Thursday, January 17, 2008

The "other" AY lawsuits might take a year to resolve

While two legal cases (federal and state) organized by Atlantic Yards opponent Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn have gotten the most attention recently, two lawsuits filed by 13 tenants (12 in rent-stabilized housing) in the AY footprint may take another year to resolve, even though both have been dismissed by state appellate courts.

On 11/9/07, the Appellate Division, Second Department, upheld the Empire State Development Corporation's relocation plan for the tenants, who would be displaced by project construction. Yesterday we learned that, on January 9, the court denied permission to appeal to the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

However, attorney George Locker said that he will pursue an alternate path and file the same motion before the Court of Appeals, which chooses cases on a discretionary basis. "I expect that the state's highest court will see the public importance of the issues presented and that it will elect to address them," he said.

If the Court of Appeals does take the case, that would take a year, he estimated.

Meanwhile, Forest City Ratner issued a press release saluting the decision, calling the plaintiffs "project opponents" (they're not supporters, but they're not associated with the official opposition) and declaring, “This is the second time in less than a week that the courts have decided in favor of the Atlantic Yards project." Most press coverage followed Forest City Ratner's take.

Condemnation

If the Court of Appeals chooses not to hear the case, the next step would be for ESDC to move in Brooklyn Supreme Court for a vesting proceeding, to take title from Forest City Ratner and transfer it to ESDC, extinguishing the rent-stabilized leases.

"When they commence it, we will oppose it," Locker said, and will bring up an argument that was previously dismissed as inappropriately filed: that the demolition of a building with rent-stabilized tenants must go through much slower procedures of the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), which oversees rent-regulated buildings.

"I think it'll take a year before that's resolved," Locker said. "There will be motions, hearings, briefings, and there will be an appeal. And that doesn't count that fact that people have to be relocated, according to the law."

Then again, Locker acknowledged that the case is not as political as the litigation driven by groups opposing the project. "My group has always been prepared to resolve this," he said. "We're just not prepared to be bulldozed."

Demolition coming

Meanwhile, the ESDC has stated that abatement is complete at 626 Pacific Street and demolition will be under way this week or next. That low-slung building is adjacent to 624 Pacific Street, where, in June 2006, tenants were rudely awakened by the improper use of a backhoe, rather than hand tools, for demolition of an adjacent within this two week period.

(In the photo above, 624 Pacific is the four-story building and 626 Pacific is adjacent at left. Copyright David Gochfeld.)

Locker, who represents those tenants, said he has put the ESDC on notice that new demolitions must be conducted safely. He said ESDC attorneys said the agency was on notice, and that the environmental monitor named last May was alerted to the issue.

"I consider it a form of harassment," Locker said of the planned demolition. "If you can't begin your project without both buildings down, does it really make sense to go through all the effort to take down 626, when it's right next to 624 and people live there. Why push it--to save a couple of hours in the future? It can only be interpreted as a sign of force."

(Photo of 626 Pacific from February 2007.)

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