ESD, said in a statement sent to the Voice this afternoon. (And a spokesperson for Ratner told The Brooklyn Paper that Atlantic Yards will advance, despite the ruling).

The fact that the leaders behind this project have tried to find shortcuts “really should…be alarming to all New Yorkers,” James said. “The city should have more power and jurisdiction over local affairs. They should respect our zoning laws.”

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