All Quiet on the Western Yards

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It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like ... Basketball?: A pile of torn-up asphalt is all Bruce Ratner has to show so far for his Atlantic Yards groundbreaking.

Approaching the proposed site of the Atlantic Yards complex in Brooklyn on the day after developer Bruce Ratner's much-ballyhooed announcement that construction work was starting on the $4 billion project, all at first seems eerily unchanged.

On the corner of Atlantic and 5th, at the former site of the 19th-century Underberg Building razed by Ratner last March, the lot is still vacant and silent, a few old bricks poking up from the melting snow. Behind it, 179 Flatbush Avenue, marked for imminent demolition by the developer, stands untouched but for the "pest control" signs that paper the windows.

On the next block, where the northern half of Ratner's New Jersey Nets arena would go, parked LIRR trains are still stacked up cheek to jowl. (The southern half of the arena would go where several residences and businesses now stand across Pacific Street, which is what has prompted the first of several promised lawsuits against the project.) Another block over, there's plenty more nothing.

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The Cheese Stands Alone: DDDB's Dan Goldstein never has to worry about waking the neighbors.

The action, such as it is, turns out to be at the far eastern end of the site, between Carlton and Vanderbilt Avenues and maybe 20 feet below street level. There, a Bobcat excavator and a Cat wheel loader are breaking up the asphalt of an old parking lot, while a few men in orange reflective vests look on desultorily from the sidelines. The Atlantic Yards "groundbreaking" actually isn't for any part of Ratner's new condo-arena-office empire, but for a new train yard to clear LIRR trains from their current home at the western end of the site. Once that's done, Ratner can proceed to turn the heavily trafficked Atlantic and Flatbush intersection into the home of his much-ridiculed Miss Brooklyn office tower, with the arena behind it.

Once that's done, of course, and the little matter of that lawsuit has been settled. Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn activist Daniel Goldstein, whose lonely buzzer on the front of the otherwise-depopulated Atlantic Arts building is on its way to becoming a neighborhood tourist attraction, says that Ratner can't actually take possession of the site until a court rules on the federal eminent domain lawsuit filed by his group last fall. DDDB legal chief Candace Carponter is less certain, saying that while she believes Ratner's lease on the MTA rail yards doesn't go into effect until any eminent domain challenges are cleared away, she hasn't been able to get the MTA to cough up the actual documents. She hopes that a Freedom of Information Law filing will soon produce them.

The real holdup, though, says Carponter, is that without an eminent-domain verdict, they can't touch the Atlantic Arts and other buildings housing plaintiffs—though, she notes, Ratner could follow the lead of Norwood, Ohio, where a city government intent on clearing a neighborhood of single-family homes to make way for a condo-retail complex tore down the houses of those who agreed to sell while leaving holdouts' homes standing.

"They can start construction on the rail yards [part of the site], but if so they're doing it volunteer," concludes Carponter, since the MTA likely wouldn't reimburse Ratner for work prepping the railyards if the larger land grab falls through. "So I don't know how far they're going to go with this until they win the eminent domain lawsuit."


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