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ESDC Bucks Judge’s Ruling

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) is appealing last week’s court ruling that they must drop their attorney regarding the proposed Atlantic Yards project. The appeal comes after State Supreme Court Justice Carol Edmead gave a split decision on the two counts of a lawsuit brought on by opponents of the Forest City Ratner Companies’ (FCRC) planned project. On one count of the case, Edmead refused to stop FCRC’s plans to demolish six buildings they already own in the footprint of the proposed Atlantic Yards project. However, Edmead also ruled that David Paget, the ESDC Environmental attorney for the project, 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. “The ESDC will ask the Appellate division to hear an appeal on an expedited basis, because they gave us only 45 days to change attorneys,” said an ESDC spokesperson. One source close to the case said the appeal is based on Edmead’s acknowledgment that her ruling on changing attorneys was unprecedented. Additionally, Paget has a reputation of being very qualified as an environmental attorney, said the source. Paget, of the law firm Sive, Paget & Riesel, was out of town and unavailable for comment, according to his secretary. The lawsuit started about a month after FCRC announced plans to demolish the six buildings. 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. 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. DDDB legal chair Candace Carponter said DDDB is optimistic that the Appellate Division will agree with Justice Edmead that ‘business as usual’ at the ESDC is no longer acceptable when it comes to sharing attorneys with developers. “We initiated this litigation not just because of our deep concerns about the project proposed by Ratner, but also because the environmental review process, as executed by the ESDC, is stacked so heavily in favor of developers, and against community,” Carponter said. Carponter said DDDB and its co-plaintiffs are considering whether to appeal Justice Edmead’s determination to allow the demolition. The demolition approval was based solely on a report submitted by FCRC and reviewed by the conflicted lawyer, Paget, said Carponter in a press release. FCRC spokesperson Joe DePlasco 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. DePlasco was not available to comment on the appeal at press time.

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