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.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Thanks again, Ben Haber!

From the Times Ledger:

Developer influenced City Council to vote for mayor’s Willets Pt. plan

"Shulman met with Daniel Doctoroff, who was then a deputy to Bloomberg, and agreed to help the mayor with regard to his Willets Point plan. Shulman and Doctoroff are seasoned professionals and cannot be heard to say they were ignorant of the law. But in violation of the law, they arranged a contribution to Shulman’s group of a large amount of city funds and of which the group spent about $450,000 on lobbying, including City Council members whose votes were necessary for the Willets Pointproposal to proceed (“Biz group says Willets Point plan is invalid,” Flushing Times, Aug. 27.)"

As I understand it, Shulman’s local development corporation certificate of incorporation stated the LDC shall not attempt to influence legislation which is a reiteration of the applicable law. The certificate was signed by Shulman. The lobbying of Council members and, to make matters worse, use of city funds to do so was no oversight.

Given the fact we are talking about the destruction of the majority of the 225 economically viable businesses in Willets Point and their thousands of employees and families, the purported violation is not a trivial matter. It warrants a full investigation by the office of state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and, if a violation is found to have occurred, the Council vote must be nullified.

Bloomberg’s attempts to slough off the actions of Shulman and claims that he doubts the law was broken and a “cheap shot” was being taken at Shulman is nonsense. He is making the cheap shots. As head of the LDC, Shulman was not acting as a purported dedicated public servant but as the well-paid head of that group.

It may come as a surprise to Bloomberg and Shulman, but the last I heard the rule of law applies not just to ordinary citizens but to seasoned politicians as well.

Benjamin M. Haber

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Taking our fight to the courts

Willets Point United has been busy filing court documents and making appearances.

Our attorney, Mike Rikon, filed an Amicus Brief in the Goldstein v. Pataki case which is being heard October 15th in front of the NY State Court of Appeals. The Empire State Development Corporation tried to block the brief, but it was admitted by the court (see below).

Also on August 21st, WPU's attorney, Michael Gerrard, challenged the city's environmental impact statement in front of NYS Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden and we are awaiting her decision. Here is our brief in that case.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

WPU contacts the U.S. Attorney

As reported by the Daily News today:

A group of property owners at Willets Point are taking another swing at a city-funded development company for a lobbying goof.

Willets Point United asked federal prosecutors late last week to wade into its battle with the Flushing Willets Point Corona Land Development Corp. The corporation's leader - former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman - was slapped with a record fine recently for not registering as a lobbyist.

"We're hoping the U.S. Attorney will do something about this," said Michael Rikon, a lawyer who represents the business group. "Anything to stop this kind of conduct."

The development corporation pushed to rezone the gritty industrial area of Willets Point by swaying City Council members - a violation of state law that restricts such corporations from lobbying.

Shulman's group was partially funded by the city Economic Development Corp., which is also barred from lobbying.

EDC officials denied funding Shulman's group for the purpose of lobbying.

"We supported the efforts of the Flushing Willets Point Corona group to engage the local community, promote economic development and boost job creation," EDC spokesman Dave Lombino said Tuesday.

Business owners, however, see Shulman's group as a middleman - a way for the city to lobby itself.

"It's outrageous," Rikon said. "An executive branch of government paid money to lobby the legislative branch."

Shulman could not be reached for comment Tuesday.