Group files lawsuit against Brooklyn arena developers

NEW YORK -- A group of Brooklyn property owners and tenants facing eviction over developer Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project filed a federal lawsuit Thursday charging the seizure of their property under eminent domain was unconstitutional.

"This is a case about a conscious effort to circumvent community input and the lawful processes of open government; about the misuse of the government's power to take property by eminent domain; and, ultimately, about a betrayal of public trust in service of the interest of a private developer," said the filing in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.

The suit targets the $4.2 billion project, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, which would create a new sports arena for the New Jersey Nets along with 16 surrounding towers holding 606,000 square feet of office space, 6,860 units of housing, retail space and a hotel.

The tallest building would rise 58 stories above the existing railyard in downtown Brooklyn, and the contentious project would bring a major league sports franchise back to the borough for the first time since baseball's Dodgers bolted for Los Angeles in 1957. Ratner owns the Nets.

Joe DePlasco, a spokesman for Forest City Ratner Companies, said the developer had spent the last three years trying to negotiate "fair and beneficial" deals with local residents and businesses. The company owns or controls 89 percent of the land needed for the project.

"However, a handful of people have either refused to speak with us or, for whatever reason, we have been unable to reach an agreement with others," DePlasco said. "It is disappointing that they have decided to take this action, but it is not unexpected."

Plaintiff Daniel Goldstein, spokesman for the anti-Atlantic Yard group Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, said the motivation for the lawsuit was simple.

"We want to stay in our homes, keep our businesses, and keep our properties," said Goldstein, who owns a Brooklyn condominium. "Our case, at its core, is very simple: Bruce Ratner does not have the right to ask Gov. Pataki to take my home ... and the governor does not have the right to oblige Mr. Ratner."

The suit identified the defendants as Ratner, Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff and Empire State Development Corp. Chairman Charles Gargano, among others. The lawsuit seeks to permanently block the defendants from seizing the property, and asks for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

"I think this is just a delaying tactic, and I assume there's no real merit to the case," Bloomberg said. "This is a project whose time has come, that we need in this city."

The Atlantic Yards project, according to DePlasco, will provide more than 2,200 new units of affordable housing, create more than 15,000 jobs and generate more than $1.4 billion in tax revenue for the city and state.