Civil authority

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Noted civil liberties attorney Norman Siegel will help several hundred Prospect Heights residents fight eviction at the hands of the state to make way for a colossal, $2.5 billion arena, office tower and apartment complex planned for the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues.

But Siegel, whose hiring was first reported by The Brooklyn Papers last week and made official at a news conference Wednesday afternoon, might not stop there.

The former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union told The Papers this week that he would also look into representing the hundreds of residents and businesses in danger of losing their property to the city to make way for the massive plan to turn Downtown Brooklyn into a metropolis akin to Midtown Manhattan.

While the Frank Gehry-designed arena project, including soaring office towers and 4,500 units of housing has garnered national attention, the far less publicized Downtown Brooklyn rezoning plan, which would change the face of downtown and also require government seizure of private land, is moving through the city land use review process.

“The Atlantic Yards proposal and the Downtown Brooklyn Plan raise complex issues,” Siegel told The Papers at a five-hour public hearing on the downtown plan at Borough Hall Wednesday night.

Siegel, who plans to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s power to invoke eminent domain to make way for a privately owned arena complex, told The Papers he was also interested in representing displaced residents in Downtown Brooklyn on the same constitutional grounds.

“I would like to have Norman come aboard, he’s an outstanding person and has a couple of good ideas,” said Lewis Greenstein, who owns a three-story, clapboard building at 233 Duffield St.

Greenstein is a founder of the Brooklyn Coalition Against Urban Removal — a new group formed to fight eminent domain in both Prospect Heights and downtown.

Borough President Marty Markowitz is currently reviewing the Downtown Brooklyn Plan and will make a recommendation before sending it on to the City Planing Commission. After that it goes before the City Council.

The downtown plan, part of the city’s efforts to retain back office space, would allow for at least 6.7 million square feet of office space, 1 million square feet of retail space, 1,000 units of housing and 2,500 parking spaces.

To make way for the multibillion-dollar development, the plan also calls for the government seizure of seven acres of land, including 130 residential units, 100 businesses and a college.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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