Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Judge dismisses WPIRA lawsuit

Judge Korman of the federal court in Brooklyn issued a decision in the case against the City that Willets Point Industry and Realty Association brought in 2008 for lack of services. The lawsuit was brought with the hopes of proving that the City intentionally neglected the area for decades so that they could use the blight argument for condemnation purposes. Damages were sought. The judge dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the City acted "rationally, and within its discretion" in refusing to provide municipal services to the area. He also said plaintiffs should have sued 10-20 years ago. The next step would be an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, should the plaintiffs choose to go that route.

It should be made clear that this is not the Article 78 that Willets Point United filed to stop the redevelopment project, as several news outlets are reporting. But it is still a blow to property owners who are intentionally neglected by the City because it has "bigger plans" for their property.

Constrained Court Rules Against Property Owners and Tenants in Atlantic Yards Eminent Domain Case

Despite Ruling, Fight Against Ratner's Brooklyn Project Is Far From Over

BROOKLYN, NY — New York's high court ruled today against property owners and tenants who had challenged the state's use of eminent domain to seize their homes and businesses for the enrichment of developer Bruce Ratner and his Atlantic Yards project in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

In the 6-1 decision the Court of Appeals ruled that the state agency's determination to take the plaintiffs property had a rational basis under state law.

"The fight against the Atlantic Yards project is far from over. The community has four outstanding lawsuits against the project and, meanwhile, the arena bond financing clock ticks louder and louder for Ratner. While this is a terrible day for taxpaying homeowners in New York, this is not the end of our fight to keep the government from stealing our homes and businesses,” said Develop Don't Destroy spokesman and lead plaintiff Daniel Goldstein. "Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg now need to decide if they want their legacy to be the next New London—a dust bowl in the heart of Brooklyn caused by the abuse of eminent domain, because that will be the outcome if they allow the property seizures and final clearance for Ratner's unfeasible project."

"We are disappointed, but undeterred. We lost this round, but the legal fight is not over. My clients will continue to resist Ratner's efforts to steal their homes and businesses in the New York courts. We will vigorously defend the cases that the State will now file seeking to seize my clients' properties, and will continue to pursue all other available legal remedies," said lead attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff of Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady. "Because the Court of Appeals made it clear that it considered itself 'bound' by the self-serving record created by the Empire State Development Corporation prior to its December 2006 public use finding, and thus refused to consider the events leading up to the ESDC's adoption of a modified general project plan two months ago, we now intend to commence a new lawsuit seeking to compel the ESDC to issue new or amended public use findings. It would be perverse and unfair if my clients homes and businesses were confiscated based on circumstances that no longer exist."

"While we are deeply disappointed in the Court's decision, our fight against the government's abuses on Ratner's behalf continues, and we expect to defeat Atlantic Yards through political and legal means", said Develop Don't Destroy legal director Candace Carponter. "It now falls to Governor Paterson to guarantee, through a binding legal contract, which the State would be required to enforce, that all the developer's promises about the project—including all of the ‘affordable' housing and the ten year construction timeline—are fulfilled. If the Governor is unable to do that, he is duty-bound to abandon this ill-fated project, and start over so the rail yards can be developed properly and realistically."

In 2005, in the wake of the Supreme Court's widely despised Kelo decision that expanded the reach of eminent domain, then-Senator David Paterson called for a state-wide blanket moratorium on the use of eminent domain.

"Governor Paterson needs to ask himself what happened to Senator Paterson's position on eminent domain. And then he needs to act on his principles," Carponter concluded.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

City trying to hide impact of Van Wyck ramps

From the Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

The effort of Willets Point United-the group of business owners trying to stave off eminent domain generated eviction over at the Iron Triangle-is being stonewalled by the city's Economic Development Corporation in its effort to have all of the relevant project traffic information publicly disclosed. Of particular urgency is the data that pertains to the proposed Van Wyck ramps-the linchpin of any ability that the city would have to mitigate the impact of the 80,000 cars/day that this massive redevelopment will generate.

What the city is doing here, is attempting to avoid any public scrutiny-a scrutiny that would reveal the extent to which the entire traffic study that lead to the project's initial approval at the city council fraudulently fails to disclose essential information that would, we believe, totally undermine the public support for this expensive venture.

Central to this unethical-and perhaps illegal-end run, is the withholding of the Access Modification Report (AMR); and all of the data that has been generated to come up with the report that is the key to getting both state and federal approval for the ramps. While the report itself may still be considered, "work product," the traffic information that has been utilized to make it up, certainly isn't.

