James Stuckey, former President of the New York City Public Development Corp., explains that once a real estate development idea is brought to the table, there are other obstacles to overcome.
According to James Stuckey, while the first step in any real estate project is to shape the idea, the next step is to develop a strategy to respond to those individuals who may bring lawsuits, why, and what can be done to ensure they are not successful. In the real estate realm, says James Stuckey, winning the lawsuits are the penultimate land use approvals.
James Stuckey points out that few members of the public, and an even smaller number of “decision-makers,” understand what the information in a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) tells them; and, those that do are given unreasonably short periods of time to analyze and respond to the data. According to James Stuckey, Environment Impact Statements and the EIS process have really become a tool to litigate, delay or stop a development. Unfortunately, laments James Stuckey, almost no one pays attention to the environmental impacts that are disclosed; and, in some instances, because some impacts can’t be mitigated, all that’s required is disclosure. This is true for all land use approvals, as virtually any decision made by a public official or public body is subject to challenge in court, notes James Stuckey.
Other factors that may impact the pre-development phase, says James Stuckey, are blogs, the Internet, and instant access to information (including false information that project opponents or competitors can “create” on the web), and these have changed litigation strategies. There have also been instances where regions, states and municipalities have used litigation to block projects, steal or retain corporate tenants, and leverage infrastructure improvements, maintains James Stuckey.
During his three-decade long career, James Stuckey has seen countless lawsuits. For instance, there were dozens of suits initiated over the course of twenty years to litigate against and stop the Times Square Redevelopment. Lawsuits can focus on issues such as land use claims and environmental issues to eminent domain and first amendment rights, according to James Stuckey.
Nearly any person or group of people can bring a lawsuit to try to block a specific development, notes James Stuckey. Before Hamilton Plaza, a project in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, a group of local merchants brought a federal suit that tried to block the addition of a large supermarket to the neighborhood.
A developer must wear many hats before he can get down to business, says James Stuckey. He must endeavor to foresee all issues that may arise, determine the best course of action to circumvent these issues, and make a convincing case as to why the proposed development should be allowed to proceed, concludes James Stuckey.
James Stuckey is not only a hands-on real estate developer; he is also an educator who has served as the Dean of the New York University Schack Institute of Real Estate.