Today’s news:

Judge to rule on Willets legal challenge

An attorney for a group of Willets Point business owners argued last week that a state judge should revisit a prior decision to allow the city’s $3 billion plan to redevelop the 62-acre space to move forward.

The city contends the decision should stand in part because it is complying with all necessary review processes and because it believes the motion to revisit the case is without merit.

State Supreme Court Judge Joan Madden in Manhattan did not issue a ruling during the Aug. 17 hearing or announce the date of the next court appearance.

Michael Gerrard, attorney for Willets Point United, laid out his case to Madden that she should vacate her approval of the proposal based on the city’s April 2008 environmental assessment in light of new information related to the plan.

Gerrard contended the city has not undertaken sufficient review of the traffic impact that its plan to build a 20-acre first phase of the project will have on area streets. He said the city never has looked at what would happen if the city is unable to secure final approval for two ramps onto the Van Wyck Expressway, which it promised Madden it would obtain before building the project. The state Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration are currently weighing whether to green-light the ramps.

“What the city now has done is say, ‘We don’t have approval for the ramps, but we’re going to go ahead and do the first phase anyway,’” Gerrard told Madden in court. “The city nowhere has done an analysis of what happens if Phase 1 moves forward and the ramps are not approved.”

The city countered that it should be allowed to proceed with first phase construction because it believes it has undertaken all necessary environmental review processes and for Madden to revisit a prior decision would cast uncertainty on all future public development projects in the city.

“The city can’t be asked to sit and wait and not do anything when it has determined that the Phase 1 impacts without the ramps are equal to or less than they would be with the ramps,” city Law Department counsel Chris Reo said in court. “By Mr. Gerrard’s admission, the record could never be closed, and the government could never have the certainty it needs when pursuing an action.”

Reo went on to argue that the first phase of the project should be covered under the approvals that Madden, the City Council and others already granted for the full 62-acre project.

“It’s a smaller project and it uses the same approvals and it’s based on the same environmental review,” Reo said. “If the ramps aren’t approved, the city would have to decide how to proceed [on the second and third phases] and that could involve a whole different set of approvals.”

He added, “This is not a different project, this is a smaller portion of the same project.”

Gerrard vehemently disagreed with that assessment of Phase 1 and the approvals it should require.

“One impact that our traffic expert has shown Phase 1 would have without the ramps would be horrible traffic in the surrounding area,” Gerrard said. “Contrary to what’s stated in the technical memorandum, Phase 1 will have very significant impacts on traffic in the surrounding area ... the city keeps changing its story on what the traffic impacts would be.”

Reo also said that the motion is not appropriate as he believes prior case law does not support revisiting such a case unless a significant “injustice” has been carried out.

“The motion to vacate … is the wrong motion,” Reo said. “The proper way to attack a technical memorandum or supplemental EIS is in a new proceeding.”

Gerrard admitted that the motion is “unusual,” but argued that it would be reasonable for Madden to reopen the case given the specific circumstances of the case.

“That subsequent action by the city breaching that commitment to the court, we think, invokes the court’s jurisdiction,” he said. “There are cases that support reopening a case after a change of facts.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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