Monday, December 28, 2009

Eminent domain beheaded in Brooklyn

From Atlantic Yards Report:

Bar manager Donald O'Finn read from a scroll, declaring a revolt against eminent domain law and criticizing the role of ACORN, the British bank Barclays, which bought the arena naming rights that the state gave away, and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, slated to become majority owner of the Nets.

"It's just like a foreclosure, except they're foreclosing on a neighborhood, and we're not even behind on the mortgage," O'Finn declared.

He passed it over to Death, who pronounced, "Poor eminent domain, born of a noble purposes of building hospitals and roads... is being used to take Americans from their homes, not just for a British bank but also for Russia... eminent domain, you are hereby condemned."

With a straight face, de Seve predicted, "Sometime soon in the next weeks and months, a battle of epic proportion will be fought. Around here, it's known as the bars vs. banks smackdown."

And when he sentenced the effigy to death, he pulled a Blue Point beer tap, the handmade guillotine fell, and the head indeed was severed. He then collected money for those facing eminent domain to put armor plate on their buildings or--more likely--use for other purposes in fighting back.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Use eminent domain to build public works, not help developers

Dear Editor [of the Times Ledger]:

An adverse court ruling in the Willets Point matter should not deter efforts at seeking to preserve the livelihood and families of the hundreds of workers who will be displaced by this outrageous give-away of private property for the benefit of private real estate interests (“Willets Point owners lose suit,” Flushing Times, Dec. 3).

If a student in any class from the sixth-grade through college was asked about eminent domain, I am sure there would be a uniform response that government has the right — indeed, the duty — to take private property for just compensation to accomplish a public purpose. Pressed to define “public purpose,” reference would be made to public works, like a government building, a roadway, public transportation facilities, bridges, etc.

When asked if it included taking private property to be turned over to a private, for-profit real estate developer, the answer would be no way. I am sure the general public would respond the same way.

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Kelo v. City of New London case, ignoring the public’s decades-old understanding of eminent domain, ruled that a municipality — actually politicians more interested in fat cat real estate developers than the poor and middle class — could exercise eminent domain, take private property and turn it over to a private real estate developer on the dubious theory that it would increase the economic viability of the area and the little homeowner be damned.

Parenthetically, it should be noted that while the Kelo homeowners were forced to leave their homes, the projected development — notwithstanding the passage of many years — never came to pass and the land is now vacant.

Recently, the state Court of Appeals, in a 6-1 decision, supported the use of eminent domain in Bruce Ratner’s New Jersey Nets arena project in Brooklyn on the same dubious economic claim. A good deal of the project will be subsidized directly and indirectly by taxpayers. Many homeowners will be forced out of their homes, all for the benefit of a private real estate developer.

As a result of the Kelo case, 35 states enacted legislation upholding the public’s traditional understanding of eminent domain and prohibiting the taking of private property and turning it over to a private real estate developer. New York state was not one of those 35 states — not surprisingly, given the fact that the Brennan Center for Justice, a public interest center at the New York University School of Law, rated New York’s state Legislature the worst state Legislature in the nation.

I think the Willets Point people would be best served by a concerted grassroots effort at engaging all members of the state Legislature and exacting an agreement to enact legislation that will prohibit the kind of result that occurred in the Kelo and Ratner matters, under pain of which legislators will be opposed in any election in which they seek office.

Since the taking of private property is political and not economic, it should be opposed on a political basis. I have no doubt the public will embrace and support such action.

Benjamin M. Haber

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Saturday's Community Meeting of Eminent Domain Actions

Senator Bill Perkins holds Community Meeting of Eminent Domain Actions. Willets Point United participated as did our attorney, Mike Rikon.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

City stops negotiating with Queensboro Motorcycle Club

From the Times Ledger:

Based during the 1930s in a clubhouse on a piece of land that became the grounds of the World’s Fairs in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the [Queensboro Motorcycle Club] left the site at the behest of the fair committee before the first World’s Fair in 1939. It eventually moved to the current site and is now facing relocation once again as the Bloomberg administration plans to redevelop the entire 62-acre Willets Point district for mixed uses.

Club leaders are in ongoing negotiations with city officials to sell or swap the property, which they have owned since moving there. QBMC President Bill Goldstein said the club would love to find a taker for the lot and well-appointed clubhouse.

“Seventeen years ago when I started in the club, it was a great spot. Now it’s a rat-infested, pothole-infested, gross area,” he said. “We’re probably one of the few businesses down there that would move if given the right opportunity. We have been speaking to the EDC, who’ve been very nice to us, but nothing seems to be going on at this time. We were looking for properties up until last year, in fact, and then the economy failed and everything kind of just stopped.”

So for now the Queens bikers will stick it out in their longtime home base in Willets Point, riding there in warm weather and cold to carry the Queensboro Motorcycle Club into its second century.

1) Notice how it was considered to be a "great spot" before another 2 decades of intentional city neglect turned it into a "rat-infested, pothole-infested, gross area". (No mention of the businesses causing the blight, as the EDC asserts.)
2) This refutes the EDC's other assertion that they are in current talks with all landowners. And this is coming from a group that wants to sell.

State Senator Bill Perkins' letter to the NY Times

To the Editor [NY Times]:

Re “Eminent Domain in New York” (editorial, Dec. 14): New York’s eminent domain laws are in need of reform. The Empire State Development Corporation’s attempted taking of private property on behalf of Columbia University illustrates how the current process lacks accountability, transparency or meaningful public participation.

The corporation cited “blight” to justify property condemnation. But the current definition of “blight” is vague. Absurd criteria, like the cracked sidewalks and loose awnings cited in Columbia’s decision, could be used to identify any neighborhood as blighted.

Furthermore, weak disclosure laws allowed Columbia to ignore Freedom of Information Law requests from property owners.

The appellate court wrote that “many commentators have noted that ‘few policies have done more to destroy community and opportunity for minorities than eminent domain.’ ” Current laws are a holdover from the so-called urban renewal schemes that decimated low-income and minority neighborhoods.

I am preparing legislation to address the flaws in existing law, and have requested Gov. David A. Paterson to impose a statewide moratorium on condemnation actions.

Since 2005, 43 states have changed their eminent domain laws to better protect home and business owners. It is now time for New York to do the same.

(Senator) Bill Perkins
Albany, Dec. 14, 2009

The writer is chairman of the New York State Senate Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee.

Perkins takes up the cause of eminent domain abuse reform

From the NY Observer:

As far as Bill Perkins is concerned, the issue of eminent domain has got legs.

"It's really a corruption of our notion of democracy," said Perkins, a Democratic state senator who represents Harlem. He was speaking Saturday at a Pentecostal church on 125th Street. The room was one-third filled by people who are concerned about the issue and active in fighting its application around the city: at the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, in Willets Point in Queens and just down the road in Manhattanville, where Columbia wants to build a new campus.

Perkins was prompted to action two weeks ago, when an appellate court ruled that the Empire State Development Corporation acted improperly by declaring parts of Manhattanville blighted ahead of condemnation for Columbia's campus. Columbia first asked ESDC to look into eminent domain in 2004.

