New lawsuit against Atlantic Yards

May 5, 2008 5:38:07 PM PDT
Critics are trying a new legal tack in fighting a giant proposed development centered on a new NBA Nets arena in Brooklyn: They say the project's timeframe could violate state laws.Thirteen tenants whose apartments would be condemned to make way for the Atlantic Yards development filed a lawsuit Wednesday in a Manhattan state court. The suit - the latest of several surrounding the $4 billion project - hinges on a law saying that private property seized by the state must be "materially improved" within 10 years or offered back to its former owner.

The state-run Empire State Development Corp., which plans to take the property, has an agreement with Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner allowing the firm at least 12 years to complete the project's first phase. No timeline is set for the rest.

The Frank Gehry-designed project includes 16 skyscrapers, an 18,000-seat arena for the New Jersey-based basketball team and thousands of apartments. The developers have said it will bring thousands of affordable homes and needed jobs to Brooklyn.

When "government bodies take votes and appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, which is in short supply, based on the promise of affordable housing and jobs, and it's not going to be built in the statutory 10 years, it's really a fraud on the public," said the tenants' lawyer, George Locker.

The lawsuit asks the court to invalidate any parts of the agreement that allow more than 10 years for the project's construction.

An Empire State Development Corp. spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit. Forest City Ratner said more than $42 million in work is nearly done, and more than half the structures on the sprawling property have been torn down.

At least five other lawsuits have challenged the project, and all have lost at least one round in court.

Forest City's finance director said in a sworn statement to a court earlier this year that lengthy litigation could jeopardize the development's financing. Forest City officials then strove to counter any suggestion that the project was shaky.