What exactly is the city trying to hide? Huge costs and unmitigatible local and highway traffic. As Brian Ketcham, WPU's traffic expert points out: "...the project will generate 80,000 vehicle trips on an average weekday (of which 2,500 are truck trips) and about the same number of trips for weekend days, with peak hour impacts of between 6,000 and 7,000 vehicle trips."

And nowhere in the original environmental review is the impact of the ramps ever actually analyzed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NYC can't afford to take this risk

From Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

...all that New London has left for all of the heartache it cause Susan Kelo and the 89 other homeowners is a giant vacant sore. As Juan Gonzales points out in this morning's NY Daily News: "Kelo ended up losing her home and moving to nearby Groton, and the entire neighborhood was bulldozed. Four years later, there are only empty lots and weeds where their houses once stood. As for those 3,000 jobs, residents are still waiting for them. "There are some projects in the pipeline, but they've been unable to move forward for lack of financing," John Brooks, executive director of the New London Development Corp., conceded. Finances have gotten so bad, Brooks said, that he will soon be relegated to working part time for the corporation."

So, as we have been saying, here, here and here, NYC needs to see this New London fiasco as a lesson to be learned-and before the city moves to hold any eminent domain hearings on Willets Point (slated for this month or next) it needs to re-evaluate the cost and feasibility of this massive undertaking before it proceeds any further. New Yorkers need to know where the money is coming from; and how the traffic infrastructure will be built that will accommodate a proposed 9,000,000 square feet of development.

Is this the kind of speculative venture that New York needs in this parlous economic time? And will the business owners of Willets Point-along with 2500 workers-lose their life work because of the edifice complex of the richest citizen of the city? In four years, Mike Bloomberg will be (hopefully) gone; but what happens at the Iron Triangle may well define his tenure. As Gonzales reminds us-giving a shout out to Jake Bono of Willets Point as well: "This week, the other shoe dropped. Pfizer announced that it will soon close its New London research center and shift its 1,500 jobs to Groton. The jobs will be gone just around the time the facility's tax abatement ends. Ten years after New London started destroying a neighborhood for a development dream, red-faced town leaders have only a dust bowl on their hands." the case of Willets Point, that vague promise of Valhalla-in the midst of the worst economic recession in 80 years-is simply one expensive road that NYC can ill afford to travel. It doesn't have the money, and it can't afford to lose the jobs and tax paying businesses-not for a promissory note that Mike Bloomberg, long gone when it comes due, will not forced to make good on.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How victims of eminent domain are really treated

From Wall Street Journal:

In September, Dan Goldstein received a letter from New York State informing him and his wife that the government was about to seize their Brooklyn apartment "In furtherance of the Atlantic Yards Arena and Redevelopment Project." The building would be razed as part of a 22-acre, $4.9 billion sports-complex project.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and developer Bruce C. Ratner have promised that the project will bring jobs, affordable apartments and the Nets basketball team. Lost amid these promises is the story of Mr. Goldstein, his wife Shabnam Merchant, and a few others who have spent years resisting efforts to dislodge them. The state's highest court—the New York Court of Appeals—is expected to issue its ruling in Goldstein et al. v. Empire State Development Corporation any day. The case is a pivotal one in the struggle to prevent abuse of the power of eminent domain.

All of this places Mr. Goldstein in an important spot. The case that bears his name is the first opportunity since Kelo for New York's highest court to affirm that the state's constitutional standard for seizing property is more stringent than the federal constitutional standard.

If the court rules against Mr. Goldstein, however, he and his wife could suffer one final injustice. The letter they received in September informed them that the state will compensate them $510,000 for their property—less than what they bought it for and less than half of what Mr. Ratner offered to pay them for it four years ago.

It's also less per square foot than what Mr. Ratner expects to sell his luxury apartments for once they are built. "I think [the state] lowballs to deter people from fighting like we have," Mr. Goldstein told me.

Mr. Goldstein should win. The state constitution supports him. If he loses, so will the owners of private property everywhere in the Empire State.

And from the Brooklyn Paper:

“I’m pissed off that the state is the low-balling me,” said Goldstein, whose last legal challenges to the project are on the verge of resolution. If those lawsuits fail, Goldstein said he’ll be forced to “go to court to get fair market value and just compensation.”

Goldstein’s lawyer, Mike Rikon, believes that the Empire State Development Corporation’s offer is lower than the market value of the apartment as a punishment for Goldstein’s opposition to the project.

“We saw the number and thought maybe they were being vindictive,” Rikon said.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Regular people hurt by government folly

Pfizer abandons site of infamous Kelo eminent domain taking
By: Timothy P. Carney
Washington Examiner Columnist

The private homes that New London, Conn., took away from Suzette Kelo and her neighbors have been torn down. Their former site is a wasteland of fields of weeds, a monument to the power of eminent domain.

