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June 30, 2010

Is ten-year AY schedule reasonable? Judge puts ESDC on the defensive as Development Agreement is scrutinized in 75-minute reargument

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder has an in-depth report on yesterday's Atlantic Yards court hearing.

In an unusual reargument of a case that was argued January 19 and decided March 10, a lawyer for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) was put on the defensive yesterday, forced to acknowledge that there are far fewer penalties for delays in completing the Atlantic Yards project as a whole than those for the first phase, which includes the arena and three towers.

Will it make a difference? It’s hard to predict a yes, given that courts generally defer to agencies like the ESDC.

But the fact of the reargument itself--and the uncomfortable facts in the belatedly-released Atlantic Yards Development Agreement--suggest that, at the least, New York County Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman will chastise the agency, if not order a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) or otherwise throw a wrench into the project.

After all, in her March 10 ruling Friedman criticized the ESDC’s “deplorable lack of transparency” and acknowledged that the ESDC’s use of a ten-year timeframe for the project buildout in the Modified General Project Plan (MGPP) was supported “only minimally.”

The MGPP, approved last September, was amplified and modified by the Development Agreement, signed in December but released in January. And yesterday Friedman steadily put ESDC lawyer Philip Karmel through a careful cross-examination.

75-minute hearing

At the outset of the hearing, Friedman said she’d allow only 40 minutes of argument, but she spent 75 minutes listening to and questioning Karmel and lawyers for two groups of community petitioners. The latter had asked her to reconsider the ruling that the project's ten-year timeline was legitimate and that an SEIS was not necessary.

Key to the motion for reargument is the Development Agreement, which was not released until about a week after the oral argument in January--despite a pledge to release it earlier--and which Friedman had refused to add to the case.

Though Atlantic Yards may seem like a done deal--eminent domain was approved months ago and (perhaps not coincidentally) Forest City Ratner announced yesterday that concrete had been poured for the Atlantic Yards arena--attorneys for the ESDC and FCR evinced some tension, a sign that the courts remain a wild card.

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Posted by eric at June 30, 2010 9:58 AM