Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Slumlord of East Harlem" to use its powers of Eminent Domain to create blight; EHARM to fight NYC’s Determination and Findings

(New York, NY – June 23, 2009) – Today, the City of New York concluded (see attached) that HPD will use its powers of Eminent Domain against the alliance of responsible merchants of East Harlem (“EHARM”) to forcefully “take” their properties from East 125th to East 127th Streets from Second to Third Avenues that it determines to be blighted when it caused the blighting.

The City of New York has circumvented the will of the people and chosen an alternate route because it could not get approval from the elected officials of Harlem or Manhattan Community Board 11.

The City of New York has no viable plan, having handpicked developers who are bankrupt or on the verge of bankruptcy.

The City of New York is the single largest landowner from 125th to 127th Streets between 2nd and 3rd Avenues and yet the only investment they have been willing to make (since the 1970’s) in what they call a blighted neighborhood is take our properties for a song and hand them to developers.

EHARM will challenge these Determinations and Findings in Court, and will continue to use all legal means to fight against the illegal taking of private property.

“Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain Abuse stands united with EHARM in trying to strike down the practice of eminent domain for private gain. For too long the City and State of New York have abused their power of eminent domain. Forty-four states have passed laws limiting eminent domain since the infamous Kelo decision - why not New York? Mayor Bloomberg in his re-election ads says he is fighting to help small businesses stay in the City, so why is he stealing our land and putting us out of business? Developers and unions blackmail our elected officials with contributions and threats and this needs to stop now. They know what the right thing to do is. We ask all elected officials to take a stand and say enough is enough!” said Jerry Antonacci, President of Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain Abuse.

"If the City really wanted to do development in East Harlem, all they had to do was maintain the properties that they own here. Instead, they treated this place with neglect for the past forty years. Now they want to use their own neglect as a justification for deploying eminent domain against the business owners who’ve held the neighborhood together for decades? The hypocrisy of Mayor Bloomberg and the City is amazing," said NYC Council Member Tony Avella who has announced his candidacy to be the Democratic challenger for Mayor.

Ms. Carolee Fink, Senior Project Manager of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, was caught in a conflicted position as she presided at the Hearing, which was conducted on April 20th, 2009, as she was soon the only City official in the room, even though HPD was “technically” the Agency of Record in the proceedings. The first thing that the City did was submit a host of documents that have already been approved by the City Planning Commission, the City Council and the Mayor’s office, including the Amended Urban Renewal Plan, the Final Environmental Impact Statement and a 2008 Blight Study.

EHARM’s attorney, Brian Nugent, attended the meeting and correctly pointed out that the public hearing was a sham at which time the HPD officials departed. So why did the City through the efforts of Ms. Fink hold this hearing and make these Findings and Determinations? Not because they cared what the Public thought or because they wanted to review any public purpose or environmental impact. All that has already been signed, sealed and delivered by the City. The real reason for the hearing was to:

(1) Give the City and Ms. Fink more time to acquire the private properties in the E125 Project Area. By having this duplicative and unnecessary hearing, the City gets to re-start the three-year clock to acquire the properties.

(2) A second reason for the sham hearing was for the City to have an opportunity to try and correct, at least on paper, the deficiencies that EHARM identified in its legal papers when EHARM filed an Article 78 proceeding in December challenging the actions of New York City. Now, armed with EHARM’s allegations, the City can try to dance around their problems by issuing the new determination and findings.

The City submitted a 2008 Blight Study to support the finding of blight in the Harlem-East Harlem Urban Renewal area, and specifically in the E125 Project site area. The Blight Study did not identify the property owners, but merely laid out each lot and the conditions observed on each. EHARM’s Attorney Mr. Nugent reviewed each lot in the proposed E125 Project area and cross-referenced it with the property ownership records and he found that one property owner was responsible for the majority of the so-called “blight” in East Harlem. Essentially, he identified a “Slum Lord of East Harlem.”

This single property owner has been the owner of these properties for over 30 years and had over 24 critical conditions on its properties, including graffiti, litter, broken fences, broken sidewalks, deteriorating surface conditions. Mr. Nugent discovered that the “Slum Lord of East Harlem” is the City of New York.

What the City of New York has done in East Harlem is an absolute disgrace, as they have compounded this lack of respect for the quality of life of residents and property owners rights once again in both Atlantic Yards and Willets Point respectively. By their own admission via their Blight Study, the City has neglected its properties for decades, allowing unsightly litter, graffiti, broken fences, and broken sidewalks to fester on city-owned properties. Then, after neglecting their own property and neglecting the people and merchants of East Harlem, Atlantic Yards and Willets Point for decades, the City, through Ms. Fink, comes back and now tells the hard-working merchants and business owners who have maintained their private properties and stayed the course in East Harlem, Atlantic Yards and Willets Point that New York City needs to take those well-kept private properties.

Why does New York City need to take them? Because the City has done a Blight Study that shows that the City-owned properties around these viable businesses are covered with litter, graffiti and other unsightly conditions!

In other words, the City has manufactured and maintained blight in East Harlem over four decades, so that the City could come back in 2009 to forcibly take our property, our neighborhood, our businesses and a piece of our community and hand it over to a private developer so that everyone reaps the benefits from East Harlem, except of course, the very people that live here, work here and call Harlem their