Thursday, August 15, 2013

Foes of Brooklyn's City Point get a court date

A rendering of the proposed City Point development in downtown Brooklyn. Photo credit: Rendering courtesy of Cook Fox Architects
By Matt Chaban

Labor unions fighting a legal challenge against a towering downtown Brooklyn development will get their day in court after all. Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Cynthia Kerns has set a Sept. 24 hearing for the case, which the city is fighting to dismiss, saying the unions have no grounds to bring the suit.

The unions argue that the massive City Point project along Flatbush Avenue, on the site of the former Albee Square Mall in the Fulton Square Mall in downtown Brooklyn, fails to provide promised wages for construction workers and quality permanent employment. Such jobs were laid out in the 2004 environmental review of the project, but the legal team argues they are unfulfilled, and that because of that the project's environmental review should be invalidated.

A union win could halt the project, which is already under construction.

The city’s Law Department contends the case has no stand. "We believe their claims have no merit and have moved to dismiss the petition,” a city spokeswoman said Wednesday.

That a hearing is being held might seem mundane, but the unions' attorney, Tom Kennedy, said it is actually cause for excitement on his side. "This is not a judge who routinely schedules oral arguments, so the fact we will be meeting in court means the charges were not merely dismissed based on the papers," Mr. Kennedy said.

Although it could still be dismissed come September, for now, Mr. Kennedy remains hopeful. "We think we have a strong case, because the City Point project was sold to the downtown Brooklyn community and the reviewing authorities as one that would strongly support the community and provide hundreds of well-paying jobs for the community," Mr. Kennedy said.

The developer, Acadia Realty Trust, has long countered that the project, while not being built union, is paying workers at least $20 an hour. He also notes that more than half of the firms are women- and minority-owned businesses. Roughly 80% of workers on the site come from the surrounding community, maintaining another promise of the project.

"We look forward to explaining why this lawsuit is nothing more than an effort by unions to stall a project that is profoundly benefiting downtown Brooklyn and will create thousands of construction jobs, over 1,000 permanent jobs, and 120 units of desperately needed affordable housing once completed," a City Point spokesman said.

There is some precedent for the courts invalidating environmental reviews. In April 2012, Atlantic Yards opponents won the first of the more than a dozen suits brought against the 22-acre project. Though the arena was nearing completion, the Empire State Development Corp, was required to draft a new environmental review, assessing the project's 25-year build-out, rather than the 10-year build-out initially promised.

Mr. Kennedy believes that if the court rules in his favor, it could lead to an injunction on the project.
Recently, however, his hopes were set back a notch when local Councilwoman Letitia James withdrew her support from the suit following community outcry over her opposition to the development.

The first phase of City Point was completed last year, and that 55,000-square-foot space houses an Armani Exchange and a Century 21 store. The next phase has just begun to rise. It will boast 660,000 square feet of retail in a four-story base stretching along Flatbush Avenue. Above that will rise a pair of apartment towers, one at 19 stories, the other with 30, with a total of 680 apartments—125 of which will be set aside as affordable.

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