Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain Abuse, a coalition of two dozen business and land owners in Queens, NY has hired Michael Rikon of the law firm Goldstein, Goldstein, Rikon and Gottlieb, a nationally renowned expert in eminent domain law, to represent them during the upcoming eminent domain battle with the City of New York.

Michael Rikon has been practicing law in New York since being admitted to the State Bar in 1969. Before forming the firm of Goldstein, Goldstein & Rikon in 1994, Mr. Rikon had a successful private practice, founded in 1980, specializing in condemnation law, real estate and litigation in the Court of Claims. From 1973 to 1980, Mr. Rikon served as a law clerk to the Honorable Albert A. Blinder of the New York State Court of Claims. Mr. Rikon began his law career as an Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of New York, a position he held from 1969 to 1973, where he was a senior trial attorney in the Condemnation Division.

Mr. Rikon also contributes to professional journals in subjects related to the practice of condemnation law. In 1973 and 1974, Mr. Rikon was a special consultant to the New York State Commission on Eminent Domain and assisted in drafting New York's Eminent Domain Procedure Law.

Goldstein, Goldstein, Rikon & Gottlieb, P.C. is a law firm which limits its practice to condemnation law.

“With Mr. Rikon at the helm, we feel confident about our future. He is familiar with the continued neglect the city has forced upon the Willets Point businesses and residents. He is also familiar with the city’s unfair and illegal rush to use eminent domain,” said Jerry Antonacci, President of Willets Point United.

On June 3, 2009, the City of New York announced that it would begin condemnation proceedings against the remaining property owners at Willets Point, despite the fact that only 2 acquisition deals have been made since the November 13, 2008 City Council vote that approved the Willets Point redevelopment project. The City Council made it clear that eminent domain was only to be used as a last resort.

Earlier this year, the City’s Economic Development Corporation made phone calls to many of the businesses and told them that negotiations were on hold until next year. Then earlier this month, these same property owners were notified that they would soon receive letters announcing a public hearing about the use of eminent domain – a signal that the City plans to use eminent domain to take the rest of the properties.

“The City promised that eminent domain would only be used to take property from ‘1 or 2 hold outs’ – which is a far cry from the 59 landowners, or 80% of those who are left ,” said Jake Bono, Spokesperson for Willets Point United.

“Thankfully, we have Mr. Rikon, who will vigorously represent us on all matters until we achieve victory. This will protect future generations from being subject to abusive New York City eminent domain practices.”

Appeals Court agrees to hear Atlantic Yards case

For Immediate Release: June 30, 2009

Atlantic Yards Eminent Domain Case To Be Heard By New York’s High Court

Property Owners and Tenants Will Argue Their Case Against the Empire State Development Corporation In October

BROOKLYN, NY— The New York State Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, has announced that it will hear the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case—Goldstein et al. v. N.Y. State Urban Development Corporation—in October. The owners of homes and properties targeted for seizure have argued that the use of eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards proposal violates New York State Constitution.

The appellants’ briefs are due on July 31 and the case will be argued in front of the High Court in October on a date to be scheduled. (The Court convenes for six days in mid-October.)

"We are gratified that the State’s High Court will hear this important case about whether our State’s Constitution protects the homes of its citizens from the wrecking ball of greed wielded by influential developers and the public officials who do their bidding," said Matthew Brinckerhoff, the lawyer representing the appellants. "This case provides an opportunity for the New York Court of Appeals to continue its proud tradition of interpreting this State’s Constitution in a manner that affords more protection to individual rights and liberties. We look forward to the argument in October."

The properties in question are required for developer Forest City Ratner to construct its proposed Barclays Center Arena and 16 skyscrapers.

Nine property owners and tenants, whose homes and businesses in the proposed Atlantic Yards footprint have been slated for government seizure for the megaproject proposed by developer Forest City Ratner, filed the original case. Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) organized the case, which is funded by thousands of donations from individual community members across Brooklyn and New York City.The original case was filed in August 2008 in the Appellate Division, as required by New York State eminent domain law. The Appellate Division ruled on May 15th.

Bruce Ratner told the Daily News, after that court ruling, "We're very, very happy. This is really the last hurdle that we have and now we can do what our company does best and build an arena and houses." The developer claimed he would break ground and issue the bond for his arena this fall. He has an end-of-year IRS deadline to float the bond for the arena.