Perkins on Saturday reiterated his call that ESDC not appeal this decision, and called for a moratorium on the use of eminent domain for private development until a commission can be formed and recommend revisions to the eminent domain procedure law.

"This is a very, very important movement," Perkins said, announcing a formal hearing in Harlem on January 5. "We're going to be going around the state to develop a case for reform."

He said the current law is a "corruption of our democracy." He's also said it's like "a gun to the community's head."

The cause is related to Perkins' last legislative accomplishment: stricter oversight of public authorities (many of which have and use eminent domain powers). He said there was no partner in the Assembly, but Richard Brodsky has in the past called for an eminent domain commission and other reforms. None have passed.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

WPU attends Senator Perkins' Community Meeting

WPU attended State Senator Bill Perkins' Community Meeting on Eminent Domain at Manhattan Pentecostal Church today.

WPU President Jerry Antonacci spoke about how the EDC is "reading from a script" since every few years the city or state comes up with an eminent domain-requiring development scheme for Willets Point.

Attorney Mike Rikon also spoke about how wrong the use of eminent domain is without a public use and to benefit private developers.

Attorneys Norm Siegel and David Smith, representatives of Develop Don't Destroy and the families fighting the Columbia University expansion also spoke.

Senator Perkins announced that his committee will be holding hearings on all of the currently proposed NYC projects that require eminent domain.

One goal of the meeting was to start a coalition to fight eminent domain abuse across New York State and members of all the groups present signed up to do just that.

Atlantic Yards Report has more.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

WPU earns the support of State Senator Bill Perkins

This morning, WPU members Jake Bono, Jerry Antonacci and Len Scarola and WPU's attorney Mike Rikon, attended a meeting with Senator Bill Perkins who is leading the charge against Eminent Domain abuse in New York State. He expressed his support for our group's cause. More importantly, he will eventually push for legislation that would overhaul eminent domain law in NY State. He is the only elected official that has put his/her name to the possibility of such a reform.

WPU will be attending Senator Perkins' town hall meeting regarding the Columbia University development project THIS SATURDAY MORNING from 9:30 am - 11:30am (see the attached flier for more details). He stated that this type of local meeting is the beginning phase of his plan that will influence a climate of change with respect to eminent domain law and is CRITICAL to the eventual passing of any legislation in support of property rights. He plans on holding a meeting for each major current eminent domain case; Columbia U, Atlantic Yards & possibly Willets Point. He even expressed interest in holding a meeting on Didden vs. The Town of Port Chester. The purpose is to expose all the corruption involved with these cases. (A Willets Point hearing would require several days.)

Saturday, December 19th
Community Meeting on Eminent Domain
Manhattan Pentecostal Church
547 West 125th St
New York, NY 10027
9:30 AM - 11:30 AM

Pinsky not telling the truth about negotiations

From the Queens Courier:

Last week, EDC announced it received 29 responses to its Request for Qualifications for developers or teams of developers interested in redeveloping the [Willets Point] site. Next, EDC will develop a short list to receive a future Request for Proposals (RFP) with a developer being selected sometime in 2010, according to Pinsky.

The city’s plans for the project call for redeveloping 18 acres of the southwest portion of the site, and it currently has secured about 75 percent of the land from property owners for the first phase of the development plan.

“We said during the ULURP [Uniformed Land Use Review Procedure] process that our strong preference was to reach consensual agreements and that remains our strong preference,” Pinsky said.

However, some Willets Point business owners said the city is not negotiating at all with them, and they were encouraged by a recent Court’s derailing of a Columbia University expansion project that sought to utilize eminent domain.

“We knew that eminent domain didn’t have that much life left in it,” said Jake Bono, the third generation owner of Bono Sawdust Supply Co., who is still fighting to keep his business at the site. “I don’t think they [the city] have a chance anymore to take my property."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Denied FOIL request overturned by court

From the NY Observer:

The New York Court of Appeals on Tuesday unanimously ruled that the state's economic development agency, which administers eminent domain, must turn a set of records over that Mr. Sprayregen had requested through the Freedom of Information Law. The agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, had provided numerous documents but withheld a set related to a 2004 agreement between the agency and Columbia. Mr. Sprayregen appealed the agency's denial of his FOIL request, and was denied again. He then sued in state Supreme Court and won, though ESDC did not provide all the documents, preferring to appeal. He won again at the appellate level; ESDC appealed again; and now the agency has exhausted its appeals.

The ruling of the court Tuesday found that the agency was overly broad in denying Mr. Sprayregen's FOIL request, and then changed its reasoning for not providing the documents, with the court saying and its "initial determination was superficial, at best."

WPU has been FOILing documents, too, and has also been denied for no valid reason. A decision with respect to our requests will likely end up being decided by a court as well since EDC is being secretive and uncooperative with the public information they possess.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Traffic is Quinn's issue with Armory project - why not with Willets Point?

From Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

"Almost lost in the euphoria over the defeat of the Kingsbridge Armory project was the crucial role played by Brian Ketcham's masterful traffic analysis-because ultimately it is traffic and socio-economic impacts that must be the determining factor in any land use decision.

This was brought home by the comments of Speaker Quinn relayed in a live blog by the Bronx News Network: "12:35 Quinn is talking now. Says they're disappointed they couldn't come to an agreement with the administration. Urging all colleagues to vote to disapprove the proposal today."After numerous and lengthy discussions, there's a significant public health and traffic impact. We cannot approve a project that brings more people to an already crowded area. .. without a true plan to deal with that traffic congestion."Other issues important and significant but not part of vote today, she said: Current plan is simply not the right proposal for the residents of this community at this time." Praises Annabel Palma, Bx delegation leader, and her Bronx colleagues."

The reality here is, that the amount of traffic that this project would generate-once again contradicting the Kermit the Mayor image of the city's richest man-would have been a real hardship on the Kingsbridge Heights neighborhood. And the inadequacies of the Related traffic study should initiate a call for ULURP reform so that the traffic analysis is taken out of the hands of developer puppets claiming independent expertise.

So hats off to Ketcham-and a cautionary tale for EDC in its effort to cover up just how inadequate the Willets Point traffic study really is. If the mayor is gonna be going green, than he needs to become more honest-and insure that his policies reflect the high minded rhetoric that he graces world gatherings with."

Christine Quinn ordered the City Council to vote yes on the Willets Point project despite the immitigable traffic impacts that even the City admits will result from the development and the construction of ramps for the Van Wyck Expressway.

Why the double standard, Chris?

Monday, December 14, 2009

WPU joins Atlantic Yards protest

Willets Point United members Irene Presti, Jake Bono and Jerry Antonacci attended the "Junk Yard Bonds Protest" held by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn today at noon in front of 55 Water Street in Manhattan, headquarters of Standard and Poor. Crown Container donated a garbage truck upon which hung a banner that stated "Deposit Atlantic Yards Bonds Here". At the end of the demonstration, junk yard bonds were tossed into the back of the truck and compacted. Unfortunately, Crown couldn't dispose of them because their transfer station permit does not cover toxic assets.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Demonstration to Protest, Expose and Trash Ratner's JUNK YARD BONDS for Atlantic Yards Arena

Save the Date: Monday, December 14. Noon.

