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Judge Gives Green Light to Ratner Demolition Project

Bring on the wrecking ball! In a split decision, State Supreme Court Justice Carol Edmead last week, refused to stop Forest City Ratner Companies’ (FCRC) plans to demolish six buildings in the footprint of the proposed Atlantic Yards project. However, Edmead also ruled that the lawyer reviewing the project, David Paget, for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) had to step away from the case because he formally worked on the project for FCRC. Edmead gave ESDC 45 days to find a new attorney. “We’re very pleased with the decision to disqualify Dave Paget as counsel for the Empire State Development Corporation. It constituted a clear conflict of interest for the review of the project,” said the plaintiff’s attorney Jeff Baker “We’re disappointed with her ruling to allow the demolition of the buildings to proceed,” he added. The lawsuit started about a month after Forest City announced plans to demolish the six buildings, which the company owns. FCRC contends that after the buildings were inspected by engineers, they were deemed structurally unsound and pose chemical hazards such as asbestos. The ESDC signed off on the demolition work. The properties include the Underberg Building at 608-620 Atlantic Avenue; 461, 463 and 585 Dean Street; and 620 and 622 Pacific Street. However, opponents of the $3.5 billion arena/housing/commercial plan contended that the buildings did not need to be demolished. They contended that FCRC was tearing down the buildings to further the impression that the site was a “blighted” area. Opponents, led by City Councilmember Letitia James, wanted an independent engineer to look at the buildings. The groups signing onto the lawsuit include Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), the Fort Greene Association, Boerum Hill Association, Society for Clinton Hill, Pratt Area Community Council, Fifth Avenue Committee and Prospect Heights Action Coalition. Additional plaintiffs include the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, East Pacific Block Association, and the Dean Street Block Association (4th to 5th Avenue). Also filing briefs opposing the project were James, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Rep. Major Owens. However, the court papers also listed elected officials in favor of the project, including Borough President Marty Markowitz, who filed an affidavit with the court to that affect. Also favoring the project, according to the court papers, were Governor George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senator Charles Schumer, City Comptroller William Thompson, U.S. Rep. Ed Towns, State Senator Carl Andrews and Assemblymember Roger Green. ESDC spokesperson Jessica Copen said, “We’re pleased with the court’s decision that ESDC acted properly in determining that an emergency situation [regarding the six buildings] existed in Atlantic Yards.” Copen said ESDC is reviewing and looking at their options regarding Edmead’s second decision that the organization must Paget as an attorney and find new counsel for the project. Paget, of the law firm, Sive, Paget & Riesel, was out of town and unavailable for comment, according to his secretary. DDDB spokesperson Daniel Goldstein hailed the part of the decision to disqualify Paget. “The burden is now on the ESDC and its chairman Charles Gargano to restore the public’s faith in the agency’s objectivity,” said Goldstein. “Until that is done, we have every reason to view the ESDC, the developer, and the review process with skepticism,” he added. But FCRC spokesperson Joe DePlasco also hailed the judge’s decision regarding the demolition as it involves public safety. “That is the most important issue and we will proceed with the abatement and demolition,” said DePlasco. DePlasco said abatement has been already been completed on the Underberg Building and started on 461 Dean Street. Demolition of the Underberg Building could begin within 10 days, he said.

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