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Court OKs Ratner demolition after the fact

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Bruce Ratner has won the right to tear down buildings that he’s already demolished in the footprint of his proposed Atlantic Yards project.

In a victory, of sorts, for the developer, a state appeals court this week upheld a lower court ruling that allowed Ratner to demolish the buildings — including the Underberg Building at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues — because they posed “an immediate danger to the public.”

Opponents had argued that Ratner should not be allowed to tear down the buildings because the larger Atlantic Yards has still not received state approval.

In the same ruling, the appellate division overturned the lower court’s ruling that forced the state to fire its lead attorney because he had once worked for Ratner on the same project.

That February ruling had been seen as a significant victory for opponents of the project because it deprived the Empire State Development Corporation of environmental lawyer David Paget, who had spun through the state’s revolving door after working for Ratner.

Judge Carol Edmead had disqualified Paget, citing “a crippling appearance of impropriety” and “a taint on the process.”

But in overturning Edmead, the appeals court used similarly harsh language to describe Ratner’s opponents.

“It seems clear that [the opponents] intended the disqualification as a significant tactical maneuver in their campaign against the project,” the ruling stated. “The mere appearance of impropriety alone is insufficient to warrant disqualification [of Paget].”

The part of the appeals ruling centering on the demolition of the buildings is virtually moot at this point, as Ratner has already removed one of the six in question, with three others on Dean almost entirely gone and two others, on Pacific Street, beginning initial demolition this week.

Here, the appeals court backed Edmead’s ruling, calling “without merit” an opposition claim that ESDC wrongly accepted Ratner’s “imminent danger” claim without assessing it for itself.

“The agency’s emergency declaration was a reasonable exercise of discretion,” the ruling stated.

The appeals court decision gave opponents ample cause to complain.

Daniel Goldstein, spokesman for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, which brought the case, said that by allowing the agency to retain Paget, the appeals court was allowing ESDC to act as “a collaborator with Bruce Ratner, not as a protector of the public interest.”

He vowed that his group would comb the project’s forthcoming environmental impact statement for evidence of collusion between Ratner and ESDC. The project does still need to go through the state’s public review process, called SEQR.

“The court did note the importance of the public participation process under SEQR,” added DDDB legal adviser Candace Carpentor. “So all interested people must now join us to challenge this destructive development review process which continues to nakedly shut out the public. This is just a single step it what will continue to be a long battle.”

Forest City Ratner had, predictably, a different view.

“As we have said all along, we undertook the demolition of specific buildings because they posed a public safety risk,” said Bruce Bender, executive vice president.

“We are pleased the appellate court, like the lower court, agreed with us.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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