Demonstration to Protest, Expose and Trash Ratner's JUNK YARD BONDS for Atlantic Yards Arena

NEW YORK, NY — At noon on Monday, December 14th there will be a demonstration protesting the Junk Yard Bonds New York State is about to sell for Forest City Ratner's junk arena, at great risk for New York State.

We will be selling Junk Yards Bonds. The demonstration will conclude with a ritual dumping of the Junk Yard Bonds into a Garbage Truck—the best place for these bonds—from Willets Point, Queens (where they are also fighting eminent domain abuse).

Questions will be raised.

It will be videogenic and photogenic.

Demonstration to Protest and Watchdog Ratner's Arena Junk Yard Bonds and the credit rating agencies that gave these bonds, barely, an "investment grade" rating.
Call for Attorney General Cuomo and Comptroller DiNapoli to investigate the bond structure, rating and issuance.

We will be selling Junk Yards Bonds.

Dumping the JUNK BONDS into the GARBAGE TRUCK about 12:45
(Garbage Truck from Crown Container, fighting the taking of Willets Point by eminent domain)

Standard & Poor's Offices
55 Water Street
(2/3 to Wall St., R/W to Whitehall/South Ferry, 4/5 to Bowling Green)

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn
Good Jobs New York
Citizen Watchdogs

Friday, December 11, 2009

More eminent domain stories

Perkins asks Paterson for moratorium on eminent domain, not to appeal Columbia case [Atlantic Yards Report]

Sen Perkins: Gov, Stop Eminent Domain for Atlantic Yards [Develop Don't Destroy]

First Person: Standing Up to Eminent Theft [The Indypendent]

Atlantic Yards Takes the Court [The Indypendent]

Daniel Goldstein: Home, Blighted Home [Huffington Post]

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Statement by Willets Point United re: AG Cuomo's investigation of EDC tactics

Willets Point United Inc. commends NYS Attorney General Cuomo's decision to investigate NYCEDC's financing of unlawful lobbying done by Claire Shulman's local development corporation, to enable the proposed Willets Point redevelopment. Willets Point United Inc. had requested such an investigation on June 30, 2009. Since that date, Shulman's LDC has not only continued its unlawful operations with impunity, but has been awarded an additional state grant in excess of $1.5 million.

Today's New York Times report – about how the City's chief lawyer has stonewalled Cuomo's investigation by attempting to withhold documents,and how the Bloomberg administration attempted to blackmail Cuomo to influence his investigation, by threatening Cuomo's candidacy for governor – is a wake-up call for all New Yorkers concerning the illegal tactics that have been used by the Mayor and NYCEDC in their attempt to acquire Willets Point land. If the Mayor's administration has resorted to using such tactics against AG Cuomo, there should be no doubt that it has used similarly despicable tactics against the people of Willets Point throughout the attempt to acquire their property.

Mayor Bloomberg took an oath to uphold the rule of law. But not only has Bloomberg looked the other way concerning the unlawful lobbying activities of local development corporations – even telling the Times Ledger newspapers "These groups are designed to lobby. I don't know if they technically broke the law" (Duke, Nathan and Gustafson,Anna. 2009. Mayor doubts Shulman lobby broke law. Times Ledger, August27.) – now, as reported by the New York Times, his administration has attempted to impede an investigation by the NYS Attorney General concerning those same unlawful acts. All New Yorkers must hold Mayor Bloomberg accountable for his failure to uphold the rule of law, and to impede an investigation by AG Cuomo. These may be impeachable offenses.

The unlawful use of City funds for lobbying by Shulman's LDC, and the City's attempt to stonewall Cuomo's investigation of it, are part of a pattern of disturbing behavior that has corrupted key aspects of the proposed Willets Point redevelopment, and which now includes NYCEDC's refusal to publicly disclose the details of its plan to install new Van Wyck access ramps as part of the project. Engineers have already determined that the ramps and development will cause severe adverse traffic impacts that threaten the quality of life of surrounding communities, and NYCEDC is keeping secret its records relating to the roadway modifications and traffic analyses. Just as AG Cuomo has insisted that there be no secrets concerning the transfers of funds by NYCEDC to facilitate unlawful lobbying, so too should there be no secrets concerning NYCEDC's disruptive plans for Queens roadways.

Willets Point United Inc. considers the investigation by AG Cuomo to be the breath of fresh air that may finally begin to impose law and order on a corrupt City-driven process that will otherwise continue to violate the rights of Willets Point property owners. Willets Point United Inc. is hopeful that the proposed Willets Point redevelopment now will be seen to be the fraud that it truly is; and that AG Cuomo's investigation will inspire both reform of the New York City's "shadow government" which includes NYCEDC and other local development corporations, as well as the resignations of NYCEDC President Seth Pinsky, Deputy Mayor (and former NYCEDC President) Robert Leiber, and all others who have had oversight authority concerning the corrupt Willets Point project.

Here is the Times article:

And the Village Voice:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More reaction to Columbia ruling

When can't New York take your land [NY Post]

Eminent Domain: Let the Public Beware! [NBC New York]

Lawyer who won Columbia case "cautiously optimistic" about surviving appeal, says creation of record key to win [Atlantic Yards Report]

Court Nixes University’s Harlem Expansion [GlobeSt]

Self-Storage King Takes a Moment to Savor His Victory Over Columbia [NY Times]

More on the Eminent Domain Ruling Against ESDC/Columbia [DDDB]

Monday, December 7, 2009




(December 7, 2009) Willets Point United, Inc. – a group of more than 20 property owners in Queens, NY, fighting to keep their land despite the city’s desire to condemn it and turn it over to a yet-to-be-named private developer – believes the NYC Economic Development Corporation’s (EDC) approach to improving Willets Point is inappropriate, and we will oppose it in every way. Today we have notified the EDC via letter of the very disturbing track records of certain developer firms likely to respond to the EDC’s Request for Qualifications (RFQ) by today’s deadline and asks that these firms be disqualified from future consideration for receipt of a Request for Proposals (RFP).

Shamefully, the City of New York and EDC have conspired to supplant us, and to convey our properties to one or more developer firms that will be selected in secret by EDC and the Project Team. Then, ironically, once we have been forced to depart Willets Point, the City will lavish upon the area all of the services and infrastructure that have been denied to us, despite our payments of City taxes during the past decades.

One candidate, TDC Development, committed more than 4 years ago to redevelop downtown Flushing’s Municipal Lot 1, but as of this day the Chinese-based real estate and development company has failed to even break ground. This project is 1/12th the size of Willets Point. To entrust a firm such as TDC with the proposed Willets Point redevelopment is to direct that project toward the same fate as the now-infamous proposed redevelopment in New London, Connecticut. To quote Councilman and Comptroller-elect John Liu, “*TDC+ seems to think it doesn't need to deliver on the promises it made two years ago. That's at best a woeful miscalculation and at worst just pure greed.” It should be noted that years ago TDC was determined by EDC to qualify to receive an RFP and no more than an expression of continued interest in the project is now required for TDC to remain under consideration.