It is great news that New York's High Court will review the Atlantic Yards project’s use of eminent domain. It is a certain sign that the Court understands the seriousness of the issues my constituents have been dealing with for the past six years," said City Council Member Letitia James who represents the 35th District where the project is proposed and has been a stalwart opponent of its abuse of eminent domain.

"My co-plaintiffs and I are very excited that the Court will hear our case. It is a great day for New Yorkers concerned about abuses of power," said lead appellant and DDDB spokesman Daniel Goldstein. "We will vigorously continue to defend our rights. But New York State and Mr. Ratner have a choice: they could avoid our legal challenge by finally taking eminent domain off the table, and working to implement affordable housing over the rail yards based on the community’s development plan offered to the MTA last week—the UNITY Plan."

The appellants have asked the Court to decide:

1. Whether the public use requirement of the NY Constitution imposes a more stringent standard for takings than does the Fifth Amendment—a question expressly preserved by the Court of Appeals in Aspen Creek Estates, Ltd. v. Brookhaven (2009), and never before considered by any court in New York;

2. Whether the public use requirement of the NY Constitution "is satisfied when a condemning authority determines that he public benefit to be gained by forcibly appropriating citizens' homes and businesses is 'not incidental or pretextual in comparison with benefits to particular, favored private entities,"' without ever examining the nature and magnitude of the private benefit and thus failing to create any record that would allow a reviewing court to make such a determination—a question never before considered by any court in this State (and ignored by the Appellate Division in this action)";

3. Whether, according to Article XVIII, Section 6 of the Constitution, subsidized "blight clearance" projects must be restricted to "persons of low income."

According to the 2008 annual report for the Court of Appeals about half of all civil appeals last year were affirmed, and the other half were either reversed (about 40%) or modified (about 10%).

All past case files and the Court’s letter can be downloaded at:

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The spin from the EDC

This has been in EDC press releases this past month:

We remain committed to pursuing negotiated settlements with every willing property owner and to date we have completed 20 successful acquisitions that give the City control of nearly 65 percent of Willets Point’s 62 acres.

In reality:

- The 3 largest businesses are being allowed to stay. They make up a good share of the 62 acres that the City is bragging about having control over. The City will not have access to this property for more than a decade.
- 5 businesses are being moved to College Point in a land swap.
- 12 parcels of land were purchased directly by the City, and owners of multiple parcels were targeted.

So in reality only a handful of deals have been made. There are still hundreds of businesses and dozens of owners who have not been offered anything.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


The MTA today announced that Bruce Ratner, the developer of the controversial Atlantic Yards project, will be allowed to defer $80 million of the $100 million total he has agreed to pay for the site. The final installments will not be paid until 2031. The MTA board members who will meet tomorrow to vote on the revised agreement were given only 48 hours to review the complex documents.

“It only points out how this project should never have been approved in the first place,” said Council Member and Mayoral candidate Tony Avella. “It's time to kill this monster once and for all.”

The Atlantic Yards project has been diminishing in recent months as the developer attempts to cut costs. Frank Gehry’s ambitious stadium plans were replaced with a smaller barn-like structure by architectural firm Ellerbe Becket. The number of cars that can operate out of the Long Island Railroad station has also been reduced from 76 to 56 cars.

“This project would tear the fabric of Brooklyn for many generations to come,” Avella said. “It must be stopped.”

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn makes offer on Vanderbilt Yard

On Wednesday a Brooklyn community organization, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, Inc. (DDDB), made a firm offer of $120 million to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to purchase the development rights for the 8-acre Vanderbilt Yard in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. The group proposes a mixed-use development plan over the rail yards based on the UNITY Plan framework. (See: www.unityplan.org and download the full PDF.)

To complete their offer, the Vanderbilt Yard would be placed into a trust (modeled after the successful Hudson River Trust), for the purposes of financing and managing the development over the yards. It will be called the UNITY Trust.

The UNITY Trust would be administered by local community organizations, a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation, and local elected officials. The Trust would be mandated to bid the yards out in smaller, manageable parcels (6-8), for development and payment over a far shorter timeline than developer Forest City Ratner’s proposed 22-year Atlantic Yards timeline. The UNITY Trust will seek out both for-profit and not-for-profit development teams.

