Thursday, March 11, 2010

The legacy of Atlantic Yards: not just scale but reform of eminent domain, public authorities, and (maybe) judicial review

In Why the Atlantic Yards Is Currently a Loser for Everyone, Even Ratner, New York Magazine's Chris Smith points out that the AY resistance should not have been surprising:
Ratner blames the delays on those pesky eminent domain lawsuits. It’s true that the legal challenges have slowed Atlantic Yards, but Ratner guaranteed the court fights by doing a politically savvy end run around the public approval process. And the most important issues were never speed or dollars: The fight over Atlantic Yards was about community and democracy. If the legacy of Develop Don’t Destroy is that whatever is finally built on the rest of the site is more in proportion with the brownstone neighborhoods surrounding Ratnerville, the group will have done the city a service. But until then, everyone's going to continue losing: Bruce Ratner is getting an arena he wanted only as a crowd-pleasing tool to divert attention from his lucrative condo towers, and New York gets a soulless billion-dollar basketball court next to a hole where there should be human-scale housing. Happy groundbreaking day to all.
Beyond scale

With all due respect to Smith, who wrote the single best mainstream article about AY, pointing out the "absolute absence of democratic process," I think that the legacy of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and the fight against Atlantic Yards may be a lot more than scale.

Rather, Atlantic Yards has helped push state Senator Bill Perkins' effort reform the state's eminent domain laws. The questionable deal for the Vanderbilt Yard has been part of the discussion of public authorities reform.

And, as evidenced both by Justice Marcy Friedman's decision yesterday in the case challenging project approval and Justice James Catterson's fiery concurrence in the case challenging the environmental review, judges bristle at laws that force them to give agencies like the unelected Empire State Development Corporation enormous deference.

That too could change.

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