TDC, plus Briarwood Group, Ciampa Organization, J&K Pi Foundation, Mattone Group, Muss Development, Nash Builders, Palaus, Sokolowski & Sartor and RAMAH, comprise the membership of Flushing-Willets Point-Corona Local Development Corporation. This organization is incorporated under Section 1411 of the New York State Not-For-Profit Corporations Law, which explicitly prohibits FWPCLDC from attempting to influence legislation. Although FWPCLDC is prohibited from attempting to influence legislation, it has lobbied in favor of the proposed Willets Point redevelopment, and is presently a registered lobbyist. The apparently unlawful activities of FWPCLDC are financed and/or otherwise supported by TDC and the other eight above-identified developer firms. This should disqualify all of them from participating in the Request for Proposal (RFP) process.

In addition, the city’s plan to use eminent domain to acquire property for private development is itself controversial, but will become much more so if NYCEDC attempts to forcibly acquire properties from their present American owners via condemnation and convey those properties to a non-American entity. To prevent that unconscionable specter, NYCEDC and the Project Team must ensure that fundamentally American firms are exclusively entitled to receive the RFP.

While NYCEDC's RFQ may be intended to elicit responses from developer entities which affirm their qualifications and promote their accomplishments, we submit that this letter – concerning potential developer candidates' lack of qualifications – should be considered equally significant by NYCEDC and the Project Team. We believe that all of the developer firms identified herein are unqualified to participate in the proposed Willets Point Redevelopment, and that they must not receive the RFP.

Call Governor Paterson today!


This week, New York Governor David Paterson committed to ordering an impartial and thorough review of the Atlantic Yards project. As we e-mailed you about last week, New York’s highest court upheld the condemnations of privately owned homes and small businesses to make way for developer Bruce Ratner’s massive Atlantic Yards project.
It is critical that the governor intervene to stop these condemnations immediately.

Please call Governor Paterson right now at 518-474-8390 and thank him for his commitment to ordering a review of the Atlantic Yards project. Ask him that he stop the entire process while the review goes forward, particularly the condemnation of private property. Stress that in the middle of the state’s fiscal crisis, it doesn’t make sense to give a private developer $100 million for a wildly unpopular, pie-in-the-sky project. Remind him of the barren fields in Fort Trumbull – that could be the future of Brooklyn.

Christina Walsh
Director of Activism and Coalitions
Institute for Justice
901 N. Glebe Road, Suite 900
Arlington, VA 22203

Friday, December 4, 2009

Joe Ardizzone: "last man standing"

From the Queens Chronicle:

Call him the last man standing. Joe Ardizzone has lived in Willets Point all his 77 years and says he’s not about to leave now.

Ardizzone remembers growing up in a virtual wildlife sanctuary, with the thrill of watching migrating birds every year and frogs, quail and pheasants as regular sights. “I haven’t seen a frog here in 40 years,” he said.

His father built a couple of houses but the neighborhood never took off as a residential area. The factories and auto shops came after the 1939 World’s Fair. “I stay here by choice,” Ardizzone said. “I like the people around me. They are hard-working.”

He is angry over the way the city has forced the project on those who work in Willets Point. “It’s strictly a dictatorship, not the American way. They are taking property from us and the people are paying for it.”

Ardizzone vows to continue the fight. “The city should not be in the real estate business,” he said. “I’m not moving. I’m fighting for democracy and for all those who lost their lives fighting for it.”

Supporting him are members of Willets Point United, business owners who are fighting to keep their properties. Jerry Antonacci, owner of Crown Container, a waste transfer station there for 33 years, is one of the group’s spokespersons.

“It’s discouraging to live in a city where they don’t care about people’s property,” Antonacci said.

Jake Bono, whose family has owned a sawdust business for more than 75 years, most of the time in Willets Point, said the outcome in New London, “goes to show it’s just wrong to take people’s property. The city failed and they destroyed lives,” Bono said.

He considers what happened in Connecticut “a victory, not a loss” for Willets Point businesses that want to stay. “It shows clearly that eminent domain doesn’t work. It fails,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which upheld the city’s use of eminent domain for private redevelopment. “What happened in New London made 43 states change their eminent domain laws to only allow it for a true public purpose.”

Antonacci and Bono believe time is on their side and the city will stall on the project because it doesn’t have the funding. “The city has no money and no plan,” Antonacci said. “It will be delayed for years and years.”

“We’ll fight, but nothing is going on now. We’re just waiting and still intend to continue,” Antonacci said.

Columbia decision news roundup

Columbia University failed to work out a deal with Nicholas Sprayregen, above, who owned four Tuck-it-Away Self Storage buildings in the area. [NY Times]

Court puts brakes on Columbia's, NY's West Harlem property grab [NY Post]

Court deals blow to Columbia U. expansion plan [Crains]

Court Deals a Blow to Columbia’s Expansion Plans [NY Times]

State Court Rules Eminent Domain Use for Columbia West Harlem Campus Unconstitutional [Updated] [NY Observer]

Court Decision Puts Halt On Columbia Expansion [NY1]

No eminent domain for Columbia University expansion: court [Daily News]

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Appeals court rules for property owners and against Columbia University

From the NY Observer:

In an unexpected major decision, a New York appellate court has overturned the use of eminent domain to create a new West Harlem campus for Columbia University, ruling the action unconstitutional.

The cases were brought by the defiant owner of a set of storage warehouses in West Harlem, Nick Sprayregen, and the owners of two gas stations in the footprint for the 17-acre campus, called Manahttanville. Mr. Sprayregen sued to block the land takings in January, after the use of eminent domain was approved by the state's development agency, the Empire State Development Corporation.

Columbia had said it needed eminent domain to establish a full, contiguous campus, and then build a large, interconnected underground facility throughout the area. Thus all the property owners needed to be removed from the mostly industrial district.

Warner Johnston, an ESDC spokesman, said the state intends to appeal the action.

The ruling has also caught the eye of a set of business owners at Willets Point in Queens, where the city seems likely to use eminent domain.

"We look forward to the same kind of vindication if the city coerces eminent domain on Willets Point," business owner Jake Bono said in a statement.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Daily News editorial draws comparison between Willets Point and New London

N.Y., learn from New London: It offers a critical cautionary tale on the use of eminent domain

BY Richard Lipsky

Monday, November 30th 2009

There were two major developments in the use of eminent domain this month. Now the question is which of the two will be more influential in determining the future use of this controversial power in New York.

The first landmark was the shocking decision that the Pfizer drug company was abandoning New London, Conn., taking 1,400 jobs with it. This came just over five years after the pharmaceutical giant was being hailed as the linchpin of a new economic development project that would revitalize the financially strapped town. In that effort, Pfizer and New London were aided and abetted by the use of eminent domain to force evictions of home owners and small businesses, including one named "Kelo," who unsuccessfully fought them all the way up to the Supreme Court.

As a result of the deal's collapse this month, the city is now not only stuck with a huge vacant parcel, but a $78 million bill for all of its wasted efforts.

