The fate of Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project is now in the hands of the three men in the room.
In a highly expected vote on Friday, the board of the Empire State Development Corporation approved the general project plan and the final environmental impact statement for Ratner’s $4-billion, 16-tower arena, residential and office space mega-development.
“This project is good for Brooklyn,” said ESDC Chairman Charles Gargano after the unanimous board vote. “I understand that there is some opposition — there is on all projects — but by and large, this is a good project.”
The vote sends final approval of Atlantic Yards to the state’s Public Authorities Control Board, whose membership is comprised of Gov. Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R–Rensselaer) and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D–Manhattan).
A “no” vote from any one of the state’s most-powerful men would kill Atlantic Yards — though all three have said they support the project.
Yards opponents have called on the PACB to delay its vote until after Eliot Spitzer takes over as governor so that he can put his stamp on a project that would begin construction during his administration — and would cause significant impacts on traffic, transit and other infrastructure that the new governor would have to deal with in years to come.
Others are calling for the PACB to delay the vote until a federal judge rules on an existing lawsuit over the state’s use of its power to condemn privately owned buildings in the 22-acre Atlantic Yards footprint and hand them over to Ratner.
The developer owns almost 90 percent of the land on which he hopes to build his complex, but needs the state to condemn additional buildings.
Nearly a dozen landowners in the footprint filed suit in October, arguing that the state’s use of eminent domain would violate the law because Ratner was selected as the developer of the state-owned Vanderbilt rail yards in a sham public-approval process rather than on the merits of his proposal.
Many legal experts said the suit is a longshot.
Also Friday, a lawyer for 13 remaining rent-stabilized tenants within Ratner’s footprint sued the state on the grounds that the just-approved general project plan does not protect them in the event that Atlantic Yards is never built.
The lawyer, George Locker, argued that developers who want to “evict [a] tenant in order to demolish [a] building, must obtain permission from the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal. FCRC has not done so.”
The lawsuit also argues that only a jury — not a quasi-independent authority like the ESDC — has the right to condemn land.
ESDC officials said Friday that the plan cannot go forward without the use of eminent domain, but were not worried about the suits.
“We feel confident that we will get by these lawsuits,” Gargano said.
The project plan approved by the state on Friday admits that Atlantic Yards — which is the largest single-developer project in Brooklyn history — would cause massive, and in some cases irreparable, trauma to already clogged streets and subway trains and other strained infrastructure.
But project boosters, among them Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg and Borough President Markowitz, say those impacts are eclipsed by the benefits of Atlantic Yards: 2,250 units of below-market-rate housing, eight acres of open space, 1,500 construction jobs per year over the life of the project, a renovated rail yard, a 19,000-seat Frank Gehry–designed arena for the New Jersey Nets, and eliminating urban “blight” in a neighborhood where brownstones routinely sell for $1.5 million.
But opponents disagree.
“Ratner’s project is illegal, illegitimate, ill-conceived and irresponsible,” said Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn. Goldstein is one of the residents of the footprint who have sued.
Gargano called on the PACB to quickly approve the project — and alluded to the fact that Silver recently used his vote to delay the Moynihan station project.
“Losing Moynihan station was a horrible thing for New York City,” Gargano said.