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According to the Brooklyn Paper, late yesterday the US Treasury Department exempted the Atlantic Yards development from a 2006 ruling that prohibits the use of tax-free bonds to finance stadium projects. This will potentially allow developer Bruce Ratner to proceed with an estimated $800 million in tax-free financing.

The exemption came about because the project was defined as being “substantially in progress,” meaning that it received “preliminary approval of the government” and involved “significant expenditures” before Oct. 19, 2006, and because the project’s financing plan included the use of tax-free bonds. However, New York State lawmakers did not give their approval to the project until December 2006.

Still, as the Brooklyn Paper points out, this ruling may not necessarily result in a windfall for the developer: “Despite apparently winning the right to raise money through tax-free bonds, it’s still unclear whether Ratner will be able to find investors for those bonds, given the decline in the economy.”

News today from Task Force member organization Develop, Don’t Destroy Brooklyn: A State Appellate Court panel has rejected the Empire State Development Corporation’s (ESDC) motion to dismiss the eminent domain lawsuit filed by nine property owners and tenants with properties in the Atlantic Yards footprint earlier this year.

The lawsuit claims that Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project violates the New York State Constitution’s public use, due process and equal protection clauses, as well as low-income resident requirements. According to DDDB, the Court’s decision means that oral arguments will be heard in the case sometime in March or April, with a decision then expected between late spring and fall 2009.

This is a major setback for developer Bruce Ratner, who recently told the New York Times that he planned to break ground in December. The project cannot move forward without using eminent domain. In addition, according to the Times, Ratner has brokered a contract with Barclays Bank that would provide $20 million a year for naming rights to the arena. This contract requires FCR to close on the land and secure the financing by the end of November.

It’s been a while since we’ve looked in on the Atlantic Yards project. Luckily, Norman Oder of the Atlantic Yards Report has been keeping vigilant watch over the goings-on at the site. Here’s a quick update:

–The people still living in the project’s footprint, on Dean Street between Flatbush and Sixth Avenues, have been experiencing some serious side-effects of construction, including cracks in building walls, vibrations, loud noises, dust, “sewer aromas,” and utility shut-offs. According to this post, “Some residents consider it a form of harassment, an effort to wear them down and choose buyouts rather than remain in lawsuits challenging the project.” To make matters worse, the Environmental Impact Statement ignored these impacts. (Photo via AY Report)

–Developer Bruce Ratner has pushed back the projected opening of the arena again, this time to the 2011-2012 season.

–Meanwhile, Brownstoner reports that nine property owners and tenants have filed a petition against the Empire State Development Corporation in the Appellate Division Second Department of New York State Supreme Court challenging the use of eminent domain for the project.

Two Task Force Organizations, UPROSE and the Fifth Avenue Committee, are hosting meetings this Wednesday and next, which may be of interest to Brooklynites. Wednesday, July 23 is the UPROSE Community Education Forum on the proposed USPowerGen update of the Gowanus Generating Station in Sunset Park. Wednesday, July 30 is the next meeting of the Accountable Development Working Group.

More info after the jump.

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A coalition of 25 community and good-government groups, including Task Force Members Develop, Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, and NYPIRG, filed an new appeal yesterday in the legal case challenging the environmental review and approval process for the Atlantic Yards development. (Lawyer-types can find the detailed information here).

DDDB explains: “The appeal focuses on the plaintiffs’ charge that the lower court erred in numerous respects, including the following:

  • The State’s determination that the project site is “blighted” was illegitimate, was illegitimate, and manufactured by the developer to take valuable private property via eminent domain.
  • The State had no authority to approve the Barclays Center Arena because it is not a “Civic Project” as defined under the Urban Development Corporation Act (UDCA).
  • The State violated the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) by failing to consider the possibility of terrorism and other security breaches on the Project.
  • The State violated SEQRA by grossly misrepresenting the project’s construction timeline, thereby minimizing the project’s impacts, and not requiring adequate mitigation.
  • The State violated SEQRA when it failed to adequately study alternative locations for the proposed Project, including locating the arena in Coney Island.
  • The PACB violated SEQRA by approving the project without considering its environmental impacts and failing to make its own SEQRA findings.”