The second development was last week's 6-to-1 ruling by New York State's highest court throwing out a lawsuit against the Atlantic Yards development and strengthening the state's hand to condemn swaths of land as blight and initiate eminent domain proceedings here. This will likely pave the way for the start of that long delayed mega-project - and more broadly, city and state officials will no doubt be emboldened, taking the court decision as their cue to employ the power ever more aggressively.

Rather than running with their court-blessed authority to condemn and take property, Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Paterson should instead be looking to the Pfizer-Kelo mess. It offers a much more relevant real-world warning on the dangers of zealous use of the eminent domain authority. The New London fiasco serves as a cautionary tale, particularly in regards to the expansive and massively expensive project over at Willets Point, in Queens.

At Willets Point, the city is reserving the right, and gives every indication that it will employ the use of, eminent domain to relocate hundreds of businesses and workers. Friday, a federal court ruled for the city's proposed project and against those businesses, saying that their rights are not being violated.

But just because the city can use eminent domain doesn't mean it should - and under close scrutiny, the economic promises of the city simply do not add up.

In order to successfully advance a 9 million-square-foot retail and housing development in that disparaged community, the city will have to - on spec - spend hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, to prepare the land. Just to buy all of the property owners out will cost, based on the Economic Development Corp.'s public disclosure of existing sales that have already been negotiated, close to $700 million. And this is all before the cost of providing necessary infrastructure to the area, including sidewalks and sewers, that the city has neglected to provide for well over 80 years.

In addition, it's estimated that the provision of adequate transportation into this peninsula - with an additional estimated 80,000 vehicle trips including 2,500 truck trips entering or leaving Willets Point every weekday - will run into the billions of dollars.

The city is very good at touting the collateral benefits of many of its large retail development projects, but it is understandably reticent about highlighting what can be seen as the collateral damages. Given the Pfizer debacle, in which New London's big promises and massive investments went up in smoke, it is crucial that Bloomberg and his economic development team now give a full and detailed accounting of all the predevelopment costs that will have to be absorbed even before a developer is selected.

The further lesson of New London and Kelo is that a locality needs to be scrupulous before it embarks on utilizing the eminent domain tool. Property rights should not be relegated to a constitutional sidecar. The real brunt of such decisions is borne by business owners whose property will be taken, albeit with compensation, and others who will be displaced.

With the prospect of tax hikes and service cuts hanging over the heads of New Yorkers, now is not the time for the kind of risky investment that cost our Connecticut cousins millions of dollars.

The city needs to take a step back on Willets Point, fully examine the costs as well as the benefits, and ask the simple question: Can we afford this kind of publicly subsidized real estate speculation in the current economic climate? In the aftermath of New London, the answer should be a resounding "no."

Richard Lipsky is a lobbyist representing clients who are fighting the Willets Point development.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Judge dismisses WPIRA lawsuit

Judge Korman of the federal court in Brooklyn issued a decision in the case against the City that Willets Point Industry and Realty Association brought in 2008 for lack of services. The lawsuit was brought with the hopes of proving that the City intentionally neglected the area for decades so that they could use the blight argument for condemnation purposes. Damages were sought. The judge dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the City acted "rationally, and within its discretion" in refusing to provide municipal services to the area. He also said plaintiffs should have sued 10-20 years ago. The next step would be an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, should the plaintiffs choose to go that route.

It should be made clear that this is not the Article 78 that Willets Point United filed to stop the redevelopment project, as several news outlets are reporting. But it is still a blow to property owners who are intentionally neglected by the City because it has "bigger plans" for their property.

Constrained Court Rules Against Property Owners and Tenants in Atlantic Yards Eminent Domain Case

Despite Ruling, Fight Against Ratner's Brooklyn Project Is Far From Over

BROOKLYN, NY — New York's high court ruled today against property owners and tenants who had challenged the state's use of eminent domain to seize their homes and businesses for the enrichment of developer Bruce Ratner and his Atlantic Yards project in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

In the 6-1 decision the Court of Appeals ruled that the state agency's determination to take the plaintiffs property had a rational basis under state law.

"The fight against the Atlantic Yards project is far from over. The community has four outstanding lawsuits against the project and, meanwhile, the arena bond financing clock ticks louder and louder for Ratner. While this is a terrible day for taxpaying homeowners in New York, this is not the end of our fight to keep the government from stealing our homes and businesses,” said Develop Don't Destroy spokesman and lead plaintiff Daniel Goldstein. "Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg now need to decide if they want their legacy to be the next New London—a dust bowl in the heart of Brooklyn caused by the abuse of eminent domain, because that will be the outcome if they allow the property seizures and final clearance for Ratner's unfeasible project."

"We are disappointed, but undeterred. We lost this round, but the legal fight is not over. My clients will continue to resist Ratner's efforts to steal their homes and businesses in the New York courts. We will vigorously defend the cases that the State will now file seeking to seize my clients' properties, and will continue to pursue all other available legal remedies," said lead attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff of Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady. "Because the Court of Appeals made it clear that it considered itself 'bound' by the self-serving record created by the Empire State Development Corporation prior to its December 2006 public use finding, and thus refused to consider the events leading up to the ESDC's adoption of a modified general project plan two months ago, we now intend to commence a new lawsuit seeking to compel the ESDC to issue new or amended public use findings. It would be perverse and unfair if my clients homes and businesses were confiscated based on circumstances that no longer exist."

"While we are deeply disappointed in the Court's decision, our fight against the government's abuses on Ratner's behalf continues, and we expect to defeat Atlantic Yards through political and legal means", said Develop Don't Destroy legal director Candace Carponter. "It now falls to Governor Paterson to guarantee, through a binding legal contract, which the State would be required to enforce, that all the developer's promises about the project—including all of the ‘affordable' housing and the ten year construction timeline—are fulfilled. If the Governor is unable to do that, he is duty-bound to abandon this ill-fated project, and start over so the rail yards can be developed properly and realistically."

In 2005, in the wake of the Supreme Court's widely despised Kelo decision that expanded the reach of eminent domain, then-Senator David Paterson called for a state-wide blanket moratorium on the use of eminent domain.

"Governor Paterson needs to ask himself what happened to Senator Paterson's position on eminent domain. And then he needs to act on his principles," Carponter concluded.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

City trying to hide impact of Van Wyck ramps

From the Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

The effort of Willets Point United-the group of business owners trying to stave off eminent domain generated eviction over at the Iron Triangle-is being stonewalled by the city's Economic Development Corporation in its effort to have all of the relevant project traffic information publicly disclosed. Of particular urgency is the data that pertains to the proposed Van Wyck ramps-the linchpin of any ability that the city would have to mitigate the impact of the 80,000 cars/day that this massive redevelopment will generate.

What the city is doing here, is attempting to avoid any public scrutiny-a scrutiny that would reveal the extent to which the entire traffic study that lead to the project's initial approval at the city council fraudulently fails to disclose essential information that would, we believe, totally undermine the public support for this expensive venture.

Central to this unethical-and perhaps illegal-end run, is the withholding of the Access Modification Report (AMR); and all of the data that has been generated to come up with the report that is the key to getting both state and federal approval for the ramps. While the report itself may still be considered, "work product," the traffic information that has been utilized to make it up, certainly isn't.

