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NEW YORK CITY-Hoping to challenge an Environmental Impact Statement that further paves the way for Forest City Ratner Cos.’ proposed Atlantic Yards project in downtown Brooklyn, a community activist group has filed a motion in the appellate division of New York State’s Court of Appeals.

The motion from Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn challenges a Feb. 26 ruling that upheld the state Supreme Court’s dismissal of DDDB’s suit in January, saying the state had met its environmental review obligations regarding Atlantic Yards. The appeal is one of two pending legal actions that challenge the project that involve DDDB, the community group founded a few months after FCRC first unveiled its plans for the site.

Despite the legal actions, an FCRC spokesman tells GlobeSt that the developer hopes to see Barclays Center Coliseum open by 2011. Although FRCC expects to encounter further delays because of litigation, the developers expect to close on its deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and break ground on the 22-acre project.

“We’ve gone about as far as we can go at this point with the preliminary work, including sewer, track, infrastructure and utility work, along with demolition,” the FCRC spokesman tells GlobeSt.com.

Separate from the current appeal is what DDDB currently calls its main lawsuit. The group charges that New York State violated its own eminent domain laws when it approved the Atlantic Yards project in 2006. “All sides are awaiting a decision,” a DDDB spokesperson tells GlobeSt.com. “If we win, the project is dead; if we don’t win, we will appeal.”

Five of the eight blocks making up the future project’s footprint are within the 1968 Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area, making the area ripe for future economic revitalization efforts. Within those five blocks are eight acres owned by the MTA for use as a below-grade rail yard. But adjoining that, three privately owned contiguous blocks located on the south side of Pacific Street that are privately owned. Critics say that over the past few years, FCRC bought large portions of property within those blocks, making it easier for the Empire State Development Corp. to label the entire area as blighted and enabling the taking of lots through eminent domain.

“FRDC doesn’t own the railyards, they haven’t paid anything to the MTA,” the DDDB spokeman tells GlobeSt.com. “If the MTA wants to pull out of its $100-million agreement, it could.” An MTA spokesman tells GlobeSt.com that the $100 million was due when the deal closes.

In ’06, then-Gov. George Pataki called ESDC’s approval of the project “another important milestone in the creation of tens of thousands of construction jobs, thousands of permanent jobs, and critically-needed housing, including affordable housing.” As part of its efforts to bring the project fruition, both the city and state agreed to provide the project with $100 million each. That same year, mortgage recording tax exemptions were provided on the residential component of the project.

Public speculation has increased over the project’s future as reports surfaced about its design, size and scale as well as the impact of the recession on financing. In February, GlobeSt.com reported that FCRC refinanced a $161.9-million bridge loan on Atlantic Yards, extending its due date to February 2011.

Originally, phase one of Atlantic Yards, including the new rail yard, the arena, housing and other developments on the western portion of the site, were scheduled for completion in 2010. According to a December 2006 ESDC memo, at least 30% of the housing developed in the arena block of phase one was set to be considered affordable housing.

DDDB believes the only component of Atlantic Yards Brooklyn will likely see in the next few years will be the Barclays Center arena, which is to house the Nets basketball team. “Bruce Ratner has every intention to take control of that land and build an arena and build the rest of the project once the economy picks back up, if it does,” says a spokesman for the group.

But an ESDC spokesman says the project has always been planned in phases. He tells GlobeSt that around 20 lawsuits have been brought attempting to kill the project and almost all have been subsequently dismissed. He says that ESDC looks forward to having resolution on the issue. “Atlantic Yards’ construction timeline is totally dependent on the litigation and once the litigation has been resolved, the project will continue right away,” the ESDC spokesman tells GlobeSt.com

The DDDB spokesman says it is not litigation that’s stopping FCRC from going forward with the project. He says that since the project was approved in December ’06, all FCRC has done to forward the project is demolish half the necessary buildings and complete some infrastructure work.

The opposition group’s spokesman says FCRC’s goal is to get control of the land, by getting past the lawsuits and perusading the state to take the properties so that FCRC “controls the 22 acres” whereby FCRC builds what it wants, when it wants. “There’s a misperception out there that the project’s dead because of the economy and it just simply is not true,” he says.

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