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Rejection! State’s highest court turns aside anti-Yards case

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The state’s highest court has ruled against a group of landowners and tenants inside the Atlantic Yards footprint, a major victory for developer Bruce Ratner and state officials who had been sued on the grounds that they had abused their power of eminent domain.

The Court of Appeals ruling, written by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and joined by five colleagues, affirmed that the state’s use of its condemnation power to clear land on behalf of a private developer is “in conformity with certain provisions of our State Constituti­on.”

One judge, Robert Smith, offered the lone dissenting vote.

“The majority is much too deferential to the self-serving determination by [the] Empire State Development Corporation that petitioners live in a ‘blighted’ area, and are accordingly subject to having their homes seized and turned over to a private developer,” he wrote. “I do not think the record supports ESDC’s determinat­ion.”

The ruling mirrors some of the questioning from the October oral arguments in Albany, where the majority went after plaintiffs’ lawyer Matt Brinckerhoff, and Smith challenged the legitimacy of the ESDC’s use of eminent domain.

Brinckerhoff was so consumed by answering the judges’ questions that he never even got to present the most crucial portion of his argument, namely that a clause in the state Constitution forbids eminent domain on a project unless “the occupancy of any such project [is] restricted to persons of low income.”

But the majority definitely read — and rejected — that very legal argument.

“Even if this gloss on this state’s takings laws and jurisprudence were correct — and it is not — it is indisputable that the removal of urban blight is a proper, and, indeed, constitutionally sanctioned, predicate for the exercise of the power of eminent domain,” the ruling stated.

The decision clears a major hurdle for Ratner, who can now move forward with the sale of tax-free bonds to finance his $4-billion arena, residential and office project. Ratner needs to get shovels in the ground by the end of December to qualify for the tax break, and there are several pending cases remaining.

When that happens, no one will be happier than Borough President Markowitz, who hailed the Court for “reinforc[i­ng] … the numerous public benefits of the Atlantic Yards project … including the creation of affordable housing, solid union jobs and permanent employment opportunities for Brooklynites who need work.”

Minutes later, opponents of the project rallied at Freddy’s Bar on Dean Street — a Prohibition-era tavern that will be torn down to make way for Ratner’s arena.

“The power of eminent domain is extraordinary and should only be authorized in limited circumstances where, unlike in this case, there is a clear and robust public benefit,” said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D–Fort Greene) in statement read by an aide. “The use of eminent domain to benefit a private developer to build a basketball arena for a team owned by a foreign billionaire [a reference to Ratner investor, the Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov] is an abuse of this extraordinary power.”

The court majority disagreed that the use of eminent domain is actually extraordinary at all. In fact, it rejected the notion that the urban blight to be remedied by a project even needs to be all that severe.

“We have never required that a finding of blight … be based upon conditions replicating … in the midst of the Great Depression,” the majority ruling stated. “To the contrary … the reach of the terms ‘substandard and insanitary’ … were applied in the early 1950s to the Columbus Circle area upon which the New York Coliseum was proposed to be built [and] none of the buildings are as noisome or dilapidated as those described in Dickens’s novels.”

Updated 12:06 pm, January 14, 2010: Updated with more details and the obligatory quote from Borough President Markowitz and an interesting Dickens kicker.
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Reader Feedback

JudahSpechal from Bed-Stuy says:
Come on Daniel, take the$$$$ and run. So people can go to work. U R not going to win
Nov. 24, 2009, 10:51 am
Bayridgite from Bay Ridge says:
Yawn, same old tired, unsubstantiated jobs claim. Next stop would be the U.S. Supreme Court, I guess, but they've screwed up on eminent domain before. However, there IS a new suit....
Nov. 24, 2009, 11:08 am
Lloyd Lee from Hollywood says:
Ari Gold for you on Line 1, Mr Goldstein:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhkNLHictW8&feature=related
Nov. 24, 2009, 11:56 am
Doug from Prospect Heights says:
Does anyone know where to find a map of which blocks specifically will be affected?
Nov. 24, 2009, 12:27 pm
Doug from Prospect Heights says:
http://www.onnyturf.com/blogs/view_post.php?content_id=581

Actually, I just found this one...sorry.
Nov. 24, 2009, 12:29 pm
Barbara from Clinton Hill says:
We can only hope that Dan Goldstein and his allies will continue to persevere amidst insurmountable odds and keep trying, keep fighting because there are so many people who are rooting for you and these groups. This is very very disappointing news.
Nov. 24, 2009, 1:08 pm
Chuck from Brooklyn says:
Marty is a nice guy but there's not one thing about this project he has claimed or stated that has or will come to pass. There will be no affordable housing. There will no benefit to the community. The jobs created will be temporary and/or low paying.

He is a complete and absolute puppet on this project. You'd think Marty would be embarrassed but he just doesn't have any humility.
Nov. 24, 2009, 2:06 pm
al pankin from downtown says:
too bad it took so long to get to this point in time...now Brooklyn will have a second class development thanks to a few people to held this project up for years...they will move on and we have have them to thank for holding up the project.
Nov. 24, 2009, 2:07 pm
Chuck from Brooklyn says:
You gotta hope the Supreme Court will take the case.

They may want to fix the awful Kelso decision...
Nov. 24, 2009, 2:08 pm
Colton from Mill Basin says:
The U.S Supreme Court will not be taking up this eminent domain case. The plaintiffs initially tried to go the Federal Court route in their appeals but failed to get their case heard at any level, including the Supreme Court.
Nov. 24, 2009, 2:48 pm
Al from Park Slope says:
Sweet... The 5th largest city in the country is finally getting some professional sports teams and a sweet concert venue so that we don't have to go to Manhattan anymore!!!!
Nov. 24, 2009, 3:26 pm
dan goldsteins pet rat from bay ridge says:
Wow, what a shame they are going to build that new arena because that empty hole in the ground is just sooo beautiful. Like Al said, it's going to be great to have the Nets and Islanders and great concerts in BROOKLYN.

Now that the Dodgers are going to be up for sale, maybe we can bring them back home and put Brooklyn back in it's rightful place in the sports world. ;^)
Nov. 24, 2009, 6:33 pm
Mike from FG says:
HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.
Danny boy you lose. this is a great day for brooklyn and nyc.

And the supreme court already said no way to taking this case cause its crap.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA
Nov. 24, 2009, 10:58 pm
Roberto from Park Slope says:
Justice is nothing but political. You can't expect too much from the Eminent Domain State Court system.
Hopefully this arena will never get built. Keep trying Dan!
Nov. 24, 2009, 11:07 pm
mikes rat butt from everywhere says:
Mike From FG you are an ass.
Great day? They will come for you next. That will be hilarious. I'll bring the cheese cake! Idiot. Most likely you don't even understand what you are commenting on.
Nov. 25, 2009, 2:55 am
Danny from Cobble Hill says:
Keep up the fight Goldstein! I buy my crack next to the hole and I'm almost certain that an arena would drive my dealer away.
Nov. 25, 2009, 12:06 pm
Mike from FG says:
HA HA HA HA HA HA. Danny boy loses.

If they want to come for my home I'm smart enough to sell when the price is good. Now Danny the dope is crying because he's not getting enough money. WA WA WA

All I can say is HA HA HA HA HA HA
Nov. 25, 2009, 8:22 pm
Orlando from Florida says:
At present this area looks like Schenectady or Detroit. Or Camden? Build, I say, Build.
Nov. 30, 2009, 4:20 pm
Bayridgite from Bay Ridge says:
FYI, if this stadium ever gets built, it will NOT be big enough for ice hockey.
Dec. 1, 2009, 11:44 am
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