What exactly is the city trying to hide? Huge costs and unmitigatible local and highway traffic. As Brian Ketcham, WPU's traffic expert points out: "...the project will generate 80,000 vehicle trips on an average weekday (of which 2,500 are truck trips) and about the same number of trips for weekend days, with peak hour impacts of between 6,000 and 7,000 vehicle trips."

And nowhere in the original environmental review is the impact of the ramps ever actually analyzed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NYC can't afford to take this risk

From Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

...all that New London has left for all of the heartache it cause Susan Kelo and the 89 other homeowners is a giant vacant sore. As Juan Gonzales points out in this morning's NY Daily News: "Kelo ended up losing her home and moving to nearby Groton, and the entire neighborhood was bulldozed. Four years later, there are only empty lots and weeds where their houses once stood. As for those 3,000 jobs, residents are still waiting for them. "There are some projects in the pipeline, but they've been unable to move forward for lack of financing," John Brooks, executive director of the New London Development Corp., conceded. Finances have gotten so bad, Brooks said, that he will soon be relegated to working part time for the corporation."

So, as we have been saying, here, here and here, NYC needs to see this New London fiasco as a lesson to be learned-and before the city moves to hold any eminent domain hearings on Willets Point (slated for this month or next) it needs to re-evaluate the cost and feasibility of this massive undertaking before it proceeds any further. New Yorkers need to know where the money is coming from; and how the traffic infrastructure will be built that will accommodate a proposed 9,000,000 square feet of development.

Is this the kind of speculative venture that New York needs in this parlous economic time? And will the business owners of Willets Point-along with 2500 workers-lose their life work because of the edifice complex of the richest citizen of the city? In four years, Mike Bloomberg will be (hopefully) gone; but what happens at the Iron Triangle may well define his tenure. As Gonzales reminds us-giving a shout out to Jake Bono of Willets Point as well: "This week, the other shoe dropped. Pfizer announced that it will soon close its New London research center and shift its 1,500 jobs to Groton. The jobs will be gone just around the time the facility's tax abatement ends. Ten years after New London started destroying a neighborhood for a development dream, red-faced town leaders have only a dust bowl on their hands." the case of Willets Point, that vague promise of Valhalla-in the midst of the worst economic recession in 80 years-is simply one expensive road that NYC can ill afford to travel. It doesn't have the money, and it can't afford to lose the jobs and tax paying businesses-not for a promissory note that Mike Bloomberg, long gone when it comes due, will not forced to make good on.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How victims of eminent domain are really treated

From Wall Street Journal:

In September, Dan Goldstein received a letter from New York State informing him and his wife that the government was about to seize their Brooklyn apartment "In furtherance of the Atlantic Yards Arena and Redevelopment Project." The building would be razed as part of a 22-acre, $4.9 billion sports-complex project.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and developer Bruce C. Ratner have promised that the project will bring jobs, affordable apartments and the Nets basketball team. Lost amid these promises is the story of Mr. Goldstein, his wife Shabnam Merchant, and a few others who have spent years resisting efforts to dislodge them. The state's highest court—the New York Court of Appeals—is expected to issue its ruling in Goldstein et al. v. Empire State Development Corporation any day. The case is a pivotal one in the struggle to prevent abuse of the power of eminent domain.

All of this places Mr. Goldstein in an important spot. The case that bears his name is the first opportunity since Kelo for New York's highest court to affirm that the state's constitutional standard for seizing property is more stringent than the federal constitutional standard.

If the court rules against Mr. Goldstein, however, he and his wife could suffer one final injustice. The letter they received in September informed them that the state will compensate them $510,000 for their property—less than what they bought it for and less than half of what Mr. Ratner offered to pay them for it four years ago.

It's also less per square foot than what Mr. Ratner expects to sell his luxury apartments for once they are built. "I think [the state] lowballs to deter people from fighting like we have," Mr. Goldstein told me.

Mr. Goldstein should win. The state constitution supports him. If he loses, so will the owners of private property everywhere in the Empire State.

And from the Brooklyn Paper:

“I’m pissed off that the state is the low-balling me,” said Goldstein, whose last legal challenges to the project are on the verge of resolution. If those lawsuits fail, Goldstein said he’ll be forced to “go to court to get fair market value and just compensation.”

Goldstein’s lawyer, Mike Rikon, believes that the Empire State Development Corporation’s offer is lower than the market value of the apartment as a punishment for Goldstein’s opposition to the project.

“We saw the number and thought maybe they were being vindictive,” Rikon said.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Regular people hurt by government folly

Pfizer abandons site of infamous Kelo eminent domain taking
By: Timothy P. Carney
Washington Examiner Columnist

The private homes that New London, Conn., took away from Suzette Kelo and her neighbors have been torn down. Their former site is a wasteland of fields of weeds, a monument to the power of eminent domain.

But now Pfizer, the drug company whose neighboring research facility had been the original cause of the homes' seizure, has just announced that it is closing up shop in New London.

To lure those jobs to New London a decade ago, the local government promised to demolish the older residential neighborhood adjacent to the land Pfizer was buying for next-to-nothing. Suzette Kelo fought the taking to the Supreme Court, and lost. Five justices found this redevelopment met the constitutional hurdle of "public use."

The Hartford Courant reports:

Pfizer Inc. will shut down its massive New London research and development headquarters and transfer most of the 1,400 people working there to Groton, the pharmaceutical giant said Monday....

Pfizer is now deciding what to do with its giant New London offices, and will consider selling it, leasing it and other options, a company spokeswoman said.

Scott Bullock, Kelo's co-counsel in the case, told me: "This shows the folly of these redevelopment projects that use massive taxpayer subsidies and other forms of corporate welfare and abuse eminent domain."

The government of Connecticut clearly didn't know what was in the best interest of its citizens. They misjudged the benefits of taking people's land to give to a giant company that promised the world but delivered nothing.

The same thing is happening at Atlantic Yards and at Willets Point.

As the Neighborhood Retail Alliance states:

The abandoned New London property should serve as a warning that our vaunted decision makers sometimes simply don't know what they are doing-and plow ahead because they are programmed to act in a certain way. It is time that EDC opened up and presented all of the needed information to those whose lives will be effected by this massive redevelopment scheme. And, by the way, someone should let us all know how much it will cost and where the money will be coming from.

EDC is trafficking in secrecy

From Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

Willets Point United is now in the middle of trying to determine whether the Van Wyck ramps will actually alleviate the traffic mess that the development will generate; and what the cost of all this will mean for the city's already over burdened tax payers.

Unfortunately, EDC is stonewalling handing over the information-and we are planning to present this refusal, as well as its implications, to the residents of the nearby communities that will be impacted by the mess. As it stands now, the cost of remediation is unclear, with the city planning to figure this all out (according to the EIS) after the project is built. A blatant act of malfeasance in our view.

