Federal court challenge to Atlantic Yards dismissed

Residents failed to show that the project offered no public benefit. Brooklyn residents sued in federal court, challenging the state’s plan to use eminent domain to take their property as part of the Atlantic Yards project. The residents claimed that the project failed to meet a public purpose, and that the state was taking private property solely for the private benefit of Forest City Ratner Companies, the project’s developer.

Defendants, including the Empire State Development Corporation and the City, argued that the federal court should abstain from reviewing the case, claiming that federal review of an eminent domain case would be disruptive to state policy.

District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis rejected the state and City argument, finding that the eminent domain procedure law was a generic statute that dealt with all types of takings, not a specific or complex state law. Judge Garaufis ruled that the court was not required to evaluate whether the Atlantic Yards project was a good idea or whether the project could be achieved without taking the residents’ property; its review was limited to whether the plan was related to a public purpose.

The court nevertheless dismissed the case, finding that the residents failed to state a valid claim since their suit challenged only the extent of the public benefit, not its existence. The residents had claimed only that that the project would not generate as many jobs or as much tax revenue as claimed. And, despite their claim that their properties did not suffer from blight, the residents failed to dispute that some of the area around Atlantic Yards suffered from blight. Noting that the project would generate some new housing, jobs and tax revenue, Judge Garaufis also found that the residents fell short of alleging that the purported public purposes were a mere pretext. It is not enough to allege dubious motives; the residents needed to allege that the actual purpose of the project was to give a private benefit to Forest City Ratner.

Goldstein v. Pataki, 06-CV-5827 (E.D.N.Y. June 12, 2007) (Garaufis, J.). CITYLAND Comment: The residents have announced that they plan to appeal the decision.

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