The group estimates—based upon comparable efforts elsewhere and extrapolating the 2005 MTA appraisal and rail yard construction cost projections—that the project can be completed in approximately 12 years.

For more, read:

Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn Offers $120 Million to MTA for Vanderbilt Yard

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

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lies fed to us by the City

From Queens Crap:

The City's Economic Development Corporation and City Council Member Julissa Ferreras are telling property owners, business owners and workers not to worry about the letter that will be going out soon that will notify them of an eminent domain hearing (which is still going to happen, but has been postponed). They are telling affected parties that the letter sounds scarier than it is because of its official wording and that it doesn't mean that their property will be seized anytime soon.


According to the Institute for Justice:

"ALL evidence must be submitted at this first hearing. Anything not submitted at this hearing can't be used as evidence in later proceedings. It is absolutely critical that every single piece of information that shows the city's purposeful neglect of Willets Point be submitted at this hearing."

Unlike some others, we weren't fooled and we'll be ready.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Willets Point press conference slideshow

Special thank you to Councilman Tony Avella, artist Jerry Rotondi and Middle Village residents Bob Doocey and Ezio Benini for their support!

Videos of the Willets Point press conference

"Mike Bloomberg is a traitor to the American Dream. He is a traitor to democracy in this City. The people behind me who own businesses here, who work here - this is their American Dream and how dare Mike Bloomberg and the City and my colleagues in the City Council... take these people's property."

"This whole thing has been a joke and a disaster from the beginning. If the City really wanted to do development here, all they had to do for the past 40 years was put in the infrastructure - put in the roads, put in the sewers, and development would take care of itself over time and these people could have their jobs and their businesses....that would be done at 1/20th of the cost for the taxpayers of this City." - Councilman Tony Avella

Irene Presti-Giacomo speaks about her property at Willets Point, how the City neglected to take care of the streets, sidewalks and sewers all these years and how she should have the right to develop her own property. The income from the property is the widow's sole source of income for her and her daughters.

Jake Bono talks about the absurdity of business and property owners having to defend what's already theirs. He states that the EDC is saying, "Sell us your land or we're taking it." Small businesses are not being protected as the Bloomberg administration claims. The vast majority of property owners have not made deals and yet the City is calling them "holdouts."

Julia Sandoval asks Mayor Bloomberg to show compassion toward the Willets Point workers who need to provide for their families.

Jerry Antonacci points out the hypocrisy of Bloomberg campaign literature where it talks about how Bloomberg will save small businesses yet plans to destroy the businesses at Willets Point.

Andy Charidemou of Shea Truck and Auto Repair endorses Tony Avella for Mayor.

Attendee Bob Doocey asks the question what will happen when another mayor wants to take the property from this yet-to-be-named developer for another project (it's an unending cycle).

Len Scarola questions the City's closing of hospitals and firehouses while spending hundreds of millions of dollars to buy property at Willets Point.

Tony Avella says Bloomberg just trying to give land to his favorite developers. He makes the point that 30-40 years ago, College Point was condemned and is still not redeveloped. When Bloomberg says he is helping small businesses, he is lying.

Tony Avella promises if he becomes mayor that Willets Point project is dead and the business owners will keep their property and their jobs.

Ralph St. John talks about having his land condemned twice - first in College Point and now in Willets Point.

Janice Serrone focuses on the Cornerstone Group trying to talk to her tenants and get them to leave Willets Point. Jake Bono then explains that Cornerstone is vague in what they say and don't necessarily talk to owners but to anyone they find at the properties - workers, tenants, etc. and then leaves a business card.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Press Conference/Rally Monday with Councilman Avella

Who: Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain Abuse and Councilman Tony Avella

What: Press conference/Rally

Where: Shea Gas Station 127-48 Northern Blvd, Willets Point, Queens.

When: Monday, June 8th at 1:30pm

Why: The City Economic Development Corporation has announced condemnation proceedings against Willets Point business and property owners while Article 78 challenge is still pending in court. EDC has also decided to do this before negotiating with property owners and after telling many of them that negotiations will not start for more than a year.