A victory in this lawsuit would require a the developer to undertake a new environmental impact study, and would also require a new vote on the project by the Public Authorities Control Board.

News from Task Force Members Develop, Don’t Destroy Brooklyn: The US Supreme Court has denied the petition to grant a hearing to to eleven property owners and tenants challenging developer Forest City Ratner’s legal rights to use eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards development project. Now, the plantiffs will file an action in New York state court.

In a statement, lead attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP said, “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.”

This morning at City Hall, Brooklyn elected officials, including Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries and City Council Members Letitia James and David Yassky, called for the passage of the Atlantic Yards Governance Act. This Act would create a 15-member development trust to manage the Atlantic Yards project, theoretically redistributing power over the project’s master plan from developer Forest City Ratner to the public.

According to the NY Observer, Jeffries said, “Atlantic Yards is a public project built on public land using public money overseen by a public entity for a public purpose. It therefore deserves maximum public participation during the life of this project.” However, the Observer also points out, a majority of the trust would be appointed by the Governor.

This Wednesday, May 14 at 6pm, The Municipal Art Society and the Campaign for Community-Based Planning present the final forum in the series “Creating the City We All Want: A Roadmap”:

“David vs. Goliath: Neighborhood Planning in the Face of Large-Scale Development”:
Many observers opine that community-driven plans—official and approved through a city process or unofficial but widely recognized—are no real hedge against unwanted development. But in the cases of West Harlem, Midtown East, and Atlantic Yards, would developers have had carte blanche without community plans? How do community planners believe alternative plans can be more effective? How can alternative plans guarantee that future development will fit consensus-based neighborhood visions? We’ll look at some recent cases—West Harlem, Midtown East, and Prospect Heights/Fort Greene—where developer-driven plans threaten to undermine community vision, and examine the place of community-based planning in these struggles.

Panelists: Anthony Borelli, Director of Land Use, Planning, and Development for Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer; Marshall Brown, Architect/planner for the UNITY Plan for Atlantic Yards; Candace Carponter, Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods; Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, former Chairman, Manhattan Community Board 9; and Ed Rubin, Land Use Chair, Manhattan Community Board 6.

Moderator: Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, Executive Director, El Diario/La Prensa.

Refreshments will be served.

RSVP to rsvp@mas.org or 212-935-2075.

Funding for the Campaign has been provided by the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation.

Following up on this weekend’s Call Time-Out on Atlantic Yards rally, the Municipal Art Society has released renderings of what the area might look like as demolitions continue and only a small piece of the proposed project is actually built. Visit atlanticlots.com for a slide show.

Image via Brooklyn Speaks.

News from Task Force members Develop, Don’t Destroy Brooklyn and Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods:

“A major community rally will be held Saturday, May 3, 2pm at 752 Pacific Street. The Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, Brooklyn Speaks, and Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn will join with community leaders and elected officials in calling for a freeze on all Atlantic Yards activities. The three sponsoring organizations represent thousands of New Yorkers that have had differing perspectives on issues raised by the Atlantic Yards proposal, but all agree that the current state of affairs is intolerable…
DDDB has always maintained that Atlantic Yards is not a feasible project. Recent developments in the financial markets and statements by the developer have made that certain, and call the entire project and its purported public benefits into question. The only thing currently with a timeline is the arena and its luxury skyboxes and acres of demolished vacant lots. Meanwhile our neighborhoods are being blighted by unnecessary demolitions for a project that is now a big unknown.
DDDB’s position remains the same as it has from the beginning—the project is bad for many reasons from process to finance to design, and we oppose it. The project should be scrapped; it’s time for a new plan to develop the rail yards in a democratic, fair and responsible way with genuine community participation.
So come on out on May 3rd — bring your friends, join your neighbors, fellow New Yorkers, elected officials and community leaders in telling Governor Paterson:
No More Demolitions!
No More Eminent Domain!
No More Subsidies!
No More Changes to Infrastructure!
You can download a rally flier and handcard to distribute at: http://tinyurl.com/4uk8zx
Photo of Atlantic Yards demo/blight via threecee on flickr.
Since 2000, The Community-Based Planning Task Force has been leading the effort to create a more meaningful role for communities in New York City’s planning and decision-making processes.

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