Judge considers controversial Brooklyn CB9 rezoning case
Justice Wayne Saitta hears arguments
Alicia Boyd, firebrand founder of the neighborhood group Movement to Protect the People, was ebullient following an appearance at state Supreme Court on Thursday.
Boyd and two co-petitioners, who are suing Community Board 9, several of its officials and the New York City Department of City Planning over a controversial rezoning affecting Crown Heights, Flatbush and Prospect Lefferts Gardens, had just presented a pro se (without benefit of a lawyer) legal broadside, against an attorney for New York City’s Law Department.
“Do you think this was a good day?” she asked supporters in the hall outside the Downtown Brooklyn courtroom.
“I’m so proud of you I can burst,” one woman told Boyd.
“You wiped the floor with her,” another supporter said, referring to Boyd’s presentation opposite the city’s attorney.
Wipe the floor or not, State Supreme Court Justice Wayne Saitta did not immediately dismiss Boyd’s petition, as requested by the city. He reserved his decision on the petition and the city’s cross motion to dismiss, and is holding in abeyance a subpoena of City Planning records requested by the petitioners. Saitta also placed another lawsuit by Boyd and her group – against the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association, which she says is planning a similar study – on the court calendar. (A Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association board member says that the group is not planning a similar study, but rather a needs assessment of the community. See comment below.)
Justice Saitta is awaiting paperwork mailed by the petitioners, and will be deciding the case sometime in the next month or two.
Boyd, long an outspoken thorn in CB9’s side, said she felt that Saitta was listening.
“They wanted to dismiss the case. He said he’s going to take a look,” she said. “This is the first time the community has the opportunity to speak about a grievance with a community board. It gives us a voice. For over two years, there have been protests, letters, petitions, marches and arrests. Now we feel that we were heard.”
Boyd and co-petitioners Pamela Yard and Janine Nichols are fighting Community Board 9’s request to City Planning to do a rezoning study. Going forward with the study could lead to a massive increase of development and cause a “wave of displacement” in what is currently an affordable and largely minority community, they say.
Numerous protests – some leading to the arrests of Boyd and others – have taken place over the past two years. The activists are demanding that the city’s community boards be given a say in land use proposals. They also are pushing for more openness in meetings, and want the community to have a say in how board members are chosen.
The letter sent by CB9 requesting that the city begin the study was drawn up in secrecy, in violation of a number of laws — including the Open Meetings law — and so should be voided, the plaintiffs said.
The city’s attorney told Justice Saitta, however, that the community would have plenty of opportunity through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) to comment on a rezoning, even after a study.
“All the community board did was request that City Planning do a study of the area,” she said. “They can do a study without the community board’s request. And if they did decide to do a study, there would be an Environmental Impact Study, it would go to City Planning where the community would be invited to give their input, [and it would go to] the City Council.”
Boyd and her co-petitioners countered by presenting an affidavit from Professor Thomas Angotti, professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter and CUNY Graduate Center, which said that once City Planning proposes a rezoning, it’s virtually assured of passage. Over the past decade, 140 zonings were proposed and 140 passed, even if opposed by the local community board. (Angotti was a senior planner for 6 years with the NYC Dept. of City Planning, Brooklyn office.)
Some CB9 members have described Boyd in harsh terms. According to the blog Ditmas Park Corner, one board member claimed she has “successfully incited infighting within the CB9 to the point of paralysis.”
Boyd says that after experiencing rudeness, cursing and several arrests at CB9 meetings, she wants top community board members removed for conduct unbecoming, and wants the removal of those board members who, Boyd says, were placed on CB9 by Borough President Eric Adams “in violation of the City Charter.”
When asked to comment on Boyd’s allegations, Stefan Ringel, Communications Director to Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams, told the Eagle, “We do not comment on pending litigation regarding the agency.”
Among other arguments, the city’s attorney asserted that Boyd and her co-petitioners don’t have standing to bring the suit, and that some of the litigation is a duplication of a previous lawsuit, which was dismissed.
Boyd and her fellow petitioners countered these arguments in court on Thursday. Boyd was assisted in her court presentation by Nichols, who dug through a pile of legal documents to find specific case citations.
“In light of our successful presentation, the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Association might sit down with us” and discuss the issue, averting the upcoming court appearance, Boyd said on Friday.
The Eagle has reached out to the city’s Law Department and Community Board 9 for comment. Check back for updates.
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