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Press Contact:
Candace Carponter
Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, Legal Committee Chair
646-552-0770

 
For Immediate Release: January 18, 2006


DDDB and Community Co-Plaintiffs File Suit Against
Empire State Development Corporation and Forest City Ratner
Suit Seeks Injunction on Developer's Proposed Demolitions Around "Atlantic Yards"
and Disqualification of ESDC's Counsel–Sive, Paget & Riesel–for a Conflict of Interest

MANHATTAN, NY - Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) and a coalition of more than ten co-plaintiffs are filing a lawsuit today against "Atlantic Yards" lead agency, Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), and the developer Forest City Ratner (FCR). The plaintiffs seek to annul ESDC approval of FCR's plans to demolish six buildings owned by the developer and located in the footprint of the proposed "Atlantic Yards" development in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

The plaintiffs also seek the disqualification of ESDC special outside counsel, Sive, Paget & Riesel (SPR) on the grounds that SPR represents FCR and has previously represented FCR on the "Atlantic Yards" proposal, constituting a serious conflict of interest. The plaintiffs insist that the process requires independent legal counsel to the ESDC and not the use of the law firm that has represented FCR on the same project*.

The plaintiff group consists of community based organizations and individuals who are stakeholders in and around the proposed development site, including: Fort Greene Association, Boerum Hill Association, Society for Clinton Hill, Pratt Area Community Council, Fifth Avenue Committee, Prospect Heights Action Coalition, Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, East Pacific Block Association, Dean Street Block Association (4th to 5th) and Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn. The plaintiffs represent a broad coalition of community organizations with diverse views of the "Atlantic Yards" proposal who have joined together to ensure the integrity of the review process.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Jeff Baker, of the law firm Young, Sommer, said, "We believe that the demolition of the buildings before the completion of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process is a violation of the law and will act to promote and pre-determine the outcome of the environmental review. We will seek injunctive relief prohibiting demolition of the structures until the court determines our claim and will seek an order providing for an independent inspection of the buildings by a structural engineer."

The plaintiffs contend that ESDC is in violation of the law by allowing demolition to proceed without benefit of an independent engineering review of the buildings or the need for demolition. The plaintiffs claim that there is insufficient evidence of imminent threat to public safety from the buildings and that any threat can be alleviated by reasonable measures to stabilize the buildings. To date the developer has refused to allow a second and independent structural engineer to inspect the buildings.

"It appears that the ESDC may be breaking the rules of the state's review of the Ratner proposal. The plaintiffs question the integrity of a process that relies solely on Ratner's engineer's report and Ratner's former lawyer for approval of the demolitions. It is deeply troubling that the state agency charged with an objective review of the proposal is represented by Ratner's lawyer; it throws the entire review process into question,” DDDB spokesman Daniel Goldstein said. “Since the ESDC appears to be compromised by this conflict of interest, and appears to be rubber-stamping whatever Ratner asks for, we have to wonder: who is representing the interests of the public and who exactly are we to trust throughout this process? To protect the integrity of the process, Sive, Paget & Riesel must be removed from any involvement with the ‘Atlantic Yards' proposal.”

FCR owned three of the buildings in question for more than eighteen months. Two of the buildings** were occupied by residents before FCR's purchase in June of 2004, and the third building*** was occupied by a business as recently as six months ago. Forest City Ratner claims the buildings need to be demolished now to remove a public safety hazard. The same buildings have stood on the site for months with no prior designation of risk to the public and no protection for the public from FCR's claims of a potential collapse. ESDC has not undertaken its own inspection of the buildings and has based its approval of the demolitions solely on Forest City Ratner's report. Additionally Forest City Ratner has left windows and some roofs of the buildings open for a long time, allowing the weather to expedite deterioration, indicating willful neglect to propel the proposed project's schedule. To date the developer does not have demolition permits.

Sue Wolfe, president of the Boerum Hill Association, said, "We've joined this lawsuit because we want to ensure a fair and transparent environmental review process. We are concerned that what appears to be a preemptive measure by Forest City Ratner and the ESDC will taint the integrity of the review process and shut out any meaningful community involvement."

Philip Kellogg, president of the Fort Greene Association said, "We expect the ESDC to ensure that the rule of law is followed and that the public is legitimately represented throughout this review process for 'Atlantic Yards.' The public deserves nothing less. We have joined this litigation because of the actions of the ESDC and Forest City Ratner in regard to these demolitions, along with the apparent conflict in legal representation."



All links below can be found at: http://www.dddb.net/litigation

The filed complaint can be found at: http://www.dddb.net/litigation/complaint.pdf

The ESDC's Declaration of Emergency authorizing demolition: http://www.dddb.net/litigation/ESDCdemoLetter.pdf

Statement by Community's Engineer: http://www.dddb.net/litigation/Engr_aff.pdf

Statement by Plaintiff's Attorney: http://www.dddb.net/litigation/JSBaffirmation.pdf

Legal Support for Plaintiffs' claims: http://www.dddb.net/litigation/Memo_of_law.pdf

* Sive Page conflict:

Working for FCR:
http://www.sprlaw.com/lawyers/paget.html
(See the fifth bullet point at the above link. In case that bullet point has changed, as of January 18 the text read:
"Among his current engagements, David represents the Forest City Companies regarding the development of a basketball arena and major mixed-use development in Brooklyn...")
Screenshot of Sive, Paget & Riesel webpage on January 16, 2006: http://www.dddb.net/litigation/spr.pdf

Working for ESDC:
(See last paragraph on first page of each of these letters from ESDC to elected representatives, declining their request for funds for the community to hire independent consultants to review the Environmental Impact Study)
"... we must decline your request in that regard. Please note, however, that AKRF and Sive Paget are independent firms retained by ESDC and taking direction from ESDC staff. As a result, we believe that the review process and work product will be unbiased ..."

** Photo of two residential buildings FCR wants to demolish: http://www.dddb.net/litigation/461_463dean.html

*** Photo of commercial building FCR wants to demolish: http://www.dddb.net/litigation/585dean.html

Photographs of some of approximately 50 other buildings on the proposed "Atlantic Yards" development site which would be demolished if the proposal is approved: http://www.dddb.net/litigation/buildings.php

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DEVELOP DON’T DESTROY BROOKLYN leads a broad-based community coalition
fighting for development that will unite our communities instead of dividing and destroying them.



 


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