Skip to main content

Rereading the AY court decision: could "Shoot the Freak" also be a "civic project"?

Let's take another look at one of the central challenges to the Atlantic Yards environmental review dismissed Friday by state Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden, the issue of whether Atlantic Yards would, in fact be a "civic project," defined as a "project or that portion of a multi-purpose project designed and intended for the purpose of providing facilities for educational, cultural, recreational, community, municipal, public service or other civic purposes.”

The petitioners--26 neighborhood and community groups--argued that a for-profit sports arena wasn't a civic project. The defendants--the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), developer Forest City Ratner, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the Public Authorities Control Board-- said the arena will "provide a venue for other entertainment and cultural events."

Madden concluded that going to a basketball game is "recreational" under the Urban Development Corporation Act (UDCA). But that conclusion strains logic, since almost anything could be "recreational" under her analysis.

Community events not the issue

The "civic project" discussion begins on p. 26 of her decision. First, she dismissed the notion that opening the arena for some ten community events a year qualifies it as a "civic project." She wrote:
In determining the "civic project" issue, the court will focus on the question as presented by petitioners, i.e., whether an arena primarily intended for use by a professional basketball team and operated by a private, profit-making entity, qualifies as a "civic project" within the meaning of the UDCA. As to the civic benefits alleged by the ESDC and quoted above, the commitment as to those uses for ten events a year is de minimus when compared with the primary use of the arena by the Nets, and thus, does not impact on the determination of this issue.

How to interpret statutes

Madden then began a roundabout trip to the dictionary:
In any case of statutory interpretation, the starting point must be the language itself which is the clearest indicator of legislative intent, and if the language is unambiguous, the court must give effect to its plain meaning... When, as here, the term does not have a controlling statutory definition, courts "construe words of ordinary import with their usual and commonly understood meaning, and in that connection have regarded dictionary definitions as 'useful guideposts' in determining the meaning of a word or phrase." [citation omitted]

Well, the language may be the starting point, but it is not necessarily controlling. There are numerous techniques and theories of statutory interpretation; consider the use of legislative history, among multiple examples in the book Legislation and Statutory Interpretation.

Did the state legislators who in 1968, on the day of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s funeral, passed the Urban Development Corporation Act "to rebuild slums," as the New York Times put it, intend to support such an arena?

Doubtful, though then again, they probably didn't intend to have the extraordinary powers of eminent domain and zoning overrides to be delegated to a business development authority, which the Urban Development Corporation became, when it later took began to operate as the ESDC. And no one's challenged that switch.

Defining recreational

Madden continued:
The court must determine the meaning of the word "recreational" as used in the UDCA's definition of "civic project," which includes a project "designed and intended for providing facilities for... recreational... purposes."... Although the UDCA does not define "recreational," it cannot be reasonably disputed that this is a word of "ordinary import" which must be construed in accordance with its usual and commonly understood meaning.
[citation omitted] Turning to the dictionary for guidance, the word "recreational" is the adjectival form of "recreation," which the American Heritage College Dictionary defines as "refreshment of one's body or mind through activity that amuses or stimulates; play. [citation omitted] Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language defines "recreation" as "1. refreshment in body or mind, as after work, by some form of play, amusement, or relaxation 2. any form of play, amusement, or relaxation used for this purpose, as games, sports, hobbies, etc."

Applying this definition, the sports arena portion of the Project, which is primarily intended to serve as the home of the Nets basketball franchise, is a facility designed and intended for recreational purposes, as when sports fans attend a professional basketball game, like any other sporting event, they are engaged in a form of amusement, and the fact they enjoy the amusement as spectators does not alter their recreational character. [citation omitted] Thus, as a venue for professional sports events, the arena qualifies as a facility designed and intended for "recreational purposes," and as such constitutes a "civic project" as defined under the UDCA.
(Emphasis added)

Passive recreation and amusement today

While it might be reasonable to think that "recreational" meant opportunities for active recreation, let's take Madden at her word and consider what other forms of amusement today might qualify as "recreational" and thus be eligible, at least theoretically, to serve as "civic projects."

How about Freddy's Bar & Backroom, slated to be demolished for Atlantic Yards? Or, perhaps Privilege New York, home of the lap dance? Or, finally, a venue where spectatorship, participation, and mob psychology meld, a downscale Brooklyn classic beloved even by patrician Department of City Planning Chair Amanda Burden: Coney Island's Shoot the Freak.

(Photo from Bridge and Tunnel Club.)

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming (post-dated pinned post)

Click on graphic to enlarge. This is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change, and the project is already well behind that tentative timetable.


Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…