Court upholds ruling for Nets arena

November 24, 2009 4:13:46 PM PST
The fight over a Brooklyn arena here has gone on so long that the area has morphed into to a completely new look. On Tuesday, the state's highest court gave the project a green light. In a 6-1 ruling Tuesday, the Court of Appeals said the Empire State Development Corp.'s finding that the area was blighted was enough to justify taking the land.

The project includes a basketball arena for the Nets and someday perhaps thousands of apartments and shops. It's a huge five-billion dollar investment.

"This should have happened four years ago! Four years ago this should have happened! Now's the time. Let's get the construction going. Let's get the affordable housing built. Let's get the jobs created and go Brooklyn Nets," proclaimed Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.

Yet the court didn't just okay the project. It ruled the government can seize private property and condemn it for somebody else to develop.

"The constitution accords government broad power to take and clear substandard and insanitary areas for redevelopment," Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman wrote for the majority. "In so doing, it commensurately deprives the judiciary of grounds to interfere with the exercise."

A group of tenants and owners claim the seizure is unconstitutional. They argue that developer Bruce Ratner's proposed $4.9 billion, 22-acre Atlantic Yards project mainly enriches private interests, while the state constitution requires public use for taking land.

Already lots of people have sold out or fled this neighborhood.

"I mean, it's unfortunate they do what they gotta do. Yet at the same time it's like, hey, the attractions," Fred Gabriel said.

Those who've remained close by are angry. They ask how could this happen in a country where private property is almost a sacred right.

"This is not about us! It's not about I don't want this three blocks away from us or I'm worried about the value - I don't own anything. I rent. It's a matter of principle," argued David Sheets.

The attorney for homeowners and tenants who declined to sell after the project was announced in 2003 said the fight isn't over. Matthew Brinckerhoff said his clients will oppose the ESDC when the urban development agency goes to court in Brooklyn in the second step of the process to take the properties.

"They have won round one, and we still have round two to go," Brinckerhoff said. "I think everybody believes that they need to do a number of things by the end of the year, and where exactly this fits into that process I'm not sure. But the fact that they haven't yet taken the properties can't be helping them."

Opponents also condemned politicians who support the decision, especially the Brooklyn Borough president.

"Celebrating three blocks from here this decision that endangers all tenants in New York State, all tenants in his borough, all tenants in New York State. Shame on Marty Markowitz. He's an embarrassment," said lawsuit plaintiff Daniel Goldstein.

In a prepared statement, Ratner said construction will continue, with the intent that the Nets will play ball there in the 2011-2012 season.

"Once again the courts have made it clear that this project represents a significant public benefit for the people of Brooklyn and the entire city," Ratner said. "Our commitment to the entire project is as strong today as when we started six years ago."