May 5, 2004
Arena Developer Rethinking Condemnation of Houses
By DIANE CARDWELL
Building a glittering new Nets arena over the Atlantic Avenue railyards in Brooklyn may not require condemning more than 100 residences through eminent domain after all, an executive behind the arena proposal said yesterday.
"We're working diligently to substantially reduce the amount of residential condemnation and eminent domain that will be part of this project," James Stuckey, executive vice president of the developer, Forest City Ratner, said at a hearing of the City Council's Committee on Economic Development. "We're looking at how we can reshape the plan, we're talking with residents and we are looking at how we can substantially reduce and possibly eliminate the need for residential condemnation."
The whole project is roughly bounded by Atlantic, Vanderbilt and Flatbush Avenues and Dean Street.
The proposed development, which would bring a Frank Gehry-designed arena along with 4,500 residential units and four office towers to the crossroads of Prospect Heights, Fort Greene and Downtown Brooklyn, has been hotly debated since it became public last December.
Proponents, who include Bloomberg administration officials and labor leaders, say that the project will provide jobs, reasonably priced housing, cachet, tourism and other economic activity. Opponents say it will worsen traffic, ruin the hard-won character of revitalized neighborhoods and bring only transient jobs or those paying minimum wage.
But the reliance on eminent domain, a tool long used by government to acquire land for public projects, has been perhaps the most controversial element, conjuring images of ordinary Brooklynites being tossed from their homes by a developer.
The original proposal would have required the state to condemn property around the railyards that now includes about 140 residences and 25 businesses employing roughly 200 people, according to a Forest City Ratner spokesman. (Forest City Ratner is the New York Times Company's partner in developing the new Times headquarters on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, in part through the use of eminent domain.)
"We object to the use of eminent domain to condemn the private property of residents and business owners of Prospect Heights for the benefit of one private developer, especially when that developer owns property adjacent to the proposed condemnation site which could be used for the proposed development," Norman Siegel, a lawyer for a group called Develop Don't Destroy, said in testimony submitted to the Council.
Some opponents of the Atlantic Yards plan have suggested putting the arena at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but Mr. Stuckey countered that only the Atlantic Avenue area had sufficient space and access to transportation to be feasible for the stadium as well as the planned office towers and residences.
After the hearing, Mr. Stuckey declined to elaborate on how the company planned to avoid condemnations, but said that it was considering redrawing the physical outlines of the plan and offering generous buyouts to property owners. "We think that there's a win here, that we can do this project, create these jobs, create this housing and do it in a way where we don't have to condemn people's homes as well," he said.
Still, the hearing appeared to do little to assuage concerns over jobs, housing and financing for the project among the council members, who do not have much power over the process because it is likely to be controlled by the state.
Andrew M. Alper, president of the city's Economic Development Corporation, told the Council that it was too early to know precisely how much the city would contribute to the project, or in what form, but that the cost of the city's contribution would be less than the projected revenues from moving the Nets to New York and from the arena itself.
But for some council members, the talk of projected jobs and low-cost housing in the absence of hard numbers and concrete assurances was not enough. Letitia James, who represents Fort Greene, said that she had been at the Ingersoll and Whitman public housing projects over the weekend, where, she said, unemployment still hovers near 75 percent, as it did when Forest City Ratner built the Metrotech development nearby.
"Do you know how many dreams that I saw standing at Ingersoll-Whitman, dreams that were deferred and destroyed?" she said.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company