Eminent sense in Brooklyn domain: New York (NY) Daily News, 7/25/06


As befits a truly grand vision, Atlantic Yards, a $4.2 billion plan by the Forest City Ratner Cos. to build an arena for the Nets and nearly 7,000 units of housing on a Brooklyn site now dominated by an ugly scar of a railyard, has generated a Draft Environmental Impact Statement containing more than 1,000 pages of statistics, charts and text.

While most see this as an exciting opportunity to shape the borough's future, a group of naysayers - Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn - has publicly signaled that it will scour the document to find grist for a lawsuit attacking the project's expected use of eminent domain. But these opponents are barking up the wrong legal tree.

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that public agencies can invoke eminent domain to purchase land from holdouts and make it available to private developers, provided the project in question follows a preexisting governmental planning process and the public good is served. Atlantic Yards meets both criteria.

In 1968, most of the area was so blighted that city planners officially declared it an urban renewal zone, restating that designation as recently as 2004. The thousands of jobs and the subsidized housing the project would create represent a clear benefit to the public.

But thanks to a few holdouts, eminent domain may still be needed.

Forest City has bought all but nine residences, providing a very nifty profit to the sellers. But four apartment buildings and five private homes along with a handful of businesses are balking. Eminent domain was created for cases like this - instances in which holdouts can be relocated, at no financial loss, to advance the greater good.

Eminent domain is the power that brought us Lincoln Center, the new Times Square and affordable-housing meccas like Melrose Commons in the Bronx, which had long been a moonscape of burned and vacant buildings. Atlantic Yards foes might make better use of their time by negotiating to, say, scale down the project or change the traffic patterns. They should not be holding Brooklyn's future hostage with a frivolous lawsuit.

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