But consider what kind of traffic mess will assault the Van Wyck. According to our own traffic expert Brian Ketcham, the results will be anything but pretty: "The problem is that the project is surrounded by clogged expressways: the Van Wyck Expressway, the Grand Central Parkway, and the Long Island Expressway. And, with the project, clogged local access roads as well! At 9 million square feet the Willets Point Development Plan will generate 80,000 vehicle trips including 2,500 truck trips entering or leaving Willets Point every weekday and a similar amount of traffic on weekends. And, during the baseball or tennis season the project will have far greater impacts."

And the ramps are supposed to be a savior-but there role is left unexamined by the EIS: "The City is asking the NYSDOT to approve two new ramps connecting with the Van Wyck Expressway south of the site. It would provide more than a third of the car and truck trips accessing and leaving the site to travel to and from the south without using local streets. Without these ramps these trips would be forced to use local streets that would already be jammed with 60% to 70% of project trips. These impacts are never disclosed in the FEIS.

Nor are the ramps mentioned in the mitigation section of the FEIS. Instead, the City has applied in a separate secret document for State DOT approval of the ramps. This document, which includes the results of extensive traffic modeling and which it is assumed contains a discussion of the effects on traffic should NYSDOT fail to approve the ramps, is not available for public review."

So, once again, we are in a very secretive process whereby EDC is playing hide the ball-to the extent that we simply don't know what is being told NYSDOT, and how accurate the information proffered by the city really is. Which is why this entire process needs to be opened up for public scrutiny.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

One more time, Ben Haber!

This letter to the editor appeared in several Queens weekly papers this week:

Dear Editor:

Local development corporations serve a useful purpose.They are designed to deal with proposed city development plans in a local area, to protect the interests of the residents in the area and ensure the city is proceeding in a legal and proper manner.In short, they are not an arm of or partner with the city in the development plans and their interests are often not similar. Precisely because there could be a conflict of interest between the city and the local development corporation, it is illegal for a local development corporation to accept city funds and then use all or a portion of those funds to lobby city officials to support the city’s plans.

As reported in The New York Times on October 30 (“Bloomberg Saw Development as Future, and Future is Stalled”), it would appear the Flushing-Willets Point Local Development Corporation, headed by former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership may have accepted city funds and then used portions thereof to lobby city officials. This would not be an insignificant matter because if an illegality has taken place, it may well be any actions taken by the City Council on these matters are null and void. There is an ongoing investigation,and one hopes it is expeditiously concluded and right be done.

Benjamin M. Haber

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Reading between the lines

From the NYC EDC:

"New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) today released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to identify developers for the first stage of the Willets Point District in northeastern Queens. The entire 62-acre District is proposed to become one of the City’s first “Green” communities, with housing, retail, community space and other uses. NYCEDC will subsequently issue one or more Targeted Requests for Proposals (RFP) to selected firms responding to this RFQ. Additionally, the City continues to be successful in its commitment to acquire privately-owned property in Willets Point by negotiated acquisition, recently acquiring three additional parcels from private owners in Willets Point totaling 65,480 square feet."

They are just now putting out an RFQ. The developer was supposed to have been chosen months ago, according to EDC's schedule. They haven't even had the first round tryouts.

Then it continues: "The City is contemplating moving forward with a staged development strategy for Willets Point that will first focus on the southwest portion of the District that includes approximately 18 acres of development area and streets and about four acres of an interim buffer zone."

Notice the word "contemplating". The previous phrase was "committed to".

From Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

Curbed is reporting on the latest EDC efforts to appear as if it has a great deal of momentum going in its plan to redevelop Willets Point-and remove the legitimate property owners: "Now, with the one-year anniversary of the rezoning win fast approaching, there is Willets Point news to report. The city's Economic Development Corporation has announced a new set of acquisition deals with landowners in the, er, colorful area, bringing the total amount of iTri land acquired to about 70 percent. And now the bigger headline: The EDC has issued a Request for Qualifications to interested developers. Could this crazy plan actually be happening? You gotta believe!"

What's left out of EDC's Lombino breathlessness, is that the city agency doesn't have agreements with over half of the current property owners-and that its methodology has apparently been changed, indicating an almost complete absence of truthfulness. As its press release tells us: "The City is contemplating moving forward with a staged development strategy for Willets Point that will first focus on the southwest portion of the District that includes approximately 18 acres of development area and streets and about four acres of an interim buffer zone."

This is a complete about face from its original assertion that, because of the soil contamination, the entire 60 or so acre parcel needed to be developed all at once. So, as Meatloaf used to sing: "What'll it be boy?" To us, it looks as if the city is continuing to posture-and we're in for a long an expensive process that the city lacks funds to see to a conclusion. Just wait until the budget starts to crater and the re-elected Bloomberg tells New Yorkers that he's going to spend $700 million to evict hundreds of tax paying businesses and thousands of workers-mostly immigrants (another example of how the mayor's campaign rhetoric directed at immigrants rings hollow.)

As fantasy prone as the EDC statement is, it lacks the imagination of the Queens BP who commented as follows: "Each step forward gives us a clearer vision of a plan that will redevelop Willets Point in way that will capitalize on the resources surrounding it, including recreational uses and a network of highways, while strengthening the entire region. The redevelopment of Willets Point will also provide construction and permanent jobs that will broaden our City’s tax base and create a much improved, greener environment for a new generation of residents and businesses.”

Our funny bone got tickled with the "network of highways" remark-an indication that Helen has overlooked the fact that there is no rational plan in place to get people in and out from upwards of 1,000,000 square feet of development. And we're still waiting for the city to put a price on all of this malarkey. The city should be informed at the costs-after all, the pie in the sky benefits are being trumpeted, so why not put a price tag on all of this so we can do our own cost-benefit analysis?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Convenient timing for Willets Point ticket blitz

Very early this morning, parking tickets were written for about 15 cars parked under the Whitestone/Van Wyck overpass, right in front of Northern Boulevard. For decades, the overpass has been an area where parked cars are welcome. There is no sign anywhere prohibiting parking. Mets fans routinely park in this area when attending games, and are not ticketed for doing so. Construction workers routinely parked in this area during the years of constructing CitiField, and were not ticketed for doing so. Willets Point workers have parked in this area for decades, and have not been ticketed for doing so. Today's ticket blitz seems unjustified. Moreover, the vehicles ticketed evidently are those whose drivers arrived at Willets Point very early, to begin a long day's work –– some of the hardest workers in the City, who are modestly paid and significantly hurt by the unprecedented tickets.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New York: Worst state in the nation for eminent domain abuse

From Gotham Gazette:

“New York is perhaps the worst state in the nation when it comes to eminent domain abuse — the forcible acquisition of private property by the government for private development,” according to a new report by the conservative Institute for Justice.

The study goes through a litany of examples of what they see as an unfair eminent domain process here. They point out that an area need only be considered in danger of becoming blighted in order to be condemned; describe a byzantine, opaque, and unaccountable hearing process; and focus on the short window of time for property owners to protest at inadequate proceedings.

Nicole Gelinas, at NY Fiscal Watch, adds that the threat of eminent domain can freeze business activity and actually create blight.

