Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Judge stalls Williamsburg's Broadway Triangle housing plan; says if legally favors Hasidic families 

A judge has hit the city's controversial plan to build housing at Williamsburg's Broadway Triangle with the latest in a series of legal blows.

Justice Emily Jane Goodman ordered the city to cough up reams of housing demographic data in a lawsuit charging the planned apartment buildings would illegally favor Hasidic families over African-Americans and Latinos.

"It's racial and religious discrimination," said Shekar Krishnan, a lawyer for groups suing to stop the plan.

Whether or not the court ends up barring the project, the suit could endanger it because developers face an Oct. 1 deadline for crucial state funding.

The Triangle plan calls for about 1,800 units of housing on the 31-acre tract on the border with Bedford-Stuyvesant - 800 of them affordable for low- and middle-income families.

But opponents charge the low-rise buildings and large apartments are designed to cater to Hasidic residents, who can't use elevators on the Sabbath and often have large families.

And they say city land was handed over to the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council - two nonprofit groups with close ties to Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez - without a bidding process.

The city resisted releasing information on the racial breakdown of other affordable housing developments in the area, which plaintiffs think will bolster their claim that large apartments tend to go to whites, even though the vast majority of applicants for affordable units are minorities.

But Goodman ruled on June 28 that officials have to produce those records.

The City Council approved the Triangle plan in December, but just a day later Goodman issued a stay to halt it. She later denied the city's motion to dismiss the suit - and won't lift the stay at least until the required documents are produced and a hearing is held on a longer term injunction.

That could spell trouble for the project because it must break ground by an Oct. 1 deadline or lose $40 million in funding from state tax credits.

Department of Housing Preservation and Development Deputy Commissioner Holly Leicht wrote in court papers that losing the money "will delay the project indefinitely."

HPD declined to comment further, citing pending litigation.

Krishnan said if officials are worried about the deadline, they should hand over the data quickly.

"The ball is entirely in the city's court," he said. "If they want to move this case along, they should give us all the information as quickly as possible."


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