CONTACT: Antonia Bryson, Esquire
RED HOOK GROUP ALLEGES
IKEA LAND GRAB ILLEGAL
NEW YORK, February 10, 2005. A diverse group of Brooklyn residents and
businesses seeking to promote the waterfront has filed suit in New York
Supreme Court to stop Scandinavian retailer Ikea from building its
proposed 22-acre tax-subsidized suburban-style superstore project on the
waterfront in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
According to attorney Antonia Bryson, when the New York City Planning Commission and City Council approved Ikea’s Red Hook superstore project in October 2004, they acted illegally, betraying the commitments they had made to the Red Hook community and to the City--commitments backed up by years of work and planning--to keep the site for maritime use.
City planners have always considered the Red Hook waterfront a critical piece of New York City’s industrial infrastructure. Over a two-year period between 1992 and 1994, with help that the City Planning Department itself provided, people from all parts of the Red Hook community hammered out a plan for developing and re-populating their isolated Brooklyn waterfront neighborhood, which faces the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan. The City Planning Commission ("CPC") sponsored, encouraged, and finally approved the Red Hook plan. As reported in The New York Times and other media, the Red Hook community’s plan was one of the first community plans in New York City under section 197-a of the 1989 New York City Charter, designed to give citizens a voice in development.
The Red Hook community plan adopted the recommendations of the City Planning Department’s 1992 Waterfront Plan for the site on which Ikea wants to
build. The site has unique maritime features, and the plan recommended that it remain zoned and dedicated to continued maritime activity. It also recommended that commercial activity and public waterfront access be fostered in another area of the peninsula nearby, where in fact a new Fairway is about to open.
In 2001, however, after citizens in both New Rochelle, New York, and
nearby Gowanus, Brooklyn, emphatically rejected Ikea’s efforts to build a
New York-area superstore in their communities, Ikea next turned its
attention to the remote Red Hook peninsula. Although it has no subway, no
highway, and narrow cobblestone streets, the Red Hook waterfront will
provide tax subsidies to a developer, because it is within a New York
State Empire Zone. Such tax subsidies for Ikea are unfair, the
petitioners allege, because they come at the expense of local Brooklyn
shopping streets and New York City businesses. The City Planning
Commission and City Council, however, jumped at this chance to turn the
New York City waterfront and the Red Hook community over to Ikea. They
examined no alternative uses for this waterfront site.
The lawsuit asserts that the CPC and the Council exceeded their legal
powers when they re-zoned the site to allow Ikea to build its gigantic big
box store--probably the largest store in the city--with a 1400-car parking
lot in a mall-like setting right on the water, destroying a number of
historic structures in the process, including one of the few working
graving docks in New York harbor, and vandalizing the City’s waterfront.
The lawsuit asserts that in order to justify turning the site over to
Ikea, the City Planning Commission and City Council used a manifestly
faulty environmental review, and an Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS")
that employed unrealistic assumptions and specious reasoning in order to
minimize the project’s significant environmental impacts, both on the
socioeconomic character of the neighborhood, and on traffic conditions in
Red Hook and in greater Brooklyn.
The lawsuit emphasizes that the huge suburban Ikea store will damage the waterfront, bring excessive traffic to Red Hook’s streets, produce gridlock on the major traffic corridors surrounding the neighborhood, including the already-overburdened Gowanus Expressway, and fail to produce any real economic development in Red Hook. The Ikea project will consume 22 acres of industrially-zoned waterfront land that recent trends show is in increasing demand, and that employment trends show will continue to be in demand. On January 19, 2005, in fact, Mayor Bloomberg announced that preserving industrially-zoned land in NewYork City is vitally important.
Among the failures of the EIS with respect to traffic impacts, meanwhile, is the fact that on a typical Saturday there will be almost 2,000 vehicles driving to and from the Ikea store in the peak hour. The EIS the Commission and City Council relied on, however, contends that these automobiles can be squeezed down the funnel of Red Hook’s narrow streets to the waterfront with no disruption to any part of the neighborhood, including a large, heavily-used park and recreation area just across the street and the City’s new Passenger Ship Terminal being built nearby.
The lawsuit seeks to annul and vacate the Environmental Impact Statement and the Planning Commission’s and City Council’s actions with respect to the Red Hook site, and to enjoin Ikea and the other defendants from beginning demolition or construction in connection with the project. Petitioners’ court submissions will be posted on the internet.