Thursday, July 27, 2006

Brooklyn Double Speak of the Week: "Friendly Condemnation"

Can someone who speaks English, rather than Double Speak, please tell us this: What in the name of God is a "friendly condemnation"? Is it like "friendly fire," which even though it's a big, bad boo-boo, still leaves the recipient as dead as he who is on the recieving end of old-fashioned unfriendly fire? Or is it like what your significant other does when he or she is breaking up with you but still wants to be friends, berating you terribly--but in a very nice way--so that after 12 or so months of weekly therapy sessions you can still be friends?

We imagine a "friendly condemnation" goes something like, "You know, I really hate to do this...I can't tell you how sorry I am that this team of heavily armed officers here is going to have to arrest you, but, they're making me take everything you own. Sorry. Can we still be friends?"

Among all the things that Atlantic Yards has given us recently--a 60-story building called Miss Brooklyn, public hearings scheduled at the height of summer vacation season, development company officials wisecracking that they worked with their architect to produce a shadow-free skyscraper, a PR spin that insists on calling the mega-development an arena project, a non-impact environmental impact that will result in more, but less, sewerage at the same time--one of our favorites is the concept of "friendly condemnation." Call us nuts, but all we can see is a figure wearing a Happy Face bubble head, carrying an AK-47. Being friendly and homicidal at the same time.

For a serious analysis of "friendly condemnation," of course, see Atlantic Yards Report, where Norman Oder holds forth on this curious phenomenon, deconstructing it as only he can.

Us, we prefer to rant and be less scientific.

The friendly situation, as we understand it, is this: The Empire State Development Corporation would acquire nearly all the property in the Atlantic Yards site via eminent domain, including city streets and the 90 percent owned by Forest City Ratner. It's apparently standard practice, but it is also the pre-requisite for some quite unfriendly activity such as evicting tenants living in rent-stablized apartments and avoiding protracted bureaucratic and legal requirements. It is likely also part of the legal strategy to try to get a positive ruling on very unfriendly eminent domain condemnations of property owned by people that don't want to sell.

How you feel about all this depends not only on your view of Atlantic Yards, but how you feel about the government's power to come in and take your property if it decides that a higher purpose is served.

While Forest City Ratner owns the majority of property in the Atlantic Yards footprint, there are a significant number of properties that it doesn't own and whose owners aren't inclined to sell. They're the ones that are going to get a visit from very unfriendly (ie. hostile, inhospitable, antagonistic and, perhaps, even surly or poopyhead-like) government takers of property. (There will be many Eyewitness News Moments the day this unfriendly activity occurs.) Those who might face the Churlish and Unhappy Face of Atlantic Yards could include owners of four rental buildings, 13 commercial buildings and five individual owner-occupied units. They will also include the dozens of tenants living in units that will be taken by ESDC while wearing its Happy Face. (Can you say, "You're evicted!" in a friendly tone of voice? Maybe, "You're evicted, please, if you'd be so kind as to get out." Perhaps, it would help to have people speaking upper class British accents do the evicting? It would sound more...friendly.)

Anyway you cut it, there will be a whole lot of good, old fashioned unfriendly condemnation going on if the project goes forward, and some of these takings of property will become the subject of the litigation that could ultimately determine the project's fate. Daniel Goldstein, who is the most outspoken of the Atlantic Yards opponents whose property would be taken in a most unfriendly way, is deeply convinced that the eminent domain will be the soft underbelly that kills the project.

That litigation will begin the moment ESDC stops trying to pretend to be Mr. Rogers and saying, "Oh, won't you be my neighbor," and the unfriendliness starts.


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