But now Pfizer, the drug company whose neighboring research facility had been the original cause of the homes' seizure, has just announced that it is closing up shop in New London.

To lure those jobs to New London a decade ago, the local government promised to demolish the older residential neighborhood adjacent to the land Pfizer was buying for next-to-nothing. Suzette Kelo fought the taking to the Supreme Court, and lost. Five justices found this redevelopment met the constitutional hurdle of "public use."

The Hartford Courant reports:

Pfizer Inc. will shut down its massive New London research and development headquarters and transfer most of the 1,400 people working there to Groton, the pharmaceutical giant said Monday....

Pfizer is now deciding what to do with its giant New London offices, and will consider selling it, leasing it and other options, a company spokeswoman said.

Scott Bullock, Kelo's co-counsel in the case, told me: "This shows the folly of these redevelopment projects that use massive taxpayer subsidies and other forms of corporate welfare and abuse eminent domain."

The government of Connecticut clearly didn't know what was in the best interest of its citizens. They misjudged the benefits of taking people's land to give to a giant company that promised the world but delivered nothing.

The same thing is happening at Atlantic Yards and at Willets Point.

As the Neighborhood Retail Alliance states:

The abandoned New London property should serve as a warning that our vaunted decision makers sometimes simply don't know what they are doing-and plow ahead because they are programmed to act in a certain way. It is time that EDC opened up and presented all of the needed information to those whose lives will be effected by this massive redevelopment scheme. And, by the way, someone should let us all know how much it will cost and where the money will be coming from.

EDC is trafficking in secrecy

From Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

Willets Point United is now in the middle of trying to determine whether the Van Wyck ramps will actually alleviate the traffic mess that the development will generate; and what the cost of all this will mean for the city's already over burdened tax payers.

Unfortunately, EDC is stonewalling handing over the information-and we are planning to present this refusal, as well as its implications, to the residents of the nearby communities that will be impacted by the mess. As it stands now, the cost of remediation is unclear, with the city planning to figure this all out (according to the EIS) after the project is built. A blatant act of malfeasance in our view.

But consider what kind of traffic mess will assault the Van Wyck. According to our own traffic expert Brian Ketcham, the results will be anything but pretty: "The problem is that the project is surrounded by clogged expressways: the Van Wyck Expressway, the Grand Central Parkway, and the Long Island Expressway. And, with the project, clogged local access roads as well! At 9 million square feet the Willets Point Development Plan will generate 80,000 vehicle trips including 2,500 truck trips entering or leaving Willets Point every weekday and a similar amount of traffic on weekends. And, during the baseball or tennis season the project will have far greater impacts."

And the ramps are supposed to be a savior-but there role is left unexamined by the EIS: "The City is asking the NYSDOT to approve two new ramps connecting with the Van Wyck Expressway south of the site. It would provide more than a third of the car and truck trips accessing and leaving the site to travel to and from the south without using local streets. Without these ramps these trips would be forced to use local streets that would already be jammed with 60% to 70% of project trips. These impacts are never disclosed in the FEIS.

Nor are the ramps mentioned in the mitigation section of the FEIS. Instead, the City has applied in a separate secret document for State DOT approval of the ramps. This document, which includes the results of extensive traffic modeling and which it is assumed contains a discussion of the effects on traffic should NYSDOT fail to approve the ramps, is not available for public review."

So, once again, we are in a very secretive process whereby EDC is playing hide the ball-to the extent that we simply don't know what is being told NYSDOT, and how accurate the information proffered by the city really is. Which is why this entire process needs to be opened up for public scrutiny.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

One more time, Ben Haber!

This letter to the editor appeared in several Queens weekly papers this week:

Dear Editor:

Local development corporations serve a useful purpose.They are designed to deal with proposed city development plans in a local area, to protect the interests of the residents in the area and ensure the city is proceeding in a legal and proper manner.In short, they are not an arm of or partner with the city in the development plans and their interests are often not similar. Precisely because there could be a conflict of interest between the city and the local development corporation, it is illegal for a local development corporation to accept city funds and then use all or a portion of those funds to lobby city officials to support the city’s plans.

As reported in The New York Times on October 30 (“Bloomberg Saw Development as Future, and Future is Stalled”), it would appear the Flushing-Willets Point Local Development Corporation, headed by former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership may have accepted city funds and then used portions thereof to lobby city officials. This would not be an insignificant matter because if an illegality has taken place, it may well be any actions taken by the City Council on these matters are null and void. There is an ongoing investigation,and one hopes it is expeditiously concluded and right be done.

Benjamin M. Haber