Although the report paints a bleak landscape of abuse in the state, it really doesn’t compare New York to other states. Another report by an arm of the Institute for Justice gave New York an ‘F’ – one of eight states to receive the grade – for failing to pass legislation reforming eminent domain.

Hopefully New York can get off that list, writes Damon Root at Reason Magazine. Next week the Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments against the use of eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards project. Root says this case is an opportunity for the state “to start reining in these abuses.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

That old gag...

From Newsday:

Less than two days after Charles Wang said he is ready to explore all his options, the executive vice president of the Queens Chamber of Commerce said Wang's search should begin in his borough.

"Option number 1 should be Queens," Jack Friedman said. "We are ready for him."

Friedman believes a potential new home for the Islanders would fit perfectly as a centerpiece in the city's plans for the Willets Point area. The project is still in the early stages; Friedman said ground-breaking probably won't take place for another four or five years.

But the Islanders' lease with Nassau County stipulates that they must play their homes games through 2015, so the team is still six seasons from a potential move, anyway.

If Wang is interested in the Willets Point area, Friedman said the first step in the process would be for him to meet with representatives of the city's Economic Development Corporation, which oversees all new development projects within the city limits.

A message left with the EDC's press office was not immediately returned, but Friedman said it's his understanding that they are "absolutely" interested in bringing Wang aboard.

Really? Well, Jack old boy, Wang would need to submit an application in response to a request for proposal. Hey - wasn't the developer supposed to be chosen by now? What happened? Things not quite going as planned? NBC is telling you it's a bad idea:

There are already community groups lining up against the Willets Point project, but we'll just focus on the arena part of the equation since the plan is in motion with or without the Islanders playing a role. The city does not need another arena to play host to a sports team on 40-odd dates a year. Between Madison Square Garden, the two baseball stadiums, the arena and stadium at the Meadowlands, the Prudential Arena in Newark and the proposed Brooklyn arena, there's already too much competition for the non-sporting events that can actually keep these arenas from doing more than sucking down municipal money and staying empty. And that's before taking into account the zillions of other places for concerts, special events and the like in the metropolitan area.

Once you throw in the fact that all but MSG and the arena at the Meadowlands are in their infancy, it becomes clear that there's neither a need nor a justification for another new building. If the Islanders want to play within the five boroughs, let them share space with the Nets in Brooklyn because if we're going to get a building we don't need we might as well keep it full for as much of the year as possible.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

And that's a conservative estimate...

People are starting to question the cost of the Willets Point redevelopment plan and whether it's worth it. From the NY Observer:

By our tally, more than $78 million in nine separate transactions have closed—though far more have previously been negotiated and yet to show up in city records.

There’s a number of things that aren’t told in that number, particularly what the city is spending in terms of relocation costs. There’s been $424 million allocated for both acquisitions and off-site infrastructure, an amount that would seem to be too small to do everything the administration has discussed.

The city has said the off-site infrastructure will cost about $150 million, for one.

And then there are land costs, which are substantial. Here’s the most recent closed deal: $11,993,825 for a lot that is 57,000 square feet (on the less valuable northern end of the site), according to the real estate tracking firm PropertyShark. That comes out to $210 a square foot, which, if extrapolated across the full 45 or so acres that are privately held on the site, would come out to $412 million.

According to an EDC document from December 2008, there was language written into some of the larger land purchases that would seem to give the landowners a pretty good deal.

For both businesses, House of Spices and Fodera Foods, two of the larger property owners on the site, an EDC board action said that EDC “must use its best efforts” to “promptly purchase replacement property,” then sell the property to those businesses for $1. Given that EDC would be condemning their land, then buying them new land (though “best efforts” seems a loose term), this could get expensive as well.

Does the City of New York have this kind of money, especially with the economy expected to get worse instead of better? As Neighborhood Retail Alliance puts it:

EDC has established an off set price here-and if the numbers are added up they probably would exceed $700 million. Where does the city expect to come up with this cash from-at a time when it is evicting the businesses and putting thousands of workers on the unemployment line?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Eminent domain debate on WNYC

Listed to the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC:

Christopher Serkin, associate professor of law at Brooklyn Law School, explains what eminent domain is and how it's used. Dana Berliner, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice and Kathryn Wylde, president & CEO of the Partnership for New York City argue the ins and outs of the policy. Then, WNYC's Matthew Schuerman outlines the mayoral candidates' positions on eminent domain in NYC.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Conn. Land Vacant 4 Years after Court OK'd Seizure

From 1010WINS:

Weeds, glass, bricks, pieces of pipe and shingle splinters have replaced the knot of aging homes at the site of the nation's most notorious eminent domain project.

There are a few signs of life: Feral cats glare at visitors from a miniature jungle of Queen Anne's lace, thistle and goldenrod. Gulls swoop between the lot's towering trees and the adjacent sewage treatment plant.

But what of the promised building boom that was supposed to come wrapped and ribboned with up to 3,169 new jobs and $1.2 million a year in tax revenues? They are noticeably missing.

Proponents of the ambitious plan blame the sour economy. Opponents call it a "poetic justice."

"They are getting what they deserve. They are going to get nothing," said Susette Kelo, the lead plaintiff in the landmark property rights case. "I don't think this is what the United States Supreme Court justices had in mind when they made this decision."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Small businesses demand justice for Willets Point

From the Daily News:

A group of workers and local advocates rallied at Willets Point on Tuesday to demand the city come forward with a relocation plan for small businesses in the area.

The 62-acre labyrinth of about 60 auto repair shops, salvage yards and ironworks companies depend on one another to survive, the owners said.

"It's important that these businesses be relocated together," said Tatiana Bejar of the Human Rights Project of the Urban Justice Center.

The call came after the group released a report that claims the city, in its effort to redevelop the gritty industrial area, was biased against immigrants and minorities.

The city is still forming a plan to relocate the businesses, Lombino said.

A handful of businesses were shut down in April because of several building code violations.

Different agencies were involved with the closings, such as the Police and Fire departments and the Buildings Department, the group said.

However, after 40 years of not enforcing any building codes in the area, to suddenly close these businesses when the owners were in negotiations to sell the land was "not a coincidence," said Ted De Barbieri of the Urban Justice Center.

City officials disputed the notion.

"We've been negotiating with property owners and acquiring parcels for about two years, well before and after the alleged actions took place," said David Lombino, spokesman for the city Economic Development Corp., adding the agency had nothing to do with the buildings getting shut down.

"We're looking at relocating some of the businesses in clusters," said Lombino. "We've done it before."

They're only looking to do this now? In their own words, they've been working on this for 2 years, yet in all this time they haven't formulated a plan as to how they would relocate businesses?

And here's more from Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

What all this underscores is that the city simply doesn't have its act together-and any effort to exert the right of eminent domain is not only premature, it also courts disaster. That's because without a clear plan of action, or the money to fund it, the entire effort could easily deteriorate and leave the city with a giant empty hole where thriving businesses used to be.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Report Slams Planning Process At Willets Point

By: CeFaan Kim

: A new report released Tuesday says Mayor Michael Bloomberg's controversial plan to transform Willets Point into a 24-hour mixed use community is neglecting business owners at the site.