The U.S. Court of Appeals today dismissed the major lawsuit against the Atlantic Yards project. The decision landed a body blow to property owners trying to save their properties from being taken by the state of New York so that developer Bruce Ratner can build a massive development centered around a new basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets, a team that he owns. The lawyer for the property owners have said they plan on appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The main argument lawyers for the property owners tried to make was that the main purpose of the Atlantic Yards project was to benefit a private party, that is, the development company Forest City Ratner, and that benefits to the public, like new park space, some affordable housing and improvements to the transit system were pretextual.
For those who don’t wish to read through the opinion, the court basically admits that the mere presence of a small public benefit is sufficient to disprove the pretextual taking. They admit that the properties in question aren’t blighted, that the development plan was concocted by Bruce Ratner and that there might have been some “irregularities” along the way that might indicate that there was some collusion between Ratner and local officials, but nevertheless, there is a whole 5% percent going to affordable housing, while the rest will be luxury condos, and a stadium, by definition, is a public benefit, even if Ratner has a 100 lease for $1 and will profit from events held there. In the end, the court would rather defer to the state legislature than possibly examine the sentence in Kelo majority that states a city wouldn’t “be allowed to take property under the mere pretext of a public purpose when its actual purpose was to bestow a private benefit.”
In any event, it’s a mere 24 pages. The decision can be found at Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn.
The property owners’ lawyer had this to say in a press release:
The court today affirmed that the government is free to take private homes and businesses and give them to influential citizens as long as one can imagine a conceivable benefit to the public, no matter how small or unlikely it may be. Indeed, it does not matter if all evidence points to a secret back room deal. All corrupt politicians need do to insulate themselves from judicial scrutiny is claim a benefit to the public. This is wrong. It should trouble all citizens who, unlike Bruce Ratner, lack the power and money to coopt the governments’ power of eminent domain for their private use.