A groundbreaking is expected to be held today for the planned $1.3 billion New York Islanders arena project at Belmont Park, and the team celebrated on Saturday by getting hit with its second lawsuit challenging the project’s legality.
The previous lawsuit, you’ll recall was filed by the neighboring village of Floral Park, and charged that the bidding for the site was skewed toward the arena developers and that the environmental impact study was insufficient. The new lawsuit, filed by a bunch of community groups in neighboring Elmont, doubles up on claims that the EIS is faulty, while adding that the state Empire State Development agency shouldn’t be allowed to conduct the project at all because it’s only allowed to arrange for the development of blighted properties, and Elmont isn’t blighted:
“In order to use the UDC Act you have to have the prerequisite of blight,” [Elmont civic leader Aubrey] Phillips said. “Over the years, Elmont has been the brunt of mischaracterization. It is totally inconsistent with statistics. Elmont is a firm middle-class community.”
Argument #2 first: It’s absolutely true that the UDC Act only authorizes ESD (the descendent of the 1960s-era Urban Development Corporation) to act on blighted property. It’s also true, however, that courts have let the state define “blighted” as pretty much anything it wants — just take a look at the Islanders’ current home, the similarly ESD-masterminded Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the state agency fulfilled a requirement that the project target a high unemployment area by creating a gerrymandered district weaving for over a mile through different neighborhoods which journalism Norman Oder dubbed the “Bed-Stuy Boomerang.” So while it may or may not be “wrong” or “illegal,” this sort of thing is definitely standard practice for New York development agencies.
As for the EIS complaint, the new suit charged that the state’s study “did not properly address major issues like traffic, ‘cumulative impacts’ and the safety of local residents,” according to Long Island Business News. Again, you can make this case — as the previous suit noted, the state’s traffic and transit analysis was written before the state even added in plans for a new commuter rail station near the arena, with shuttle buses to take fans from there to games — but the number of lawsuits trying to overturn EISes as insufficient are few and far between, in New York, anyway.
The plaintiffs in this suit have former New York Civil Liberties Union director Norman Siegel as their attorney, and he previously represented Brooklyn residents in their years-long but ultimately fruitless battle against the arena project there, so I guess at least he knows what not to do? Predicting lawsuit results is almost as hopeless a task as predicting sports results; let’s just call this an “uphill battle” and leave it there.